Live music in the new al fresco space at the front of the Fortune of War has done a lot to help bring trade back to The Rocks pub.

The Rocks in Sydney has been one of the hardest hit areas of the country in terms of the reduction of trade. Heavily reliant on international tourists and corporates, the area’s hospitality venues have seen their foot traffic dwindle to abysmal levels in the last 12 months. In recognition of how hard the area has been impacted, the City of Sydney, NSW Police and L&GNSW made concessions and implemented new strategies swiftly to help the area’s venues recover.

The first instance of this was to allow these venues to create al fresco areas in front of their properties to increase capacity. For the Fortune of War, run by WDS Hotels, the al fresco area made an immediate difference.

“The outdoor area now equates to roughly 50 per cent of our sales for the entire venue, so it’s been a saviour. Without it we would be struggling big time. People want to be outside at the moment,” states WDS Hotels director Steven Speed.

Part of the appeal of the pub’s al fresco area is the addition of live entertainment acts. Traditionally known for its live entertainment offer pre-pandemic, Speed decided in September to bring back soloists or duo acts on the weekends – both as a way to revitalise and create appeal for Sydneysiders to return to The Rocks, and to support musicians who had been without work for quite some time throughout the year.

The response from the public was immediate, with the Fortune of War putting on an increasing number of acts each month, so that the al fresco area has live entertainment five days a week now, and with more acts than it was putting on pre-COVID.

“So many people have said that live entertainment is something they’ve been waiting to come back. And once they’ve come down here once, many people have come down every weekend since because of the live entertainment,” states Speed.

As the new al fresco areas are still subjected to seated service rather than standing, the publican says that food sales have skyrocketed, while drinks sales are still a little sluggish. While the al fresco area and entertainment have indeed been saviours for the venue, the current operating model is still in need of support of government grants.

“Because of the capacity, the increase in food, the decrease in beverage sales, the increase in entertainment and the way we’ve got to operate the al fresco area, our costs have actually increased. So margins have got thinner, our costs have gone up. So in order to survive until we get international tourists and more corporates back into the area, there’s a number of grants that have been made available for entertainment that we qualify for.”

Speed says the continued support from governments at all levels has been a huge help to his venue and venues throughout The Rocks, with the swift move to set up al fresco areas, the Dine & Discover program and entertainment grants being the difference between survival and closure for a lot of smaller venues in the area. And entertainment has been a key component in reviving The Rocks as a place to be Sydneysiders.

“For people walking around the area there’s that vibe and energy, there’s still entertainment happening. And it encourages people to come back here to enjoy themselves.”

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