Last week The Shout, along with Australian Hotelier, Bars and Clubs and Hospitality Magazine, hosted the Road to Recovery webinar, which brought together leading operators and industry experts to discuss the hospitality industry’s COVID recovery.
I spoke hosted a panel discussion with Zara Madrusan, Mikey Enright and Andrew Baturo, to talk about how they have managed their bars and businesses during lockdown and the state of the bar industry.
Based in Melbourne, Madrusan spoke as her Made in the Shade group joined others in the city in a second lockdown.
Explaining how the group was dealing with that second blow, Madrusan told the audience: “As I am sure you are all aware it has been a bit of a roller coaster down here. With the first lockdown, we hustled pretty quickly, did everything we could to go into survival mode. We started offering delivery across the group and got staff back on JobKeeper. We kept moving, probably faster than we were prior to lockdown. That was the only way we felt we could approach it at that time.
“But having come through the other side of that, reopened and then back into lockdown again, with the threat of Stage Four restrictions looming, we have taken a lot more of a laid back approach this time around. We’re removing ourselves from the things we can’t control, and taking a bit more charge of the things that we can control.”
She added: “Our focus in this lockdown, while we have remained live for deliveries for a couple of the offerings that were most successful, our pride has taken a back step this time around and there were projects that didn’t work first time round, and things that took more out of us than was worth it. So we’ve put those on pause and Michael and I have untied ourselves to make sure that our health is maintained this time around.
“We are also working on the bottled cocktail side of the company, which has some legs at the moment and has some real potential for growth.”
In Sydney, Barrelhouse Group switched to deliveries as soon as it could, as Enright explained: “With deliveries for us, at the time there was no revenue coming in and we’d become quite well-known for our Sunday roasts. So basically anyone who was on JobKeeper and who had a driver’s licence and a car, they came back to work, and wherever they lived that was the area that we delivered to, and so we had a wide area of Sydney covered.
“We went super-hard on deliveries because there was no other money coming through the till. I think we cracked it on Mother’s Day when we did 250 roasts – and we were very late delivering them. It was pretty tough, but we are still doing it now. We will continue to do it, because we don’t know what is going to happen.”
In terms of how long the team would like to see the licence changes that allow deliveries stay in place, Enright said: “Forever really. Sydney was so decimated by the lockouts anyway, this has been like a second wave to the night scene, to the hospitality scene, so the Government really needs to come up with some creative ideas and really open it up, so that we can all flourish at the back end of this.”
For Baturo and his team at Dap & Co in Brisbane, there was a different approach to lockdown, but one that was still valuable to the business.
“All our venues have different personalities, different offerings and locations and different demographics. So all our venues had to be treated individually both in terms of how we closed them down, and then how we reopened them,” he told the audience.
“When we were locked down my business partners and I, had some quick and comprehensive meetings while deciding what we were going to do. We decided that the best thing for the integrity of our brands was to keep the businesses shut for the duration.
“We also wanted to take a step back, breathe and because all our venues are so different we needed to make sure that we gave each one the merit that it deserved. We decided not to go down any of the delivery routes any of the restaurants and we kept The Gresham bar closed, and then we staggered the reopening of each one as restrictions were eased.”
Baturo added: “With The Gresham we had the opportunity, while we were shut to reassess all the businesses and look at them with a critical eye, and for instance somewhere like Libertine has been opened for 10 years and layers and layers just keep getting added, so it was a good opportunity to really strip the business back and focus on what we wanted to do there.
“It’s been a really good time for me personally to reflect on what I do, and each of the businesses specifically and really get back to the core of what we once were.”
The trio also talked about how they felt about the future of Australia’s bar scene. There was some good advice for businesses in terms of being resilient and adaptive in the current climate, and one a positive note, Baturo said the way that Brisbane is emerging from the crisis means he is “extraordinarily optimistic, tempered with realism”. Find out more on Bars and Clubs.
To find out all the advice that was given on issues from finance to operations and from people to marketing, register to watch the webinar here.