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Adelaide bars: boom or bust?

The Forager

Around 53 small bars opened in Adelaide this year and, with more planned for 2016, the growth is having an impact on both the old and new players in the drinks industry.

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Restaurant and Catering SA, part of the national industry association representing 35,000 restaurants and catering businesses across Australia, says local growth is “unprecedented”.

“More than 200 new businesses have opened in Adelaide this year, including 53 new small bars, with another 17 small bars to open in 2016,” says CEO Sally Neville.

Neville says the the small bar licensing activity has had an impact on the trade of established venues, and some of the first small bars to open are now also feeling the effects after just one to two years of trade.

“While close to 70 new bars offering greater choice for consumers, these new businesses are capturing a lot of the traditional hotel trade.

“And some of the first small bars to open are also starting to see a downturn in trade, as it is human nature for us to want to go to the new place in town – that trend is evident in restaurants as well.

“Despite the fact that there are now more businesses, the slice of the pie thinner than before.”

Neville says the Australian Bureau of Statistics recently reported a 4 per cent fall in revenues across the restaurant and catering industry in South Australia, “so we are expecting there will be a settling in business numbers”.

As well as consumers becoming fickle, the owners of these new businesses also have a different approach.

“There’s no doubt that people have changed the way they behave; loyalty has diminished for both business owners and consumers,” says Neville.

“The younger business owners approach their businesses in a non-traditional way. They have a simpler business model, they are far more tech-savvy using social media and they’re in it for a faster buck.

“The downside is that these businesses are not necessarily training people in a similar way to the larger bricks and mortar businesses, so there’s no promotional stream for employees.

“They’re not leaving a legacy for the industry.”

While operators of some of the first small bars in Adelaide agree there is more competition than when they first opened, they don’t necessarily see it as a negative.

Alister Robertson, bar manager at Clever Little Tailor, which opened in 2013 in Peel Street, says he hasn’t noticed a change in trade.

“We only fit a small amount of people in our venue, so it’s quite easy to fill up, but there’s definitely more competition out there now which just means standards need to be higher and service needs to be better,” says Robertson.

He also doesn’t see an issue with smaller businesses not leaving a legacy with regard to staff training.

“I don’t see much difference between the larger bricks and mortar businesses and us.

Low & Slow American BBQ is just another example of a food truck that has established itself as a restaurant. He’s sold out every night. A business like that needs to employ a lot of staff.

Amalfi’s has been going for more than 30 years and still serves great pasta and they’re busy every night, too. I think if you’re doing something well, you’ll do well. I think there’s room for everybody and I’m pretty confident we offer great service, too.”

Proof was the first bar to open in Anster Street, just off Waymouth Street, and owner Shane Ettridge says he has definitely noticed a change.

“There are certainly less people, but we have to adapt and ensure we keep a strong regular crowd. When you first open, you experience a boom, but then the dust settles and you work out where you sit.

“Building loyalty is our main focus, but we had that in place before the boom. That’s definitely down to the relationship between the bartender and the punter; if you don’t establish that early, there are plenty of other places that will.

“It’s nothing new or tricky; it’s just getting back to basics and providing personal service such as remembering a customer’s name and what they like to drink.

“It’s the kind of service that was established in pubs, but they have become so removed from where they were. We don’t have the same sources of revenue as pubs, such as pokies, so we have to focus on service.

“We’re not new kids on the block any more. We’ve found our niche and Proof is certainly a viable business.”

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