Sunday, 17 April 2011

It all comes down to that discretionary dollar

Despite being incarcerated in my deathbed for the past month, unable to walk, eat or drink, my mind still ticked over as to the state of dining and hospitality in Hobart.

Lying in bed watching daily news broadcasts and cookery programs combined with all manner of current affair programs provides you with a surreal second-hand skew on life as we currently know it. Filter this through 60+ years of first-hand knowledge and experience in the world, and I came up with the following.

For a starter, I don’t know that the impact of daily news headlines about, for instance, a local building company like Scenport being handed to the receivers (as it was last week), elicits any response, or provokes any thoughts by a cafĂ© owner in the Mall. It should. It impacts hugely, albeit indirectly.

Times are tough, and getting tougher. I doubt that there is anyone not affected by this fact. Even if your personal income is the same as always, the effects of the tightening of belts will be felt by you, as you shop for something your shop now doesn’t have (they’re not restocking quite as regularly now. You can’t have stock just sitting on shelves generating no income for long periods of time), or as you ask a friend to join you at the pub and they can’t come (they might say they have something else on, but chances are they are saving face and simply can’t afford a meal and drinks out). So you have larger companies laying off many, public sector not replacing staff who leave, and small businesses laying off one of their two employees, or letting go their cleaner, or accountant. You have people foregoing the weekly trip to the hairdressers, making it fortnightly instead. So, logically, what happens to the eating out part of the equation? They mostly go cheaper, or get takeaway and eat at home.

As pointed out by commenters on this blog recently, there are indeed many cafes and restaurants currently on the market. There always have been though, so what makes this time any different? Blame it on the domino affect of the GFC, or whatever, but as one Anon commenter put it, the cream will indeed rise to the top, and those eating establishments who offer that little bit extra, or different, will be fine, but the remainder should be on notice.


Anonymous said...

Even sour cream rises to the top - as any good chef can tell you.

Quality costs and when things get hard financially the quality suffers.
Just look at whats being dished up locally!


Victor said...

Well said, Rita and good to see you back. It is indeed a dire strait for a lot of small businesses. If the business has not felt it yet, they probably will fairly soon with so many people being laid off. Less people will be eating out, most will probably have takeaway or cook at home. Probably a bowl of rice or noodle, cereal or toast.

ut si said...

Just when we are busier than ever & I was beginning to think that we could afford to paint the roof next year you, in recumbency, write this! Glad to see you in print again lovely. x

Anonymous said...

Well said Rita.
Tough times don't last, but tough people do.
Billy Ocean may have said it better- When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Not sure where Billy is now, maybe he got going and forgot to come back?

Molly said...

He just had a hip replacement, or was it a knee? Or am I thinking of Billy Joel?

Deb C said...

For those foodies still out there who can afford fine food and want to experience it there are those tours we discussed in earlier reviews. A new one has sprung up called Herbaceous Tours. Would love to see if any of our gourmands are interested as, with two kids and a full time job, I'm time weary. Let me know.

Anonymous said...

Or quality individally owned restaurants get replaced by chain restaurants. Had dinner last night at Groove Train at Robina on the Gold Coast - a case in point. Bright, airy, funky with a younger crowd who all seemed to be having a good time. But despite a reasonably imaginative menu pretty ho hum food - safe, predictable, lamb with Greek salad, vegetable and ricotta polenta, pesto chicken pasta and chicken risoto. All cooked to a formula and well short of the flair and imagination we get from our best individually owned restaurants in Tasmania and elsewhere. And not cheap - $40 for a NZ sauvignon blanc; $22-$30 for mains; $200 all up for 5 and in and out in a little over an hour.

Jayson James said...

Very well said. This change in economic times has definitely helped show who could adjust and repair. Also, it is interesting to know how companies treated people. We saw some good and a lot not so good ones.

Madge said...

Lovely to see you back.

We are now tending to "play it safe" and not try new restaurants. We can't really afford a bad dining experience...

Mrs Helpful said...

Yea nice one Madge, we're the same. we tend to only serve our regulars, dont want to chance any new customers with bad attitudes...

Fake Gourmet Farmer said...

Hey don't even bother with restaurants or cafes! Thats right me and my posse go round cooking in peoples farms, barns and mansions. We're off to Christchurch next to cook in the rubble-should make great tellie!

Madge said...

Mrs H, as stated - this is about the discretionary dollar. It is our choice whether we play it safe by going to our favourite haunt, or if we take a punt and try somewhere new.

Sometimes, when times are tough - familiarity is what we seek.

sir grumpy said...

Is that familiarity breeds content, Madge!?
I know where your coming from (but not where you're going to).
We tend to stick to our tried-and-trues but you have to break out of the rut too.
We still get ``excited'' about new places, or ones we haven't a couple of kids!
I even tried that new KFC Double thingy because I was intrigued. I could only last two or three bites...ah well Mee Wah needs a going over soon....out of the frying pan into the golden wok.

reb said...

Well said rita, although I'm not sure about your concluding point.

In tough times, peole will seek out value for money, which perhaps explains why Pizza Hut in Moonah is always packed with their "all you can stuff your fat face with" lunchtime specials.

The top end of town will suffer.

I think the dire stituation of retail is a good analogy.

Retailers are going to the wall almost on a weekly basis.

I agree that it's the fallout of the GFC, the facts show that people are spending less, avoiding credit card debt and paying off their mortgages, rather than spending like there's no tomorrow like we used to.

And it's only going to get worse with forthcoming State and Federal Budget cuts looming.

Take a look at the North West of the Sate, it's an ecomonic basket case.

Struggling families will turn to fast food for a treat, or maybe La Porchetta for "a special occasion."

*rolls eyes*

But meanwhile we can all read about GP's wine reviews on bottles that cost $50 each.

If only I had a free case of quality grog delivered every week. Now that would be really something...

Anonymous said...

Hi Rita

Some good points. Everyone is saving more, spending less... Not good for any small business.

I'd sure hate to be a cafe or restaurant owner in 10 years time. Overheads are increasing dramatically. Put the cost of a cup of coffee up 50c and all your customers will start complaining.

Just look at how many are for sale. All cheaply.... How much is a bottle of water going to cost in 10 years time? $8? $10?

Power bills going up 25% annually, greedy landlords putting rent up every chance they get, suppliers are still slack with produce quality and delivery times.... Staff costs rising with inflation which is humming along steadily.

People wonder why so many small businesses don't open on public holidays? We have to pay the staff 250% of the normal wage is why. Meaning we lose even more money than usual.

By the time we pay all our labour costs, suppliers, overheads and other assorted bills, we end up with nothing. ie we are running at a loss.

Too much competition with cafes and restaurants opening everywhere, mostly with in experienced staff and owners. I sure dont wanna fork out hundreds for a crap dining experience.

What can we do stimulate the economy?

And don't suggest those bloody shopper dockets, entertainment vouchers or the like!

GP made some good points about the Taste of Tas in Sundays paper.... I don't know how us (the business owners) are supposed to continually absorb the councils exhorbitant fees. They could charge $ per head entry, generate $250k income and just as many people would turn up! Charging that much only deters bogans, who we dont want coming in anyway.

Anonymous said...

Why operate a small food business at all? If the margins aren't there then why do it ?

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, there was money to be made in hospitality.

Stupid me decided to start a business and here we are.

The problem is the huge amount of competition.

Anonymous said...

The problem with almost all small businesses are that they are under capatalised and are doomed to failure even before opening their doors. I suspect in previous generations it was a privledged few who owned and operated cafes and restaurants, now days anyone can sign a lease, hack together a front counter and be given a dodgy machine from their coffee supplier. The problem with this all to common scenario is that this type of operator fails to realise the legal and practical implications of this situation where they start cutting corners on wages by paying cash in hand and generally serving inferior quality products while believing they need to cut prices to increase customer demand. This ill fated business operator is polluting the current small business environment, falling to the belief and marketing ploy of "being your own boss".


Anonymous said...

My comment was directed to the anon above, also coming from the perspective of a cafe owner.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So whats the goss with Marque IV?

For sale for $100,000 and a few weeks later shut for good? hmm....

Anonymous said...

But yet there are new little cafe's too. Try Little Bernard in Collins. It's 2 local fellas with a passion for good coffee - they seem pretty friendly and the drinks great. Hope their passion and perfection isn't smothered by tought economic times.

Anonymous said...

Its called yellow Bernard and makes ten coffee spots in a 400m stretch of Collins St.
Thats just nuts

Anonymous said...

That little Bernard place is great. It's not big but the coffee and service is excellent.

Cafe's are opening eveywhere... My only hope is that the better ones offering great product and friendly service do well, and the run of the mill dead boring crappy average places shut.

What does my head in is people who go to the same cafe everyday and never go to any other cafe and say "Oh cafe xxx has the best coffee ever" ... I like variety, which is why I go to a variety of places.

Crap coffee virtually costs the same as good coffee anyway... So the price dosen't come into it one iota for me anyway.

A latte at Villino for example is $3.50 ... A crap instant coffee from your local fish and chip shop is likely to also cost $3.50.

You don't always have to pay more for quality.

Anonymous said...

The place next to Yellow Bernard (Zuba is it?) is absolutely awful, the coffee was piss weak and luke warm, the staff are so rude!

Yet people pile in there everyday? Insanity.

sir grumpy said...

The bloody coffee farce is stopping us proper people getting service.
Even at a little place at Kingston (Bredd?) a big queue was waiting to get and pay for takeaway food as one of the assistants spent what seemed like hours frothing away at some wanker coffee.
Cafes need to start paying attention to the disgruntled customers who are not that into coffee. Next time we may decide to go somewhere where the coffee crowd aren't keeping us waiting.
For dedicated coffeee joints, well, yes. I understand that's the ethos of the place...but for NORMAL cafes, the rest of us are sick fed up and won't take anymore.
Go instant or perculated you selfish bastards (!).
Only saying....

Anonymous said...

Went into a small cafe in Hoonville other day with two customers in it. The person at the coffee machine didn't even look up to say Hi even though I was right at the counter. She made the coffee which took forever, took it out, came back to the machine, started wiping it down, placed the cloth back on the bench, adjusted a few cups on top of the machine then finally looked up and said.'Now what can I get you?'
the chef out back was busy rattling pans and looking busy, dont know why, only two punters who were already eating. I could clearly see the chef in the open kitchen but she made no attempt to say hi or smile or anything. Weird.
I wonder how they'd cope if a few ppl cam in at once?

Anonymous said...

wanker coffee or.....?

Tassiegal said...

To the person asking about Marque IV. Last I heard it was being redone by the guys who owned T42 as a family type resturant known as M4. Not sure whats going on since then, but that was the case about 2 weeks ago best I understand it.

Anonymous said...

M4 - T42 all owned by the same syndicate. M4 closed because it was losing money!
Was up for grabs at a fraction of the fitout cost - great space for something new and down market !

Dexter said...

Your experience at Bredd(sic) surprises me Sir G. They always seem to have plenty of staff on duty including a full-time barister.

Anonymous said...

M4 under contract ... watch that space!

Anonymous said...

Barister?? (Sic)

Dexter their coffee is miles to strong, and often made by inexperienced teenagers is my experience.

Anonymous said...


sir grumpy said...

Yes Dexter,

But the till area is tiny and when one of the two manning it are making coffee, you have a wait on your hands.
We're the waiters now!