“Recession is the mother of re-invention”. According to Robbie Fox, who has been forced to go back to the drawing board after losing the battle to hold onto his portfolio of bars & restaurants. Once the stomping grounds of Ireland’s elite, Robbie’s businesses, including the prestigious Dublin nightclub Renards, unfortunately went into liquidation.
Re-invention & thinking outside of the box in order to drive up falling sales is certainly the best and possibly the only way to survive in the hospitality business at the moment. The difficulty comes though, not only from getting customers in the door, but maintaining profitable margins at the same time.
There is no point running around, serving more customers than anyone else if it doesn’t filter through to the bottom line. There is an old saying in the restaurant business, which I’m sure applies to most businesses, ‘Turnover is vanity, margins are sanity’.
Talking of vanity, I wrote an article about eighteen months ago about how to construct a good wine list. At the time Novello Wine Bar was still under construction itself. Except back then I referred to it as an ‘Enoteca’, a type of Italian style tapas bar/wine ‘library’ that had become trendy in the West End of London & Central Dublin.
It turned out to be a word that few people could even pronounce, let alone fully grasp the concept. We still serve excellent Italian style tapas and we still sell top quality wine, but the concept itself was far too niche to work in the present times.
So we’ve re-invented the lunchtime menu to incorporate more brunch type dishes, including peri-peri chicken wings, which I said from the get-go that I would never do. We’ve introduced a fixed price dinner menu in the evenings from Thursday to Saturday & so far we appear to be beginning to appeal to a wider client base.
But coming back to the wine list, I accused some restaurateurs of selecting wines for the prestige of having them on their list, rather than choosing wines that they actually felt their customers would buy. I also said that many of these restaurateurs end up drinking these expensive wines themselves to drown their sorrows when times are bad. But not me. Oh no! The most expensive wine on my list was only going to be €70.
Eighteen months ago it seemed like a reasonable expectation to sell a few bottles of Amarone, some Super Tuscans, Brunellos, Barolos & some fine Bordeaux. How wrong/vain was I? Fortunately, I do have a small core of regular customers who are slowly helping me to work through the top end of my wine list, but I haven’t had to restock anything over €40 since before Christmas.
Time then for re-invention! October 1st will see the introduction of the all new Novello wine list. It will no longer be purely ‘Old World’ wines & will see the arrival of some exciting & more importantly, great value wines from New Zealand, Australia, Chile & California. The emphasis will be on wines priced between €20 & €30.
I have been at a good few wine tastings recently, and it seems that the entire wine business in Ireland is refocusing on providing “great wines at great prices” to quote the MD of one of my suppliers at a recent seminar in the Four Seasons.
However, I do have one small problem. Namely, the 300+ bottles of wine that I currently have in stock that won’t fit onto my new list. What I have decided to do is, on the night of the 30th September, before we go live with the new list, is to sell them all at cost price, to drink in or to takeaway. I will also put on a ‘nostalgic’ Enoteca style tapas menu for the night at a very reasonable price and if my budget can run to it, there may even be some entertainment.
Anyone looking for a bargain, please make a note in your diary now. Salute!