Friday, November 14, 2008

Thank you again, Beer Karma.

I am back working for a mate in his restaurant south east of Melbourne. We have worked together for years and four years ago when he was offered this place he rang me to see if I could put my stamp on the front of house operations. I recall asking something like; “Will beer be enjoyed to mark the end of each shift?” A reply in the affirmative led to one from me as well and we were off.

The restaurant itself occupies the old Courthouse built in 1884 and is a stunning heritage building with charm to spare. Sadly many locals fail to share this charm and too few have visited, particularly mid week. Friday and Saturday pretty much take care of themselves but, as any business owner knows only too well, the bills ad the rent and the wages are a 7 day a week kind of thing. While we set the place up to wow the guest and provide great food and service, the numbers were just not stacking up.

I have written recently of Beer Karma and it seems as though she just keeps showing up. The restaurant is on the brink. If Christmas doesn’t see us fill the 60 odd seats every night with big spenders, the doors close. Simple as that. After two years away from the place I have returned to help out a mate, train some new staff and see that every guest has a good time. Oh! Sorry. I’m not the Beer Karma bit – that’s coming in the next paragraph. Just needed to set the scene first.

Beer Karma works in mysterious ways. A new restaurant opened up down the street 6 months ago and normally this would not be a good thing. When the restaurant is opened by people who did not intend to open a restaurant and don’t know anything at all about running a restaurant, well, then it’s a bit less of a bother. This place was built as four separate shops by a builder who was then unable to have them occupied. What do you do if you’re in the shit and have four shops to sell and no buyers? Why not convert the place into a restaurant? Because it’s a stupid idea you dumb flog!! To really set yourself up for a fall you run it as a bar by day and a nightclub at night and put the restaurant upstairs and make all your diners walk through a dodgy bar/lounge/nightclub/pool hall downstairs to get to it. Or not, you decide.

Anyway, it gets better. There’s this show on Australian TV at the minute where two local restaurants go head to head in a bid to improve their menu, decor and service in order to win over a fussy mystery critic. The winner takes away a cheque for $20,000. Nice. Borat NY – IIIIIZE! The new boys down the street decided to nominate themselves and we were fortunate to be chosen by the producers as the ones to take them on. That is, they came and knocked on our door and said; “Would you like to win $20,000? All you have to do is be better than a bloke down the road who asks diners to move - MID MEAL – so that he can make space for some nightclub punters and won’t cook for more than 8 people at a time but takes function bookings for 25? Are you in?” Is Paris Hilton a slapper?! We’re in!!

The show aired nationally last night and we were a little apprehensive as to how we might come across at the whim of the editors. As it turned out we weren’t too bruised or battered – some joints have shut up shop after a caning from shows like these – and we are now sitting back and waiting to see how this unexpected publicity affects the business. In eternal optimism we are gearing up for an increase in trade and a rise in phone enquiries. Being just off the main street which houses another dozen or so restaurants and cafes, we hope that a few more punters might take the chance and pop in. The front of the building is pretty imposing and grand and there are plenty who think we are either too ‘toffy’, ‘stuffy’ or expensive and might now give us try.

The only real gripe that the critic had with us was the fact that on his first ‘secret’ visit and again on his return ‘rating’ visit, he ordered a beer that was out of stock. He congratulated us on having an extensive and interesting beer list and then got the tip from the producer that we couldn’t get the missing beer from any of our suppliers so to order it would make for good telly, I guess. We’ll cop that. If you can’t find a beer from the 107 that we offered that night then I’ll still sleep well.

So that’s our brush with fame for this week. Stay tuned and I’ll tell you which part of the old Aussie expression we fit into; “Winners are Grinners and shit sandwich for second.”

Thank you again, Beer Karma.

Prof. Pilsner


Tim said...

Good Luck - who was the secret diner? Was it Curtis Stone or some other D grade celeb chef?

Beer Blokes said...

It was a expat Pom called Alan Saunders (?) I think he is a Sydney food writer. His role is to highlight the restaurant's failings in a manner that swings between dry and cutting but they never really go too far into personal atacks. Matt Moran from Aria on Sydney Harbour is the chef. We managed to pull off the win. More soon.