The shutdown is shit, we all know that, we’re all aware of what is – or should I say isn’t – happening. We all miss serving or ordering drinks, the camaraderie of being in a bar and enjoying interaction with our friends.
That’s no different for Mike Enright and the team at Barrelhouse Group, who after taking time to figure out what they could do in the face of overnight closure have started bringing the business back to life.
The Government’s JobKeeper payment does mean that the group have been able to get staff back on-board and start building up an online business, but as Enright told Bars and Clubs even the payment has brought some issues.
“Job Keeper is great,” he said, “but it’s not paying us until either later this week or next week, so we’ve been paying our eligible staff for about five or six weeks, so that’s hurting us. But on the flip side we’re increasing what we are doing online and the fact is that we just couldn’t do it if we had to pay labour.
“There’s no margin in it, so if you were fielding the labour bill you’d just think forget about it.”
It’s a more promising position than the immediate one the group was forced into.
“We stood everyone including ourselves down at the beginning of this and then whoever was eligible for JobKeeper is working with us again.
“I feel really sorry for our casuals, or anyone who wasn’t eligible for JobKeepers, because certainly at the moment I don’t see how they can come back until we open the doors again.”
Until that moment Barrelhouse is now offering Sunday roasts, with Curry Night and The Gin Shop coming online this week, with delivery and pick-up options available. With that shift in the business model, Enright did have one funny take on how businesses could look at staff after the crisis.
“I was joking with a mate last night about how recruitment in the future will be quite funny, we’ll be saying ‘oh yeah you won Bacardi Legacy, that’s good, you won World Class, nice; have you got a driving licence and a car?’.”
On the serious side, looking at shifting the business, Enright told Bars and Clubs: “We were probably a bit slow, but at the start we had two weeks of trying to get our head around it all and really waiting for something from the Government. Then something did happen and so we got the staff able to do something and like everyone else we’ve gone straight to setting up an online business.
“We’re at the tail end of that set-up now, we’re launching our Gin Shop on Wednesday night, which has a special offer for Mother’s Day, where if you buy a bottle of gin you get a complimentary case of tonic.
“We’ve got the Sunday roasts up and running and they are going well for us, it has been a huge success. We’re just working on that each week and changing it up a little bit. We’re starting a Curry Night this Friday, so that goes live tonight and then Scotch Egg Club will start in three weeks’ time on Saturday’s. That will be a virtual tasting with Bacardi’s malts.
“It’s pretty exciting because we’re very close to having them all set up now.”
The team has set-up the Sunday roast system which requires orders to be placed by midday on Saturday and then on Sunday between 12pm and 1.30pm customers can either pick-up or the team will deliver. Enright told Bars and Clubs that the roasts are served cold and comes with a re-heating preparation guide because that was really the only way they could find a system that worked.
It’s a similar timeframe with the curry night, with orders placed by midday Thursday for Friday night and then the Gin Shop will have orders placed by midday Friday delivered on Friday night and midday Saturday delivered on Saturday night.
Enright added: “We started trialling Irish Coffee with the Sunday roasts last week, same thing with instructions on how to re-heat it and that went well. You can actually buy the glass as well – I mean who’s going to have an Irish Coffee glass at home?
“The Gin Shop will offer a lot of what we were holding and it’s made us realise we had a lot of stock, so if you’re looking for good things to come out of this, it’s that it really has given us the opportunity to look at how we run the business and also we have to really start looking at what our venues are going to look like when we can re-open.”
To put it in perspective, Enright said that while it is positive to have staff working, it’s still a far cry from where things were before the crisis.
“Looking at getting through, we thought if we can do 10 per cent of our usual revenue across the whole group then that’s as good as we can hope for really. But you look at that the other way and obviously it’s fucking 90 per cent down.
“But at least we are doing something and so when we do open back up and we might have the four-metre rule and things like that, at least we’ll have the online business established to cater for the people who can’t be in there.
“If we can have 20-25 people for a Sunday roast sitting where we would normally have 50, then hopefully the others are ordering online and that’s how we are hoping we’ll be able to get the business into a reasonable state.”
The over-riding sentiment from Enright is “we will get through it” and it’s a positive message for other operators, it is not too late to join the online world, and there is no doubt that the consumer support is there to help the venues we all love.