They are the stalwarts of local Aussie entertainment. Before nightclubs, pop-up bars, and street markets – there were the great Australian pubs and clubs. Every suburb had one. Whether it was your local sports club, or a cornerside pub, these were the meeting places for a steak, a beer, and a yarn. Maybe a shot of pool or a quick game of bowls.
But as the younger generation begins to move through, the Aussie pubs and clubs of yesteryear are undergoing dramatic new makeovers to bring them into the 21st century.
We spoke with Silver Chef manager of the Pubs & Clubs division for Australia, Jodie Terzis, to talk about how these local institutions are stepping up their game.
It pays to trace back the start of this shift, back to the early 2000’s when pubs and clubs begun to experience a renaissance among the younger audience.
In 2002, the low-budget (but hugely successful) film Crackerjack was released. It followed Mick Molloy’s character Jack as he joins his local bowls club, playing against the other elderly members. At the time, it was a comedy – as if a young guy would ever dream of joining a bowls club! It had nothing but oldies in starched white uniforms.
But the movie sparked an interest, and the quirky practice of bowls – along with 1970s beer prices – saw it start a wave of popularity with young Australians looking for a new venue to drink at on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
The Australian ‘Jackaroos’ lawn bowls team, for example, has an average age is 29, with the oldest member 41 and the youngest just 18. In 2016, Bowls Victoria has 850 registered members under the age of 20 and a further 1200 aged between 20 and 30.
Aussie pubs, however, sought their recent revival from abroad. The ‘gastropub’ was a term that originated in England, as restauranteurs and sommeliers sought out new spaces to practice, in London’s congested inner city architecture.
Before long, Australia began to shift its fine-dining experience from chic, inner-city restaurants into the lively and spacious suburban pubs.
Jodie Terzis looks after the clubs, hotels, and pubs under the Silver Chef brand for Queensland and New South Wales. Her role has seen her work with hundreds of locations of varying sizes and success, and is well versed in the cultural shift currently underway in her sector.
“This is definitely not an outdated industry!” Jodie says passionately.
“There are some great chefs out there who are transforming our pub culture, and the market is huge. We will still be able to get our beer and watch sport at the local; but you will probably find a trendy dining area out the back with some amazing food coming out of the kitchen.”
Indeed, it is harder these days to find a pub that isn’t reinventing old favourites and reworking the classic pub interior.
As we are all finding in the hospitality industry, millennials (or ‘Gen Y’) are connected first and foremost online. According to Jodie, the pubs and clubs sector has come to see new technology and social media as the tools to attract a younger audience.
“Clubs and hotels are slowly become more digitally aware with innovative POS systems for ordering, websites and Facebook pages and members discounts online,” she says. “But there is a fine line between balancing the new technology and attracting the younger customers without alienating the older, existing customers who aren’t as technologically savvy.”
In 20 years time, 25% of Australia’s population will be over the age of 65. We are an ageing population, and Jodie notes that it is important to maintain an equal handed focus on both the younger, and older, Australian.
“Clubs have done their research and their target demographic is women 60+ years,” notes Jodie.
“The clubs that have this information are using it to attract this demographic to their clubs with discounts, entertainment, gambling and food and beverages aimed at this audience.”
When it comes to the younger crowd, however, the pubs and clubs sector are facing dramatic changes thanks to the new liquor licensing laws, lockouts, and laws around drinking. Surely this must be causing huge damage to the opportunities for our local pubs and clubs?
Jodie is sceptical about the changes. With the laws yet to be enforced in Queensland, she can only look to New South Wales – where the lockout laws are in full force – to try and understand the affects it has had for their audience.
“An article in The Daily Telegraph recently suggests that the incidents of violence in the CBD before 3am has dropped, however the incidents of violence in Kings Cross before 3am has not dropped. The ban on takeaway (alcohol) sales has also had a huge impact on venues.”
“I think a review is needed to look at whether changing the times in certain areas will have any impact on violence and the viability of businesses.”
The adaptation of pubs and clubs has been remarkable. With late night drinking and strict new laws on outdoor drinking, these local venues have begun to broaden their horizons for alternative money-making opportunities.
Broadbeach Bowls, for example, has just undergone a huge renovation in preparation for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, in which they are hosting the lawn bowls competition. Jodie is quick to point out the value in these events for both the community and the club.
“Whilst this will cater for the bowling crowd,” she says, “what is left at the conclusion of the games will be a top class venue that will cater for locals and tourists alike with a great shift in the culture of their food and beverage.”
Clubs NSW CEO Anthony Ball notes that part of their image makeover is to attract new and different audiences.
“Bowling is seen as a game for grandparents and fuddy duddies, and it needs to shake off that image,” Mr Ball said.
“There is a lot more attention for people’s time than there was in the 1950s. The challenge now is to adapt or die.”
Looking forward to the future, Jodie is excited for the future of her sector, but is not without a realistic view on the struggles the lockout laws will cause.
“I believe that things will change in the next 10 years – and maybe not for the better,” she notes.
“There will be a period of time where these lockout laws will go backward and forward as the industry and the politicians try to get it right. I believe that clubs and hotels are the safe spots to be and the violence is just being moved out into the street.”
And yet, the innovation being shown is remarkable. Bronte Bowls Club has become a childcare venue, whilst Maroubra Bowls Club holds weekend markets and is considering a microbrewery. On the pub front, an insatiable appetite for the ‘gastropub’ fare keeps them moving ahead, with some pubs such as The Oxford Tavern in Sydney serving American BBQ and smoked meat.
Pubs and clubs have been a long-loved part of the Aussie leisure time, and it seems they will continue to be for many years to come.
Images: The Newport.