It’s common in places like Paris, London and New York, but finding somewhere to grab a bite outside set lunch or dinner hours has not always been easy in Australia. That is slowly changing, as more and more restaurants embrace the all-day dining trend.
When Bistro Rex opened in Sydney’s Potts Point in March, it offered the option four days per week. It has proved so successful it recently extended the concept to seven days. The French restaurant now offers its full menu from midday till close. That means no pesky pause between services and no disappointing reduced menu offerings for late afternoon lunches.
“We decided we wanted to open the kind of place we wanted to go to,” co-founder and manager Nick Bowden says. “Working in hospitality ourselves our schedules are completely out of sync with the norm. Usually we are forced to change ourselves to something that doesn’t fit around our lifestyle. Places where you can drop in for lunch at 4pm and dinner at 10pm suit us perfectly.”
“It’s a difficult one for restaurants to manage, but I think there will be a trend towards it. We’re seeing a lot in this neighbourhood already. Rather than having a big break between service we’re trying to find a way to accommodate people all the way through.”
While he admits it is harder, Bowden says the long-term rewards are greater in terms of being able to offer a better service. “People can drop in for a glass of champagne and oysters at 3.30pm,” he says. “A lot of people come and have meetings on site, they can sit down at 2pm and eat whenever they fancy. There’s no need to jump through any hoops.
“From a customer point of view giving them more flexibility and putting power back into their hands is always well received. It’s nice for a customer to feel like they can do what they want when they want. You just need the population and interest to support it, otherwise it’s a revenue buster.”
Bistro Rex still sets nearly half the restaurant aside for walk ins, and uses OpenTable for web bookings. “Most reservations are made online,” Bowden says. “No matter what the age demographic everybody feels comfortable booking a table online. On a busy night it allows us to run a waitlist.”
Restaurant Hubert, in Sydney’s CBD, has also accepted reservations at any time of day since it opened last year. It is also launching happy hour between 3pm and 5pm, offering drinks and snacks for $5. “The owners like to eat a little bit later, they like the idea of being able to drop in and have something to eat. It’s not just an afterthought,” general manager Anthony Moore says. “And who doesn’t like having a drink at 3.30 in the afternoon? I think a lot of the people who work with us get it and understand it and why we do it. They’re the kind of people who like to dine like that as well.
“The kitchen is open for twelve-and-a-half hours non-stop. We get a lot of people coming in at 11.30pm or midnight after going to the opera or the theatre. Between 3pm and 5pm a lot of hospo guys go on a break, so they might come down and smash a burger or if they finish at 11pm they will come in.
“It’s an increasing trend. If you go to places like San Sebastian or anywhere in Spain you don’t even think about eating dinner until 9.30pm. I think Australians are slowly catching up to the trend.”
Moore says some people prefer to eat later in the day, or may have meetings that run over time. “There’s a lot of five-star hotels around here and people might go on a day trip and don’t get to eat lunch,” he says. “From a business point of view, you have to think that your chefs and your floor staff are here anyway, so you have to capitalise on this. We’re lucky that we have quite a big team. It wouldn’t make sense at some small places.