Home' Bars and Clubs : BAC JanFeb 2016 Contents LEARN FROM THE MASTERS
With two venue openings under his belt, Clifton says
that he learned “heaps” from each experience.
“Like any new solo operator there were many lessons
learnt,” he says. “But ultimately it’s so important to
always ask questions, and listen to others. Any advice
I could give would be to embrace other people’s
opinions, learn from them.”
While Clifton says that there isn’t anything he would
necessarily avoid the next time he opens a venue, he
does think there is plenty of room for improvement.
“Just the process of design and styling and putting a
model into a venue,” he says. “I went the long way around
in trying to figure that out. There are a hell of a lot of
shortcuts you can take which I learned by doing it.”
So what was the best advice he received?
“ You can never be too prepared,” says Clifton. “If you
don’t have your procedures and policies in place – which
a lot of people forget about, they just sort of open doors
and wing it for a while – it doesn’t work out well. If you’re
not prepared, it will slowly start going pear shaped.”
Thankfully working with some of the best in the
business helped Clifton when it came to branching out.
“Justin Hemmes is an unbelievable operator with an eye
for detail,” he says. “The knack I may have for making sure
even the smallest things get the appropriate attention
would be thanks to him.”
CAN YOU HEAR THE MUSIC?
With the live music aspect
of the venue, how do
you find acts and in turn
“99 per cent of the live
music at Donny’s is from
local musicians. There are
so many talented people
out there. Its not about
finding musicians that have massive followings, it’s
the quality and consistency of musicians that keep
bringing patrons back to the venue.”
Is it a fine line between too much entertainment and
not enough? How do you tackle the issue of people
leaving as soon as the bands are done etc?
“Yes and no. I do take pride in Donny’s for giving great
live music every night of the week, but its just one
component of the customer’s experience. Its important
to have all the other areas just as good; food, drinks,
service, décor, lighting and sound. We play all live
music until close, as to avoid patrons from leaving.”
FINDING GOOD PEOPLE
While Clifton admits that finding great
staff is a battle, he believes that it is all
about teamwork and family.
“Being a casual industry, people do
handful of key staff who have been with
us for quite some time now,” he says.
“We work closely as family and have
bonding times outside of work to build
The easiest way, according to Clifton,
is acknowledging great work.
“You go out for drinks, you go out
for dinners, you give them a lot of praise
so that they know they’re doing a good
job – have staff member of the month –
all those little things put somebody up
so they can walk around with a proud
head,” he says. “These people are the
face of your business, if they are not on
side, then you have no chance.”
DON’T BE AFRAID TO
The Woolshed is craft beer and
whisky specific – what drove your
decision to ‘theme’ the bar?
“We always look to see what hasn’t
been done in the area. Manly has
some great small bars, restaurants,
etc, so it’s important to develop that
little point of difference. And I love
craft beer and whisky.”
How important is food in the venue
and how do you keep the offering
fresh and relevant?
“It’s the old saying; without
one, you don’t have the other.
Yes, food is very important. We
follow a homestead style tapas
menu that continuously changes
with seasonality to ensure the
FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM
“There is a lot of things you can tell someone but the main one is: ask a lot of
questions of bar operators and get a lot of advice on operating. I didn’t ask enough
questions which was my downfall.
Ask and listen. Listening is most important. Because, I asked but then I thought,
‘Nah, well I can do it better than that’. But it didn’t work out that way and I should
So align yourself with like-minded people who can bring different things to
the table. You’re not going to build an empire by yourself. Today’s food and drink
industry is incredibly competitive and customer expectation is high, so it's all about
being smart with location and offering.”
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