Name: Quay St Diner
Founded in: 2018
Tip: “Trust your gut.”
When Quay St Diner opened, the menu was full of grilled California-style food that the co-founders Jon Finch and Ben Merrington loved to cook at home. They even had a metre-wide custom charcoal grill shipped in from California to make it authentic.
However, the customers ignored the fresh grilled food and opted for the token cheeseburger on the menu – something the restaurant wasn’t prepared to cook in large volumes. The founders had to decide whether to stick with the idea they loved or respond to customer demand.
As the restaurant got busier and busier over the Christmas period, the management team realised that the Californian grill was tying them in knots. It had to be fired up every day and there would sometimes be a 40-minute wait for it to heat up.
“As much as we wanted it to be a Californian grill restaurant, it was making our life really hard,” said Jon. “In the end, we decided to take the plunge. Everyone was buying burgers and the grill was just sitting there, so we took it out and put a burger grill in instead.”
Quay St Diner pivoted and reworked their menu, taking off dishes like barbecued prawns and big cuts of meat. They added more burgers, but also offered California-style tacos to keep some of the original fresh flavours. To ensure they were keeping up with what customers were buying, they started printing out a category report each week to check their best and worst sellers. If something hadn’t sold for three weeks, they took it off the menu and tried something else.
“We’re small and nimble enough to try new things,” Jon explains. “A mistake a lot of new businesses make is that they get so focused on what they think their customers will buy and what their business is. But it means that you’re not watching what’s selling and what’s not. You can spend a lot of money, but the business won’t work because you’re trying to push it the wrong way.”
Since they pivoted from the original idea, the restaurant runs more efficiently. The new menu has simplified orders, so wastage is lower. Ingredients are less expensive, since they can use similar things in different dishes. They no longer need to spend money on staff coming in early to prepare ingredients, so labour costs are down. Even though their dishes are cheaper, they can serve customers at a faster rate.
The biggest benefit has been that it’s enabled the restaurant to make the most of takeaway apps like Deliveroo. Their chefs were so busy making complicated orders that takeaways were impossible. Now they account for about 30-40 per cent of sales.
“You’ve got to be able to stand back and look at your business from a customer’s perspective. Don’t be too emotionally attached to your business idea. If you realise you need to pivot, do it quickly.”