The inaugural Licensee Super Forum was held yesterday in Melbourne, bringing key industry stakeholders and professionals together to discuss furthering the city’s success.
Around 320 people gathered at the heart of the southern capital, Melbourne’s Town Hall – the site of countless historic moments and performances over the past 135 years, including debate on Australia’s Federation.
The Licensee Super Forum (LSF) aimed to workshop the changes seen in the city that have seen dynamic improvements over the past three years, such as the engorgement of the food industry (up 45 per cent) and subsequent gains in business and employment (up 11 per cent).
“Melbourne is the food & leisure capital of Australia,” pronounced Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
“1am is the new 11pm … how do we continue to expand and capitalise on this?”
Contrasting Sydney’s flailing night-time economy, Melbourne has taken the considered approach that diversification and improvements to infrastructure are the smarter solutions to perceived problems with anti-social behaviour and violence involving alcohol.
“We realised we can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” summarised the Mayor.
This sentiment was echoed by Victorian Police, who noted significant reductions in officer assaults during peak times as patrons leaving venues make greater use of the ‘trial’ of 24-hour public transport on key routes, and are no longer forced to linger and mingle in public areas.
Marika Harvey of Public Transport Victoria said the all-night weekend transport trial is not seen as “an answer” but has already produced numerous benefits, such as an unexpectedly high number of shift workers making use of the services rather than being forced to drive.
Coupled with the wide variety of patronage now riding the subsidised train and bus services, journeys across the weekend have risen from 10,000 in January to over 35,000 in April.
Harvey said the scheme, scheduled to run for at least 12 months, is being assessed on a number of platforms. Beyond just the important factor of level of usage, satisfaction with the service and its wider impact on activity in the city are being monitored to gauge social engagement and public interaction with the scheme.
International drinks producer Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) brought its broad perspective to the discussion, offering insights on consumer trends, social behaviour and smart design to make the most of patron wants.
CUB’s Ash Watson talked of the stand-out consumer trends* influencing behaviour in social settings and patronage both in Australia and in comparable societal environments around the world.
Watson referenced ongoing research by the big brewer that has found:
- The statistically typical social group is four people, and globally venues are breaking up traditional large format designs to cater to this
- The dominant social occasions bringing people to on-premise are dinner and catch-ups with friends – further emphasizing the ever-growing importance of foodservice in venues, which is reportedly driven by the notion of “What I get at home – done better”
The CUB on-premise director also specified what they have learned about the reasons people choose one venue over another, notably friendly, courteous staff, and proximity to home.
In context of CUB as one of the major producers of mainstream beer labels, he also noted that although the ‘craft’ beer movement is drawing more consumers away from the 90 per cent dominance of traditional ‘lager’ styles, there is an even greater movement toward even milder, “easy-drinking” offerings.
Question time saw the audience proffer both agreeance and frustration in licensed venue regulation, and – in a lesson for Sydney – pleas for organisers to suggest ways to increase the level of discussion and involvement by licensees.
Guest speaker David Staughton – the ‘Business Improvement Guy’ – suggested that this issue was addressed in other industries by adopting a “carrot and stick” approach to involvement, possibly leading to reductions in red tape and incentives in licence fees.
But the AHA Victoria, represented at the Forum by Deputy CEO Paddy O’Sullivan, refuted this approach, insisting that penalties on licensees was a “harsh and regressive” method of pushing engagement that would likely result in unwilling attendance.
Speaking to PubTIC, O’Sullivan said that mutual benefit would be a far more successful approach.
“The Australian Hotels Association (Victoria) believes demonstration of ‘value and relevance’ is the best way to achieve fulsome attendances by licensees at liquor forums and Accords.
“This means a concerted and combined effort by Police, Councils and the Licensing Commission to establish meaningful forums and Accords where regular attendance by licensees is assured.”
The overwhelming feedback on yesterday’s Super Forum was one of both value and relevance, and organiser, the City of Melbourne, was praised for its insight and encouraged to plan for more of the same soon.
*CUB research cites the following trends in on-premise patronage:
- The increasing importance of culinary culture
- A shift in attitudes toward products and their provenance; consumers are becoming far more interested in the history behind brands
- The role of gender is becoming less relevant in products and social settings
- Consumers repertoires are evolving; discovering new things is a booming driver of consumption
- Moderation is becoming an important factor: lower ABV and ‘premiumisation’ – swapping quantity for quality
- Palettes are changing, and traditional product leaders are becoming less ubiquitous