South Africa’s wine capital of Stellenbosch is not really having its cup runneth over with culinary hot-spots. That would be the town itself ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the surrounding winelands have a plethora of fine places to chow-down in spectacular surroundings.
Knowing this, I was still surprised when a group of local advertising honchos suggested we meet at the relatively-recently opened Hussar Grill in Plein Street where they were planning to twist my arm into dropping a wad of cash with their media portfolio.
Hussar Grill? That quaint Rondebosch steak house from the 1960s that has morphed into a chain-eatery with establishments in Camp’s Bay, Green Point,Tygervalley and now Stellenbosch?
Well, these hosts were advertising execs, what do they know?
Turns out, Hussar Grill is currently the Stellenbosch hot-spot, attracting not only the predictable herd of migratory Gauteng-businessmen, bored local housewives and meat-munching academics from the university, but also winemakers and winery-owners.
I mean, what’s there not to like about the Hussar? A clean, well-lighted space. Service staff who speak English or Afrikaans that does not sound like a National Geographic African Linguistic Special insert. And a good piece of meat.
A quick chat with management revealed that in an economically tight environment, the Hussar chain is doing very well, thank you. This was confirmed by a recent week-night visit to the branch at Willowbridge. Pumping.
There is one teeny-weeny, eensy-peensy feature that separates Hussar Grill from other steak-houses and restaurants. And that is the phrase “we never charge corkage” which is so proudly displayed at the entrance to its establishments.
These four words would send most restaurateurs into a piteous state, a state where they’d be wandering the wastelands in ghoulish madness mumbling incoherent words of chaos as to how any restaurant would dare to not only never charge corkage, but actually encourage patrons to bring their own wine.
“Corkage is evil. People who want corkage are evil. We the restaurant will not, we repeat will not, survive if evil people bring their evil corkage-wanting wines into our place.”
When asked what they the restaurateurs actually do to warrant charging the 200% to 350% mark-up on a harmless little bottle of wine, they just shrug their shoulders, continuing to mumble incomprehensible Business for Dummies phrases.
But the question begs an answer: if so many renowned restaurateurs – including Alan Pick from The Butcher’s Shop to whom the practise of corkage makes Andr+¬ van Rensburg’s anti-Pinotage tirades sound like choral music ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ are against patrons bringing wine, how does Hussar succeed?
Two reasons, methinks.
As a manager of brand reputation, I can safely say that the “we never charge corkage” marketing slogan employed by Hussar immediately creates trust in the eye of the patron of potential patron. I mean, what a great warm, inviting, I’m-your-buddy slogan!
Almost like the guy at work saying: “Come for dinner, and you can bonk my wife”.
By openly stating that one is welcome to bring one’s own wine, Hussar succeeds in harnessing the trust of the customer. My mind goes that if I am not going to be ripped off in the wine department, the general experience is going to be of the win-win type from my side.
Great marketing. Made greater by the fact that Hussar has taken ownership of this bring-your-bottle approach, as far as the Cape’s restaurant scene is concerned in any event.
The second reason for the success of this policy is that the open invitation to bring your own wine seldom leads to patrons abusing the system. In most instances, four people will bring one bottle of something special and complement this by buying another bottle from the wine-list. I mean, who really wants to lug four to six bottle of vino around with them when going for a night out?
For the patron, the saving on wine leads to a longer stay at the restaurant, where the extra Irish Coffees, espressos and odd Port or Cognac that would not have been ordered if the wine spend had been bigger, help to balance the books quite nicely.
Fact is, despite its Corkage Glasnost, Hussar still sells a shedload of wine. Check out the wine-list, the shelves, the wine-friendly ambience.
Hussar Grill. Been going since 1964, while in Cape Town a restaurant that survives for more than 60 months is labelled an institution.
Proof that a well-oiled wheel does not need re-inventing.