30/01/2013 - 01:47

C for competition on Valentine’s Day

30/01/2013 - 01:47

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Four years on from a period of scathing reviews and business upheaval, C Restaurant is gearing up for one of its busiest days of the year. Shanna Crispin asks director David Preston what’s changed.

C for competition on Valentine’s Day
TURNAROUND: David Preston says C Restaurant has steadily improved its offering after investing more than $500,000 in 2010. Photo: Bohdan Warchomij

Four years on from a period of scathing reviews and business upheaval, C Restaurant is gearing up for one of its busiest days of the year. Shanna Crispin asks director David Preston what’s changed.

ON Valentine’s Day 2009, Perth’s C Restaurant got possibly its worst-ever review in mainstream media - adding to a growing perception it was over-priced and under-serviced.

It wasn’t the best timing for a venue popular with couples on the most romantic day of the year, but director David Preston told Gusto it was a fair assessment.

“Looking back on that I can’t argue with it; the food was bad, the service was rubbish and we were just relying on the view,” Mr Preston says.

But the view from the 33rd floor of the St Martin’s Tower was doing little to appease diners’ discontent - only 32 per cent of customers reviewing the restaurant on Urbanspoon were positive about the experience.

At the time, Mr Preston had only just become co-owner in partnership with current restaurant manager Olivier Letrone, and was given the job of handling customer complaints.

“It was a full-time job. I would dread coming into work in the morning because the emails were just a nightmare,” Mr Preston says.

According to Mr Preston, the crux of the issue was an unwillingness to reinvest in the restaurant.

His involvement promptly changed that, however, and upwards of $500,000 was injected into revamping the restaurant in the first year, as well as a complete refocus of the menu and service.

The number of complaints has now dwindled to about two per week, and 59 per cent of Urbanspoon reviews are positive. And while they’re not overly impressive figures, Mr Preston says they’re an indicator of the restaurant’s improvements.

“To think that we get about 2,000 patrons through in a week ... to only get two complaints is pretty good,” he says.

Mr Preston told Gusto the restaurant’s fixed overheads are the reason why it’s among the most expensive places to dine in Perth.

On any given night, a two-course meal excluding drinks costs $88 per person, which increases the need to deliver a memorable experience.

“We’re an expensive restaurant and we have got to be, because our fixed overheads are $2.5 million, so there’s no option but to whack the money on the customer,” Mr Preston says.

“Because of how expensive we are, we can’t serve (average) food and expect people to be happy; they need to go away thinking that food was good.”

With that in mind, the pressure will be on for Valentine’s Day 2013, with diners required to pay between $145 and $225 a head for a four-course meal excluding drinks (prices up to 90 per cent higher than normal and not based on operating costs).

“It’s a purely commercial decision; there’s no romance behind it,” Mr Preston says.

“It does cost us a bit more for the evening because we decorate it nicely and there’s a little gift for the lady, but nothing to justify the difference in price; it is quite simply because of demand.”

Mr Preston says the higher prices don’t hinder demand for tables with the most expensive tables often reserved first and the entire restaurant expected to be fully booked a week ahead of February 14th.

“And then about three days out from Valentine’s Day we can’t get off the phone because of people calling and wanting a table,” he says. People wanting to get in at some of Perth’s most renowned restaurants may have already missed out - Jackson’s in Mount Lawley, for example, is already fully booked for its five-course degustation menu at $125 per person.

Other Perth restaurants such as The Terrace Hotel and Origins Restaurant at the Pan Pacific have also taken the fixed-menu approach to Valentine’s Day to ease the pressure on chefs while increasing competition amid central city restaurants.

“We will always have competition on a food level,” Mr Preston says.

“But to sit and dine here and see it revolve, especially with our sunset, people clamour for that.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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