Everyone can play a part in saving Penrith’s restaurants

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Our front page story last week on the dire state of Penrith’s hospitality sector certainly garnered plenty of interest and commentary.

I’ve received loads of feedback from restaurant and cafe owners across the Penrith area, and read a tonne of comments online about what’s happening out there.

And I’ve read plenty from the general public too, throwing in their two cents about why so many restaurants and cafés are closing their doors at the moment.

One thing for certain is that there is a clear divide between the realities that hospitality owners are facing and the general customer’s understanding of said pressure.

“That restaurant closed because it was over-priced,” was a common suggestion, not taking into account that if shaving a few dollars off each menu item would have saved said restaurant, the owners would have done it.

The reality is that people are spending less but everything is costing more; from wages and rent to supplies and stock. It is a tough game at present.

Chechos in Penrith recently closed.

I’ve been told by one owner who recently closed the doors on his restaurant that the average individual spend dropped by about $30 over the last 12 months, but his costs went up 30 per cent. The two things obviously can’t be sustained.

And there is no question that all of this is more than just bad luck and coincidence at present, when you consider how long the list of recent closures is.

Chechos, The Bavarian, P’Nut, Taj of the Valley, The Savoury Dining, Duck Duck Goose, Allan Grammar, Avli, High Street Social, Burger Head… the list goes on.

We’ve also got Okami in administration at present and The Brew Lab to close its doors in the near future.

Adding to the intrigue here is that all of these restaurants are different.

From Mexican to Vietnamese, burgers to Japanese. It’s not like they fell victim to an over-saturated market or direct competition.

That is part of the sadness of all of this too. After years and years of a ‘same same’ feel about Penrith’s dining scene, we’d finally started to see an array of new food options, bringing a bit of the city to the west.

Now so many of them are gone and it’s really a backwards step.

P’Nut in Jamisontown closed due to tough economic conditions.

Blame? Well, as usual, it’s somewhat shared.

The cost-of-living crisis is certainly biting Penrith restaurants hard in terms of patronage and customer spend, and that probably sits at the top of the list in terms of why so many venues are struggling.

This will have significant impacts politically in the future, given Anthony Albanese came to power on a promise of making things easier for everyday Australians.

His fault or not, it’s very difficult to argue that things aren’t harder now than they were before he came to power.

But a lot of restaurants have also been quick to talk about a lower level of Government, saying they wanted more support from Penrith City Council.

They point to major events using outside food trucks rather than making use of Penrith CBD businesses, and believe that some of Penrith’s marketing tools – like the Visit Penrith website – have fallen away.

There is probably a reasonable point to be made in that Penrith could benefit from a refresh of how some of its food businesses are promoted, whether that’s the use of paid social media influencers, refreshed tools or specific campaigns focused on local restaurants and experiences.

Commercial landlords can’t escape scrutiny either. While I know some have put plenty of effort into helping their tenants, many are tightening the screws and making profit margins impossible to maintain.

But eateries of course must take some of the responsibility for their own marketing and who and what they target.

So many focus on building a social media presence that ultimately continues to preach to the converted or becomes extremely costly to cast a net and target the right audience.

There is plenty to be said for the more traditional forms of advertising, from billboards and bus signage to local newspapers, particularly when it comes to attracting audiences with more disposable income and those who may not regularly engage with social media.

The Bavarian closed its doors earlier this year. Photo: Melinda Jane.

I also think public feedback about some venues being cashless, or not having a phone, does deserve to be taken on board.

They are reasonably simple resources to implement and again, it is those people with the higher disposable incomes who are also often the people who want to pay in cash to make bill splitting easier, or who want to be able to talk to somebody on the phone about large bookings or changes.

But of course, you could mount arguments all day about why so many restaurants have faced exsanguination.

One answer is that where we can, we support these businesses as much as possible. Penrith has always been good at standing up in times of crisis, and while this may not have all the emotion of a flood or fire attached, I assure you there’s plenty of people out there hurting.

In most cases these are local people who’ve poured their blood, sweat and tears into making a dream come true.

They are now kept up at night not by customers knocking down their door but by bills piling up and the dreams becoming more like a nightmare.

More hospitality businesses are on the brink right now and the crisis is far from over.

You can’t create more money out of thin air, but if you do have the budget, get out and support a local restaurant where you can. You may just play a part in saving them.

Troy Dodds

Troy Dodds is the Weekender's Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia's leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.

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