For 30 years Hog’s Breath Cafe has been one of Australia’s most favourite restaurants, feeding the country’s steak lovers.
But the iconic eatery that once had restaurants dotted around the country is facing a demise, with 12 restaurants closed down in the past six months alone.
With 83 restaurants operating during its prime, there are just 65 left with additional closures expected in the future.
On its website, Hog’s Breath claims from day one it set out to be unlike any other.
So how did it go from being a once successful saloon to struggling to survive?
‘It sounds bogan’
University of Melbourne’s pop-culture expert Lauren Rosewarne told Yahoo News Australia a venue titled ‘Hog’s Breath’ would only ever reach a limited number of food lovers.
“Be it because it sounds bogan, downmarket, hokey, the name alone will turn off many diners,” she said.
Dr Rosewarne also claimed consumers now had a “laundry list” of requirements when dining out.
“Dairy-free, gluten-free, Paleo, superfood – fortified personalised food demands mean that chain restaurants aren’t really tapping into where audiences are at,” she said.
“We’re a culture that wants our restaurants to be more nimble – to have constantly changing menus that tap into new culinary trends and chain restaurants generally can’t offer this; certainly not Hog’s Breath.”
Dr Rosewarne said chain restaurants were struggling, particularly in cities with scores of other dining options.
‘Same old, same old’
Retail analyst and managing director of Marketing Focus, Barry Urquhart, told Yahoo News in the past 30 years the chain had offered nothing new to customers.
“To a large extent the one thing they are not doing is recognising the dramatic shift in consumer expectations,” he said.
“What will attract people is new – if you have an established menu and food range, that’s old.
“It is a demanding and rapidly changing market and you can’t have the same old, same old, not capturing the imagination of people.”
Mr Urquhart said Hog’s Breath was losing to the people who were sitting at home with their family wondering where to go for dinner.
“A lot of these restaurants aren’t front of mind or even on the shopping list,” he said.
“If you can get people talking about you, you all of a sudden start to become interesting, a lot of these places are no longer interesting.”
Mr Urquhart said many families were falling back on McDonald’s for a quick inexpensive dinner and family restaurants did not win out when they decided to have a dining out experience instead.
“People are reining in expenditure and being more selective and wanting a new experience,” he said.
“Once upon a time people were spending money and going out more often but that practice is not happening as much today.”
‘The toughest environment we’ve seen in 30 years’
Hog’s Breath Cafe chief executive Ross Worth told Yahoo News there were still 65 restaurants operating in Australia and there were no plans to close the Hog’s brand.
“Whilst we may unfortunately see some additional closures in future, we reopened our Glenelg restaurant in Adelaide last week and are working to reopen our Maitland restaurant on the NSW coast which recently closed.”
Mr Worth said there were a number of factors that led to the closures of a dozen restaurants this year alone.
“It’s unquestionably the toughest environment we’ve seen in our 30-year history, the dine-in restaurant sector has experienced 10 consecutive quarters of decline,” he said.
“In addition to a decrease in spending, consumers have also significantly changed their eating and shopping habits with the arrival of food delivery services and increasing prevalence in meal kits.
“We are also experiencing increases in operational costs with rising wages, raw food costs, rent and electricity. We work very closely to support our franchisees in managing these costs, for example, we have partnered with Energy Alliance to reduce electricity costs in over 10 restaurants, saving them thousands of dollars.”
Mr Worth said however the current climate would sadly impact some of the remaining restaurants.
Hog’s Breath attempts to revive chain
The CEO said Hog’s Breath was exploring other avenues to meet evolving customer demands and diversify their offering.
“This has led to a number of new initiatives such as delivery, order at table tablets, the automation and diversification of our loyalty program and continued menu development,” he said.
“Without losing what makes us Hog’s, we have evolved our menu with appetite changes. We offer a variety of menu options to suit different dietary needs along with vegetarian and vegan options.”
Mr Worth said this month alone it had launched new menu items and while it was important to change the menu in line with worldwide trends, there were still some menu favourites that “are simply part of the Hog’s tradition”.
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