Viennese fancy

01 January 2000
Viennese fancy

Of the 16 people Brian Patton employs in his latest pub venture, one is Yugoslavian, one is Swedish and another is English. Despite the fact that Charlie P's is located in the heart of Vienna, the remaining staff are not Austrian, but Irish.

"It's important to have Irish people working in an Irish pub, to give customers a feel for Ireland," says manager David Foran. "If they get served by someone without an Irish accent, they don't buy [the concept]."

Charlie P's was the third Irish pub to open in Vienna when it began trading in November last year (two more pubs have since converted to the Irish theme) and there are plans to expand in the future. "When we began looking for European sites two years ago, we viewed cities such as Berlin and Paris but they were saturated with Irish pubs," says Foran. "Paris alone has 52."

A good site became available in the Austrian capital in the form of a chemist's shop, and this was gutted and refurbished at a cost in excess of £500,000. Many of the interior fittings came from a decommissioned church in South Wales, including pews which provide seating and the pulpit which houses the DJ.

Very traditional

Spread over two floors, Charlie P's is larger than other Irish pubs in Vienna, with 300 seats and standing room for around 200 more. Downstairs is a cellar bar where customers can dance to live bands or music from the DJ; upstairs is a very traditional Irish pub environment with separate "snug" areas for privacy.

The architect who designed Charlie P's was also responsible for designing two Dublin pubs, the Liffey Bar and Jack Humphrey's, owned by Patton's late father, Charlie, after whom the Vienna venture was named.

But the planning stages for the latest pub were not without problems. "There was a lot of red tape to get through," says Foran. Indeed, Patton encountered an official process which tied him up in paperwork for a year before he was allowed to go ahead with his plans to open Charlie P's.

The language barrier was another problem at the beginning, and a translator was brought in to help in the early stages. However, since the pub opened, language has been less of a problem, partly because some of the staff remember a little German from school or college, but mainly because the customers, 90% of whom are Viennese, love to speak English and do so rather well.

Fascination with Ireland

"It's part of the experience for them," explains Foran. "Vienna doesn't really have a pub culture; it's more in the style of bars and cafés. People here are not used to a pub atmosphere, and they have a fascination with Ireland and its image." The experience appears to be a very popular one, with Charlie P's turning over £750,000 in the first six months.

Many of the pub's customers have at some time visited Ireland. While in Dublin recently, for example, Foran met two regulars from Charlie P's who had decided to look up their local's sister pub, the Liffey Bar, while on holiday.

Students make up a large proportion of the customers, as the Schottentor area in which the pub is located has a large student population. People are attracted by the fact that there is no entry charge which, according to Foran, is unusual for a pub in Vienna with a DJ or live music, either one of which plays a mix of traditional Irish and popular music at Charlie P's every night. "We get our money back from food and drink," says Foran.

Food is served daily from 10am to 10pm but will shortly be available until 1am, because many people are asking for food after the kitchen has closed. An average of 100 covers a day, served largely in the evening, accounts for 6-7% of takings.

There is a small lunchtime trade on which Foran is hoping to expand, with a new menu introduced by the pub's 23-year-old Yugoslavian head chef, known only as Nico, who joined the team in March from a hotel in Vienna. "We wanted someone with experience who would come in and take over the kitchen and build up the business," says Foran.

Luckily, Nico speaks fluent English, which comes in handy since his brigade of two commis chefs, Gina McKenna and Bernie McElholoim, come from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland respectively.

"We started off with an all-Irish menu including Irish breakfast (Sch90/£4.50), a traditional stew (Sch95/£4.75), and fish and chips (Sch95), but since Nico took over we have introduced popular dishes such as pasta (Sch90), filled cräpes (Sch85/£4.25) and other light meals," says Foran. "Now the pub bit is sorted out, we are concentrating on the kitchen."

Average spend on food is Sch80 (£4), with meals ranging in price from Sch75 (£3.75) for a club sandwich to Sch120 (£6) for a steak.

There are also special deals for students. "It pulls them in, and they like to drink," says Foran.

Guinness, which is the pub's third best-seller, and Kilkenny are the main Irish beers served at Charlie P's. Also available are four local lagers and, for an international flavour, there is Foster's lager. "We also introduced cider," says Foran, "which the Austrians hadn't heard of before. It's becoming quite popular."

The Irish beers are imported specially from Ireland, so they cost more (Sch65/£3.25 per pint), and genuine Irish crisps and sausages are imported through a distributor in Munich. "We are giving the customers a taste of Irishness and they don't mind paying for it," says Foran. The high cost of living in Vienna makes it possible to achieve a higher profit.

Increasing profits

Foran is further increasing profits by lots of promotional activity. A very successful event was St Patrick's Day in March, when the pub was full to capacity. "We couldn't fit anyone else in," he says.

However, promotions are not necessarily Irish. In April, Foran was persuaded to lay on a Queen's Day celebration by linking with Dutch beer company Grölsch. "We did the promotion because our Dutch customers asked us to," says Foran. "People come back if you look after them, and we promote our good service as much as possible because service is not generally good in Vienna."

Plans include placing advertising in the in-flight magazines of airlines running flights between Ireland and Vienna, in the hopes that Irish people visiting the Austrian capital will look up Charlie P's and that Austrians in Dublin will be tempted to try one of Patton's pubs there.

And Foran intends to advertise the fact that, this summer, Charlie P's is to be fitted with air conditioning, a fact he is convinced will bring more people in. "Not many places have air conditioning," he says, "so it will be an attraction, as it gets humid in the evenings in summer."

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