Since its birth in 2000, Bodytonic has gone from strength to strength - initially allowing for DJs to showcase their skills through a variety of venues. Now with five pubs to its roster (The Bernard Shaw, MVP, Wigwam, The Square Ball and The Back Page), the group’s success and involvement with the vibrant music scene in Dublin cannot be denied. So with the group’s Beatyard festival in Dun Laoghaire having just taken place in mid August, we decided to talk to Kate Farnon from Bodytonic, about their success and what the future holds for such a dynamic group.
Kate, who worked her way up through the company, originally handing out flyers, is now officially Head of Design and Build Projects. Her job includes the management of everything from design concepts to build and execution. ”My job is varied and contrasting which keeps it interesting,” Kate explained. “For example two of my most recent projects; Eatyard street food market - which involved transforming a piece of wasteland into an outdoor casual dining space; and Pot Duggan's bar in Ennistymon Co. Clare - which was a conservation project on a listed building; these projects were two opposite ends of the scale and required two completely different approaches.”
Kate also oversees the maintenance and any major upkeep on all of the bars in the group. She has been involved in refurbishing projects, with some exciting ones coming down the line that have been in the pipeline since January. ”Logistically it generally starts with a concept, a budget, a site survey & deadline and then I take it from there,” she explained.
“With project management there are so many moving parts, different personalities, egos, opinions involved that it really is a skill to be able to cut through it all and keep the project moving,” she said.
Kate believes that food is a major change for pubs: “In recent years having a good food offering has become as appealing as the draw of having a named DJ”. All Bodytonic bars have a substantial casual food offering. “The customer is more discerning now than ever before so the standard of what you're offering, whether it's food, drinks or music, is important,” said Kate. “Just look at how we drink gin now as an example, if you order a gin and tonic in most bars in Dublin you will be asked to choose from a selection of gins, tonics, garnishes and glassware!” Kate believes that consumers now want more than just drinks on a night out, so other offerings like variety of beverages, food and music are also essential for success.
There are still challenges in the industry, as Kate pointed out, that come with emerging from the other side of an economic crash. Austerity has led to a general wariness of taking risks, which is understandable, but as the way people consume changes, so too must businesses.
“The landscape is changing though and the challenge now, is not to make the same mistakes as before the crash,” she stated.
Each bar in the Bodytonic group has its own personality and offer different things to different people but a major element that makes the group different is the level of engagement with customers. “A lot of thought and planning goes into the customer experience at Bodytonic HQ - from the music being played to the food and drink being served but most importantly the levels of fun being had!” Kate said. Bodytonic has built up a good reputation because of this association and Kate believes that people know that they are going to have a good night when they see the name.
Trevor O’Shea, the chief executive of the group, had been looking to set up Eatyard, or a version of it, for years, after he had visited a number of food markets throughout the UK and US. He felt that there was a gap in Ireland for outdoor casual dining, drinks and music. That, along with the growth in the number of quality street food vendors and the increasing popularity of street food culture in Ireland, culminated in Eatyard opening its doors in November 2016.
The logistics of setting up festivals are ‘a whole other beast’, according to Kate, than dealing with pubs and centrally based venues. “Essentially you are building something from scratch, turning a greenfield site with little or no amenities into a fully functioning arena for thousands of people with music stages, food, bars, funfairs, camping, toilets.”
She described the logistics as “Absolutely mind blowing and unless you work within it you will never see the full extent of the volume of work that goes into producing them”. Other factors to consider also include the temporary nature of festivals, with the amount of work promoting and building from scratch, only for them to disappear again for another year.
“Events in venues and bars however are something that you keep working on, developing, tweaking, upgrading; the structure rarely changes it's just the content that does. The challenge with that is keeping it fresh and interesting enough for people to keep coming back week on week,” Kate concluded.