Brisbane’s Dessert Storm

Recently there’s been quite a bit of controversy around the humble dessert, specifically those served by Brisbane’s dessert dining stalwart Freestyle Tout.

I first heard about it when this link from the Courier Mail popped up in my newsfeed on Facebook.

Frees Style Tout says diners must order one meal per person

Cut a long story short it was an article about Martin Duncan, owner of Freestyle Tout, and his recent decision to insist that guests during peak times order a meal and a drink.

The initial response was scathing, so much so that the story was picked up online publishing behemoth Mashable

Cue social media melt-down, the result of which is that no one is ever, EVERRRR going to Freestyle Tout again!

But then something happened. The tide of outrage began to turn, and the comments on both Freestyle’s Facebook page AND on the Mashable article started to be decidedly in Duncan’s favour.

Freestyle Tout - Facebook Comment 1

It was especially interesting to see the comments on Mashable from the American perspective. Their restaurant industry is so dependent on tips that the very thought of sharing meals or ordering tap water had them seeing red…

Freestyle Tout - Mashable Comments

After the hoo-haa died down the result was pretty even. Certainly not a definitive loss to Freestyle, nor was it a resounding win for outraged consumers.

But although there are valid arguments to both sides of this story here’s why I think Freestyle made the wrong call…

Firstly lets be clear – it takes balls to open a restaurant. Hospitality has one of the highest burn out rates of any industry and we’ve all seen restaurants open with great fanfare only to fold quietly within just a few months.

It’s a tough, tough gig. So to keep TWO restaurants in business for 18 years, as Martin Duncan has done, is a feat worthy of respect.

But there in lies Freestyle’s two big problems

1. Complacency

The thing about complacency is that it’s the by-product of business success. When things aren’t going well you have to be open to change and willing to accept that what you’re doing may not be what right for the market.

But when things ARE going well there’s no drive to innovate – because there’s no reason to innovate. Hey, if it aint broke right?

Freestyle is a classic example. It has been very successful for a very long time. So long in fact that it probably feels like its immune to trends and changes in consumer tastes.

This was borne out by comments by a few of my friends when I shared the link on my Facebook page. Even the one who considered herself to be a Freestyle fan conceded that they hadn’t changed the menu since she was a teenager (apart from adding a few gluten free / low sugar options which is hardly innovation).

Freestyle Tout Desserts

Freestyle Tout Desserts

image credit

But the problem is that Freestyle can’t really afford to be complacent because of it’s other big problem…

2. Competition

When Freestyle opened in 1996 the Brisbane dining scene was a markedly different place than the one we enjoy today.

By making desserts the hero of their menu Freestyle managed to carve out a unique position for themselves which helped them stand out easily from the crowd.

But things have changed. First came the dessert based franchises like Max Brenner, Chocolateria San Churro and Theobroma. Hot on their heels came a myriad of dessert restaurants, gelatarias, waffle joints… you get the picture.

So the competition has picked up but its not only that. Trends have come along that challenge the standard dining experience. Share plates and the whole concept of sharing food is on the rise and smart restaurants are catering to that.

Cowch Naked Pop

Cowch Naked Pop

image credit

And this is why I believe that Freestyle has made the wrong call.

Instead of seeing the problem as an opportunity to challenge themselves and innovate they’ve made the choice to cling for dear life to “the way things have always been”.

It’s a strategy that may reap short term gains but ultimately by choosing to stand still and ignore shifts in customer dining tastes they leave themselves exposed to the new kids on the block.

Competitors like Cowch who embrace shared dining and have structured their menu accordingly. Competitors who have with fresh ideas and their finger on the pulse of Brisbane’s dining scene.

Rachel - Ed

About Rachel

Thirty-something Brisbane lover, trying to find the balance between FOMO and YOLO. Semi-retired party girl who loves planning itineraries for big nights out. Often found dragging 3 boys around your local farmers markets or attempting to sneak out for dinner with my husband, The Chef.

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4 Responses to “Brisbane’s Dessert Storm”

  1. Oh.em. gee….. The picture of that naked pop. I have no idea what this is, but I WANT!! Great post. Love the fresh, clean design and your header looks fantastic.

    • Rachel - Ed
      Rachel - Ed Reply

      Thanks Melissa! The naked pop is like a Magnum but without the chocolate on the outside… THEN THEY LET YOU CHOOSE YOUR OWN CHOC & TOPPINGS TO PUT ON IT OMG. I intend to have one stat and promise to take lots of pictures 🙂

  2. I was disappointed with Freestyles public comments. Agree patrons can be inconsiderate, but I don’t like being dictated to. Am sure their overheads are crazy at Emporium, perhaps need to return to Rosalie. P.s. Lovely meeting u last week! X

    • Rachel - Ed
      Rachel - Ed Reply

      That is quite uncanny as I have literally just finished reading your last post where you mention them!! And yeah I’m sure there are the odd few diners that really take the piss (i.e 8 desserts between 20 people which was quoted in the article) but it seems a shame to penalise the majority because of it. And it was so lovely to meet you too – even more so as a future member of the 3 sons club!! Seeing the pics in your post reminded me how lovely you looked too xx

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