The end of dollar drafts
URSU to phase out popular night of cheap brews
Author: dana morenstein – contributor
“What’s The Owl?” This is the puzzled response from a first-year student when asked for his opinion on the decision the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) has made to discontinue dollar drafts on Wednesday nights. Once advised that it is the University bar/restaurant, he replies, “Oh, the University has that?”
Perhaps The Owl needs to do more to attract students.
The Owl has been in financial straights for some time now. In 2012 the Owl was reported as being $202, 484 in debt, during the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. As a result, the long-standing Dollar Draft days have been discontinued and replaced by what has been aptly christened, “Whiskey Wednesdays.”
“We had to make the decision that there will be no dollar drafts … The simple fact is that we were losing a lot of money on it. Like, a significant amount,” URSU president Devon Peters says, seated behind his desk in the URSU office. “We’re going to see the audited financial statements come out and the fact of the matter is, we had to raise student fees this year because the students union was no longer viable.”
“We had to look at our entire business plan,” Peters continues. “Just to give you a bit of historical information, the Owl has a couple of really big disadvantages over your traditional restaurant establishment. Basically, you’ve got [the fact] we pay the university a service fee to keep this space. That includes a portion of the grounds keeping and a lot of internal costs; that basically starts us off at $90,000 in the hole. Our business is run with a unionized staff, which is good. We run it as a service for those staff. We give people high paying jobs, opportunity to get in the door, we train them in a very purposeful manner to make them very good employees and well equipped to be out in the work world.
“The downside of that is that it costs us more money. Our staff costs are a lot higher than a comparable business in the city. So, for those reasons, the Owl has struggled to make a profit in the past couple years…No one is excited about Dollar Drafts anymore”
Instead, The Owl will be offering a wine and whiskey Wednesday. This will provide students the opportunity to enjoy classier beverages with a bit of a “classier” price tag.
“We’re still going to be doing dollar drafts, but we’re not going to be doing them every Wednesday — we’ll have them as a special event,” Peters says. “You might see them once a month.”
Peters cites times when he’d walk into the Owl with “15 to 20 friends” and there’d only be 25 people in the entire bar. If dollars draft days happen only on occasion, the argument goes, they’ll be more of a novelty and therefore, will bring in more business. Thus, The Owl, and subsequently, the student union will be on their way to making up for the black cloud of deficit that has plagued them over the past couple of years.
In addition, The Owl has gotten rid of their `Student Saver` menu. Peters says that most students ordered the daily specials instead, which were comparable in price. Eliminating the menu which gave students discounts on food was, Peters says, a “cost saving measure. We went down the road, looked at what we were doing and realized it didn`t make any sense financially.”
In recent years, The Owl has seen less and less students grace its tables. Ask anyone who went to the University ten or more years ago, and they will tell you that The Owl was a happening place. Perhaps the drinking culture at the U of R has changed, but to be a sustainable business The Owl will have to try new bold actions, and the current URSU executive is trying this. Perhaps the new action will bring stability, and this stability will bring in a steady customer base. The Owl’s future – either success or more of the same – will be something to keep an eye on.