North Bondi RSL, located at the northern end of iconic Bondi Beach, was founded back in 1944 by original members of the Rats of Tobruk. Today, while honouring its foundations, the Club has become a haven for dining and relaxing with friends and family.
Just a stone’s throw from the surf and offering some of Bondi’s best views, Linke says the Club’s unique location means its driving forces are a little different to traditional clubs.
“Where we differ from your traditional club is that gaming has never been a big focus. Our main focus is on food and beverage. We want people to come here, enjoy the view, and just connect with their family and friends, and enjoy that experience,” says the 28-year-old CEO.
“Poker machine legislation will continue to get more and more regulated. That’s why I think that clubs like us that have been able to diversify their revenue streams will be ahead of the curve.”
But what is most unique to North Bondi RSL is the impact the weather has on day-to-day operations. “You know, on a beautiful, sunny day, we’re getting foot traffic from the beach and we hum along beautifully,” says Linke.
2022’s record rains have certainly had an impact. “That’s one of the challenges. There’s a reliance here on the weather gods that’s outside of my control. Hopefully the La Nina that is continued to be forecast comes and goes very quickly, or isn’t as dreadful as predicted.”
As summer looms without any lockdown or pandemic restrictions, Linke feels the tide is turning. “The last four consecutive weeks for us have been for strongest, financially, since COVID, which are really promising early signs.”
Interstate and international visitor numbers to the iconic destination location are also on the upswing.
“I’ve been starting to re-establish some of our group relationships and partnerships and seeing that tourism business starting to come back in. Over the next couple of months, we’ve got a bunch of groups already booked in, which is great. And while its very much welcomed, it’s not as quick as the government would suggest.”
Membership is also on the up, with membership levels almost back to pre-COVID numbers, having plummeted during the lockdowns. Growth is so strong that Linke believes that the numbers will soon exceed pre-COVID numbers.
“COVID has made people embrace community businesses a lot more. They want somewhere that feels comfortable and that reinvests back into their community.”
Like many urban clubs, North Bondi RSL is also focusing more on families.
“The club space is evolving. Whether you’re the 80-year-old man who wants to turn up at midday for a schooner, or a family who want to come in for a meal, we don’t discriminate. Everyone is welcome.
“We want to be a venue of choice for families. Particularly with the current pressures of cost-of-living from inflation. If a family can afford to come in and, thanks to club pricing, feed the family without blowing the budget, that’s great because, while we want to run a business in surplus, we want to be able to cater to the majority, if not all of our community,” says Linke.
From an employee sense, open borders have been a huge boon to club staffing.
“We’re hiring a lot more foreign staff, which was the norm pre-COVID. I can see that starting to accelerate again, which is very promising.
“We’re also trying to add appeal for workers. When people, particularly younger people, think of clubs, they don’t think of what they can provide in terms of professional development. But there’s definitely opportunities here in the club space. For example, in my position, I’m being put through an MBA at university and the cost has been supported by the club.
“We’re making donations to local schools, sporting groups and non-profits. And in my experience, that’s important to young people starting with an employer. They want to work with companies that give back and do good within their community. We’ve got a lot of local staff who went to local schools here and represented some of those teams we’re supporting. So, it’s a feel-good place for them to be.”
Overall Linke believes that clubs are evolving, and North Bondi RSL is no exception.
“The club industry is a great industry, but it suffers some unfair generalisations around it. Like serving cheap food for example. And I’m fully aware that those are things that we in the industry created ourselves, and the way we’ve probably operated historically. But things are changing.
“Though I’m biased, the quality of food here is excellent, but you know, we’re not trying to be a fine-dining restaurant, either.
“We know who we are, and what we’re trying to be, we’re simply elevating it from the traditional idea of a club.”