Love The Duck

The gardens beside The Ugly Duck Out in Swansea, Tasmania.

The gardens beside The Ugly Duck Out in Swansea, Tasmania.

A unique name and a commitment to sustainability have given this Tasmanian restaurant a real talking point

One of the basic aims of marketing is to get your customers talking about you in a positive way, something Robyn Klobusiak, owner of The Ugly Duck Out in Swansea, Tasmania, has achieved by doing no marketing at all. Instead Klobusiak has got her customers and others talking simply because she lets her personal ethics and principles of sustainability guide the way she runs the Duck (as she affectionately calls it). That’s not only led to good business but a clutch of awards, including (most recently) an Environmental Excellence award from the state premier, and being shortlisted as a finalist for the national Banksia Awards (announced this month).

But she didn’t set out to create a sustainable business. “I wanted it to be casual, the kind of place you’d duck in for a feed. And when I first moved in, it was an ugly dark box,” she says. “Originally this property was a small fish and chips shop, and located opposite the beautiful, historic Swan Inn. So they were the Swan Inn, I wanted to be the Duck Out. So it became The Ugly Duck Out, or TUDO.”

The name is the first thing that got people talking—“For everyone who’s interested in us, it’s the first thing they ask,” says Robyn—but a name alone isn’t enough to sustain interest in a restaurant. Robyn has found the values of the business could be a talking point for staff and patrons.

“I’ve been a chef for over 30 years, and I admit that within our industry it can be wasteful. I always found that uncomfortable, but TUDO has found its identity. We offer fresh food and service, but we do it in a sustainable way.

“So, for example, my drinking straws are made from PLA, a compostable plant plastic. They compost within 20 to 30 days. Most cafes keep their straws on the counter, where customers will grab a handful without thinking about it but I keep them behind the counter, and if someone says can I have a drinking straw, we initially offer a glass and if required give them one of these and explain that it’s a compostable one—people are really impressed by that, so not only do we save, but we have a story to tell. It also gives my guests something to talk about. That is my advertising.”

Many businesses are put off the idea of becoming more sustainable because of cost concerns. Robyn says she pursued it out of the necessity to save money.

“I had to get smart to save money. What I’ve learnt is you reduce first to save some money, then look for more sustainable alternatives. Initially it appears to be more expensive. But in the really short term you start to save. It really just takes putting in place procedures. For example, my garbage bags are made from potato and corn starch, so they biodegrade and compost within 30 days. They are a bit more expensive, but we use fewer bags because I put in place procedures to cover costs. So we’re very strict with what we’re recycling. We compost scraps and handtowels—we have very little waste to landfill.

The restaurant is also an ‘assessed operator’ with EarthCheck (www.earthcheck.org) and have been certified by Green Table Australia (www.greentable.com.au). The advantage of this is the discipline it forces on you, says Robyn.

“We put all our data into a web-based spreadsheet,” she explains. “In order to get assessed by Earth Check, I record data first for a full year, then your goal is to get above the benchmark. And they give you action plans once you start recording. Now we’ve shaved about $12,000 annually off our power bill. Even though we’ve had two price rises, our kilowatt hours have been lower than in previous bills. When we receive our accounts, such as power, the whole team reviews our progress and say, ‘what else can we do?’ You have to involve the staff and have procedures you maintain strictly. When I’m purchasing things, I don’t just look at the product but also the packaging and will try to steer suppliers into improving their packaging if necessary.”

“I’ve been a chef for over 30 years and I admit our industry can be wasteful. I always found that uncomfortable.” Robyn Klobusiak, The Ugly Duck Out

One of the other reasons the cost of sustainability haven’t been onerous for the Duck is Robyn’s philosophy of making do until a problem becomes intractable. “You will always inherit problems,” she explains. “I’ve got halogen downlights [which are power-hungry], but I found LED globes I could purchase that fit into the same fitting. When the halogen goes I replace it with the LED, and when the fitting goes I replace the fitting with an LED fitting. If you’ve got something that works, you try to extend its life.”

Robyn’s commitment to sustainability was rewarded this year with a gong at the Tasmanian Hospitality Awards of Excellence and the Tasmanian Awards for Environmental Excellence, the state’s highest commendations for community and industry contributions to protecting, preserving and enhancing the Tasmanian environment.

The Ugly Duck Out picked up the Small Business Sustainability Award. “The very exciting thing about that was in the category, you had to have less than 50 employees. I only employ four, so we were up against some high flyers, and I believe the judges said we received this award because we think about everything along the way. That got us into the Banksia awards, and we just found out we’re a category finalist.”

Robyn’s motivation for entering the awards was at first, she admits, for her own satisfaction. But beyond that, she says, “We do let the awards do the marketing for us.”

The framed award has a place on the wall away from the artworks that dominate the main room—it’s tucked away near the cash register. But even that has a strategy behind it for Robyn, and it’s one that is based on starting a conversation with customers.

“Sometimes people say you should have that award on the wall with the art,” she says, “rather than having it near the cash register. But the reason we have it there is so when you pay the bill it’s at that stage we’ve identified where they’re at and we talk to them and show them the award, which can get them talking and perhaps initiate change. Word of mouth is very strong for TUDO.”

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