How Toronto cocktail lounge Aura stays committed to quality with help from Square

Born and raised in Turkey, Andy Akin and his brother dreamed of moving to a new country together to start a business, and in 2019 they both immigrated to Canada, initially working at a burger restaurant in Toronto’s Kensington Market. When COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns were rapidly changing the city’s hospitality industry in 2020, the Akin brothers decided to take a risk and open their own cocktail bar. The result is Aura, an atmospheric and romantic cocktail lounge located in the trendy neighbourhood of Riverside. Here, we speak to Andy Akin about creating the right ambience for Aura, the importance of quality in his business, meaningful engagement with clientele and how Square has helped him to start, run, and grow his business.

On his long tenure in the hospitality business and making his bar feel like home

I started out waiting tables in Turkey when I was 13, so I have a long history of working in hospitality. To meet and interact with lots of different people every day has always appealed to me. A bar like Aura brings people together, whether it’s a business meeting or a baby shower, people choose to leave their homes to spend time together. I want our bar to feel like another home for our clientele, because their comfort and enjoyment is our top priority. We aren’t trying to attract students who want to get drunk and be wild. Our client base is mostly professional millennials, people who appreciate spending time in a sophisticated environment.

On the ambience at Aura

Aura isn’t a huge space, it’s purposefully quite intimate. Including the patio, the total capacity is 60 people. Inside, the space is lit with very low lights and candles, it’s very moody and atmospheric — the artwork and the decor have been carefully chosen to reflect the speakeasy vibe of the bar. The music is also carefully chosen, with lots of swing covers of modern songs. The patio ambiance is quite different, and most people don’t even know it’s there! To reach it you have to go down a narrow path and then you’re in a whole different environment. Lighter colours, a bright mural on the wall, beautiful plants and lights in the summer — there’s even different music playing back there. It has a real garden vibe, a romantic spot for a first date.

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On Aura’s commitment to quality

Our commitment to quality is hugely important to us, it’s our focus. We treat Aura like it’s our home, and when people come here, we treat them like we would treat invited guests into our house. The drinks we make are carefully created with the highest quality ingredients. We make everything in-house from scratch, including our bitters and cold pressed juices which are made daily. We buy local produce as much as we can, including greenhouse strawberries. We select perfectly bloomed roses for the garnish of one of our signature cocktails, Scottish Kiss. These little touches are really appreciated by our clientele, who come here for that kind of special attention to detail — they aren’t coming here because they want a place where they can chug a pitcher of beer, they come for the artistry of our offerings and the high-quality customer service we provide.

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“I would say that by using Square we save at least 15 minutes per shift when we would otherwise be dealing with operational tasks. That might not sound like a lot, but during a busy Saturday night rush that can really save your life! ”

- Andy Akin, Owner, Aura

On choosing Square

I first came across Square when I was working at a burger place in Kensington Market. It was so efficient, and super easy to learn and use. But of course, before opening the bar, I did a lot of research before deciding on Square, and I watched a lot of comparison videos on YouTube. I’m not the most tech-savvy person, so the simplicity of using Square for day-to-day operations appealed to me and I was convinced that it was the right platform to help grow my business. And it’s worked out so well for us — I would 100% recommend Square to any bar owner. I especially like how easy it is to see important sales data at a glance on Square Dashboard, because you can see what’s selling well and what isn’t and then make adjustments on the fly.

Training the staff on Square is super easy, as well. New employees always say to me: “This is the easiest system I’ve ever used!” The reliability of Square is key, and it can save you in an emergency — one time we accidentally overcharged a customer for something, and we were able to instantly refund the money back into the customer’s account, which was really impressive, and even the customer was impressed! Another thing I love about Square is how I can take offline payments if there’s an internet outage (which has happened to us)— we just continued on with business as usual.

On using Square Loans

When we decided to apply for a loan, we considered going through the traditional process of getting one from our bank. After comparing the bank rates with Square’s, it was clear that they were pretty much the same, with the difference being that the process was a lot quicker with Square Loans. That was the deciding factor for us, and the experience has been seamless — you don’t have to talk to anyone, you don’t have to really do anything. You essentially press a few buttons and then your money is there in five days. That can be really helpful when you just need a little help bridging the gap financially.

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On gaining back time to focus on customer service

At Aura, it all comes down to providing quality service to our guests. So often they are in our space to celebrate something special, whether it’s someone’s birthday or a couple is getting engaged. We’ve had people get married after having their first date at Aura! We provide the backdrop for these moments that will become important memories for our customers, and that’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.

I would say that by using Square we save at least 15 minutes per shift when we would otherwise be dealing with operational tasks. That might not sound like a lot, but during a busy Saturday night rush that can really save your life! There’s always another task you could be doing in this industry, so really any minute you can take back is valuable. Saving this time allows us to focus on our clientele, on getting to know them and building a relationship with them so they become repeat customers who come to Aura to celebrate their special occasions with us. Next, I want to look into Square Loyalty, so we can show our regular guests how much we appreciate their business. We’ll still do that by sending over a complimentary shot or cocktail as usual, but people do love rewards points!

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