Striving for excellence

Australia boasts some of the most talented and innovative chefs in the world, but without an exceptional front of house team to deliver and complete that overall special experience for the diner, the potential of a truly great restaurant will never be truly realised.

By Jeremy Ryland


At the recent Melbourne Mise en Place, held on Monday 22 October, we held a forum to discuss “Striving for Excellence”. We assembled some of Melbourne’s finest hosts to break down what motivation and sacrifices are involved in the pursuit of excellence:


·      Kevin Mcsteen from Attica

·      Danilo Mancini from Dinner by Heston

·      Christoph Schrottenbaum from Vue de Monde

·      Merryn Campbell from Igni 

This group often meet informally to exchange ideas and learnings between themselves, which ultimately drives better outcomes for the diner at their celebrated restaurants.


Perhaps the most important point is that these professionals work together to find ways to improve the experience in all of their venues. They get together in an informal environment, often with a drink, kick back and share ideas. This is a support network – a form of mentoring – which is vital for everyone in the hospitality industry. They look at each other's operations and offer professional constructive criticism.


And through this network they can also seek, share and promote new staff, ensuring that they only employ the best. As a group, they are looking for a standardised excellence of service. An “informal” training and peer recommendation group. Of course, the staff they seek need to have some experience but, more importantly, they need drive, passion and the ability to learn.


The group was asked what is important in service and what mistakes have they made?


The important thing is that service is not about them. Service people need to ditch their ego’s. It is all about the guest and ensuring the guest has a great experience.


And the important thing is also to learn from your mistakes. Once a guest was sent to hospital due to an allergen to eggs – that the staff had not picked up. On another occasion, a pier collapsed, tipping the bride into a lake. Now they all double and triple check all items, especially temporary events.


Don’t ever judge a guest – or staff - by their looks. Everyone is different. And make sure you listen, listen and listen. The guest pays a lot of money and invests a lot of time to dine at one of the premium venues. They deserve that extra effort.


It is important to communicate hospitality and be generous. But it is also vital to manage expectations. If guests have come in for a first sitting, which requires them to vacate their table by 8 pm, ensure they are well aware of this at the commencement – and manage the time. In fine dining, there are no set rules!


Performing excellent service has its rewards. You can change people’s lives! Hospitality is about nurturing, and when people are happy the mood is infectious – the “hospitality high”! Having someone tell you that “that is the best pint of Guinness I’ve had” is special. Listening to and helping people is rewarding. You get instant two-way feedback and a connection.


When asked, what has to change – the main issue raised is prices. Prices have to go up. It costs more and more to get good produce and to keep good staff. The cost of a top operation is high and too many people are working for too little.


This was an inspiring forum that could have gone on for several hours. The energy between these “competitors” who have chosen to share their ideas and promote one another is compelling and something the industry can benefit from. If the industry works together, we have a better chance to grow and prosper.


In general, service in Australia needs to improve. We need people who see service as a potential career, not as a stop-gap job whilst studying or seeking other talents. We need staff who are prepared to learn. And we need management who are prepared to teach and invest in training.


At Gault&Millau, our focus is on supporting restaurants, rather than just criticising. Our aim is to lift the level of culinary standards and present it to the world. As Australia’s first international restaurant guide, we continue to be impressed by the quality of talented professionals we have in Australia. We are proud to show off to the world that our restaurants that are well on par with, if not superior to, their international counterparts. 


But to be really world class, we do need to focus on improving our service levels. Gault&Millau will continue to promote mentoring and cross-communication between all venues, just as the forum group do.