Running a restaurant looks glamorous but in practice is tough. There are simply too many restaurants and not enough people dining out. Tastes change. Good staff are hard to find. Costs are rising. Many restaurants are turning to quick service. Some are forming groups – like the Rockpool Group. Others are opening in hotels or sharing venues. We looked at the challenges facing the industry at the recent Perth Mise en Place forum.
By Jeremy Ryland
At the Perth Mise en Place, on Monday 26 November, we held a forum to debate the question of "The Changing Face of Hospitality: Challenges and Trends in the Restaurant Industry”.
To help us debate this question, we invited two very eminent speakers:
· Jeremy Cariss who has over 30 years experience in the hospitality industry and is the owner of Bistro Felix in Perth. Jeremy is also the National Vice President of the Restaurant & Caterers Association and was previously Chairman of the WA RCA.
· Chris Taylor who is a successful and busy restaurateur. He is the owner of the Fraser's restaurant group including Fraser's Restaurant, BWG Steakhouse, Indiana Cottesloe Beach, The Old Brewery Steakhouse, Botanical Café Kings Park, five venues in the T1 and Virgin Domestic terminals, as well as two venues in the new DFO and external catering.
At our last two Mise en Place – in Brisbane and Melbourne – we debated whether “can we afford to pay our chefs a fair wage?” and whether "you should need a licence to run a restaurant?”.
Now obviously “can we afford to pay our chefs a fair wage?” is a rhetorical question. It’s a bit like asking “should you pay your tax?”. You may not wish to, but you will get caught out if you don’t.
And we concluded that we should not have licences to run restaurants; there is already too much bureaucracy; however, there is a need for more education and pre-opening information so that restaurants have a chance of success. Currently, it is too easy to open a restaurant and much harder to make a go of it. When a new restaurant opens, it takes away staff, patrons and interest from other venues – and if it closes, which many do, everyone loses.
Owning a restaurant is tough. And the market is probably tougher in Perth than in the East. The West has been hit hard over the past few years by the downturn in resources and mining. Whilst unemployment is relatively low, people are economising and several high profile venues have been forced to close due to people spending less.
Jeremy Cariss reiterated the concerns of his colleagues that to run a restaurant one has to be a jack-of-all-trades and be prepared to work all sections. People are eating out but they are spending less and the emergence of UberEats, MenuLog, dark kitchens, etc. is having a big impact on the high street venues.
Chris Taylor agreed but said that little has changed over the years. To be successful one has to be prepared to change to suit the market – if the consumer wants buffet, open a buffet; if they want Indian, open an Indian restaurant. You can’t be too “precious” about your offering and must move with the market.
There was some discussion about working with Tourism WA to build more events, especially highlighting the produce of the West. Events like the Margaret River Gourmet Escape are very successful at attracting visitors and interest in the region, generating millions of dollars in revenue and brand awareness – but is run by overseas interests, attracting international chefs (rather than locals) and has many non-WA suppliers involved. WA needs some high profile locally run events that showcase the local produce and culinary talents and keep the revenue in the state.
There was discussion about staffing, which is a universal problem. Getting good staff with the right attitude is hard. More and more restaurants are buying in preprepared products like tart shells and reverting to short order simple cooking to cope with the lack of high-quality talent.
We need to do more to promote regional areas and “terroirs”. It is important that people travel to the regions and experience the local produce first hand.
When asked to predict some future trends, the main ones were:
· Payroll compliance: it seems simple but many venues are still not paying a fair wage. There will be a crackdown on payroll compliance.
· Cash economy: it will see more control with “smart tills” and changes in processing. Overseas examples such as in Belgium, show that the cash economy can be shut down – but with it, many venues will close.
· Cashless transactions: as a result of the crack-down on the cash economy, as well as the younger generations preference for everything electronic, cashless transactions will continue to grow.
· Food styles: it will continue to evolve with an emphasis on authenticity and value.
· Shared food: "family style eating" will continue to be big – the younger generations in particular love to share meals.
· More for less: providing more for less is the biggest challenge – customers want to pay less but will still not put up with mediocre.
The forum in Perth was a great success and shows that the issues affecting hospitality are universal and we need to work together – especially with education – to improve service and success.