Aggressive, hierarchical, male-dominated, ruthless.

April 27, 2017

These words that would normally destroy a business or a person’s career are the entry point just to participate in the world of gastronomy.

Having The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Melbourne this month, and the reach of the interest and coverage, is a reminder that there is no other universal language greater than food. It brings cultures together, it makes you think, it shows the respect chefs have for their land and terroir.

The gastronomy world is one of the most criticised and critique, with the only ones surviving within the ecosystem showing superhuman amounts of passion and resilience.

There’s no question that it is an extremely competitive industry however they’re actually all good mates. You need to find your way to be recognised and talked about so you can stand out, dining dollars are volatile so no two weeks are the same, and profit margins are so small you need to have scale to survive. ‘Getting bums on seats’ seems to be constantly talked about by every other restaurateur.

Many people have written about the lack of women in the industry. Let’s not forget that restaurants don’t succeed just because they have a talented chef on the stove – there’s a front of house team who bring the production to life, who set the tone and personality of the restaurant, and who placate unhappy customers. They’re the ones who are normally criticised in the Tripadvisor comment.

Reflecting on the last 30 or so restaurants I’ve dined in across the world, maybe only 3 of them had men running the front of house team. For the naysayers who seems to think women are underrepresented, I think there’s something to celebrate in this single fact.

What the industry is actually dominated by are consumers with knowledge and an overwhelming interest in food and wine. They also have an online currency where they can have their say, be noticed and share their experience from any corner of the world. I can’t find the figures yet for this month, however The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 had a reach of 13 billion impressions through media coverage, social and blogs which is extraordinary.

It is sometimes forgotten that restaurants are SMBs – they are small businesses with even smaller profit margins, faced with all of the challenges of traditional business. The main differentiator is that every day of trade they are in the spotlight, with sometimes hundreds of diners giving them performance reviews to their face or later online.

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants being in Melbourne meant that thousands of SMBs across the country – winemakers, cheesemakers, cafes, tour companies, hotels, farmers – had exposure to people with extreme influence and all had their time in the spotlight to show how bloody amazing Australia is.

At the end of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants week I was an even prouder Australian. Comments like ‘Best meal I’ve ever eaten’, ‘How can I get a pallet of that wine home’ and ‘I can never explain to anyone how beautiful the landscape here is’ were all wonderful incremental bonuses to what was an exceptional week for Australian businesses and the entrepreneurs who had the courage to start them and the resilience to lead them.

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