A new hospitality association launched to the public today, with leading restaurant groups from across the country joining the group to call for action.

The Australian Restaurant and Café Association (ARCA) is led by former Restaurant & Catering Australia (R&CA) CEO Wes Lambert, who is joined by restaurateur and chef Neil Perry AM (Margaret) as chair and Chris Lucas (Lucas Restaurants) as deputy chair.

Lambert says the newly formed association wasn’t formed in response to a lack of action from R&CA, but was instead created to push for change on three key issues that were determined in a board meeting held this morning.

“We know the restaurant and café segment is a thriving industry,” said Lambert. “We want to make sure that as many restaurants and cafes can continue in the future, so we’ve formed the association with some of the leading restaurant groups in the country. We believe that we will be a stronger voice.”

Representatives from groups including Lucas, House Made Hospitality, Fink, Swillhouse, Merivale, and more have joined the association which gathered this morning in North Sydney, with Lambert and Perry speaking to media after the meeting.

“We settled on three policy priorities,” said Lambert. “The first was migration. We also settled on tax. We have spoken about payroll tax, GST, and other costs of doing business, and finally we will be meeting with ministers and relevant departments to discuss the restaurant award and its complexities, which hopefully leads to changes to make it easier for restaurants and cafes.”

Expressions of interest to join the organisation are now open, with Perry stressing ARCA is for all hospitality businesses in the sector, not just big employers. “It’s about making sure we’re representing small, single businesses as well as larger businesses,” he said.

“We feel this is a great time to have a conversation because there are a lot of legislative conversations going on around immigration and industrial relations. This is a $64 billion industry and it’s part of the fabric and culture of Australia.”

When questioned about the single largest pressure the sector is currently facing, employment was discussed, which has long been a challenge for hospitality operators, as well as high taxes. “Taxation is broken,” said Perry, who mentioned payroll tax. “I still can’t believe we have to pay tax for employing people. We want to have a conversation with other industries and hopefully inform government that we’re all thinking like this.”

The current cost of living crisis was also covered, with discretionary spending down 0.2 per cent compared to last year according to ABS data. Perry mentioned the reintroduction of the Dine & Discover vouchers as a potential motivator to recapture diners, which were rolled out by the NSW Government to encourage people to support venues.

“There’s a lot of conversation about bringing dining vouchers back,” said Perry. “But I think structural change is fundamental. Restaurants are labour intensive, and we’re trying to get to the stage where we’re not talking to the government about handouts, but about what makes our industry more sustainable for the future.

“People want to go to restaurants 24/7, so what this organisation hopes to do is to have a seat [at the table about] the various things that affect us and make sure the government understands what they’re doing to a $64 billion industry when they’re legislating.”

Hospitality attended the media call out – head over to our Instagram to watch video footage of the event.