Restaurant awards face a set of challenges that, although not unique to the hospitality industry, mean it’s often difficult to please everyone.

Take the World’s 50 Best for example. While 2017’s award ceremony was hosted in our often-overlooked corner of the world, the juggernaut still faced criticism about the continuing lack of diversity. Eater’s Ryan Sutton, for example, criticised not just the lack of women represented on the list, but about the overall bias toward Eurocentric, tasting menu restaurants.

Despite its flaws, the World’s 50 Best did bring attention to Australia’s thriving hospitality industry, with many more articles written about Melbourne’s dining scene and some, including Pete Wells of the New York Times’ ode to Sydney, drawing the spotlight slightly further afield.

With international eyes now on Australia, national awards — like Australia’s Top Restaurants — that do manage to recognise a broader range of restaurants can have a real impact on the businesses they’re bestowed upon. The national recognition is a particular boon for businesses that are otherwise off the beaten track.

“The NT tends to get a little ignored as far as the rest of Australia goes and doesn’t get the attention I think it deserves sometimes. It is a very small population and so it has small culture of food and arts, but it’s a very good, intense culture,” said Simon Matthews, owner of Pee Wee’s on the Point in Darwin, which was voted the Territory’s number one restaurant as part of this year’s Australia’s Top Restaurants awards.

“All awards attract more attention to the business and make people want to dine with us because of the kudos I suppose.

“Particularly with this award, it does make for genuine interest from interstate travellers because it’s on the national stage. A lot of people come to Darwin at this time of year to get away from the winter. So I have to imagine being named in these awards can only be encouraging more people to choose Pee Wee’s as a destination.”

With regional restaurants like Brae receiving international accolades, national awards like Australia’s Top Restaurants can further promote venues that operate outside of the country’s capital cities, encouraging domestic and international diners to travel beyond Melbourne and Sydney. For Brunswick Heads venue Fleet this means attracting visitors from Southeast Queensland and Victoria, alongside locals as owner Astrid McCormack told Hospitality.

“It goes without saying that media coverage is important for any business, be it small, large or otherwise,” she said.

“We’re up in Northern New South Wales and for the most part we just operate as we do. We’re a little bit out of the industry in one way so it’s nice to know that we’re providing a caliber of service that’s equal to restaurants in the capital cities. It validates what we’re doing.”

While Matthews told Hospitality it’s difficult to quantify the exact impact awards have on a business, he agrees that they’re invaluable when it comes to lifting team morale.

“For morale it’s excellent, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Everyone’s working 12 hours a day, putting in considerable time and effort. For the kitchen team it’s great recognition of the work they put in. Overall for the entire staff mentality it’s great to be recognised by an outside national body that thinks we’re doing the right thing and setting high standards.”

Australia’s Top Restaurants differs from many other awards in one important way — the restaurants that make the list are voted there by their peers, with each of the top 500 restaurants choosing who makes the final cut.

“It’s really exciting and fun for the industry to have that. Awards are amazing, but it’s hard to rate one restaurant against another: to have a more inclusive peer-voted system is really nice,” said McCormack.

“I think it goes to show it’s not just about linen tablecloths and the finest glassware, it’s about the experience as a whole. Under normal criteria we wouldn’t be able to compete with restaurants that have multiple hats, dedicated sommeliers and the one waiter to one diner type thing. So it’s a really nice, different award and I think it really encourages positivity within the industry.

“I adore looking after people full stop, but my favourite thing of all is a looking after industry, so to be recognised by them is amazing.

“What I love most is the commraderie.”

Hospitality’s second annual Restaurant Leaders Summit will offer insights into running a regional restaurant, with panelists Claire van Vuuren (Bloodwood and Popla Bellingen), Lisa Margan (Margan Winery & Restaurant), Hayley Hardcastle (Bombini) and Mark Stone (Stone’s Patisserie) making a case for opening outside of major metropolitan centers.

Lead Image: Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis of Fleet credit:

Image: The Pee Wee’s at the Point team, including owners Simon and Lily Matthews. Credit: 


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