More than 200 delegates gathered for the fourth annual Hospitality Leaders Summit, the premier industry conference previously known as the Restaurant Leaders Summit.

The event, run by Hospitality and held at Royal Randwick Racecourse on 29 July, brought together leading operators, chefs and experts, who tackled the biggest issues facing the industry.

Guests heard from more than 30 speakers across 10 sessions, with topics such as staffing, marketing, and industry trends covered on the day.

Keynote speaker Nick Bowditch kicked off the event with a engaging presentation about the importance of storytelling on social media. “Tell the story that you want to tell — don’t let anybody else tell that story,” he told the audience, before sharing strategies about how to tell authentic stories on the right platforms.

Christine Manfield sat down for a one-on-one Q&A with MC Alex Herbert. The legendary chef, author and entrepreneur talked business ownership, exit strategies, travel, managing social media, customer databases, media coverage and mentoring.  “I think it’s so important to share,” said Manfield. “It’s just about sharing your knowledge, passing the baton. And mentoring is not a one-way street. It’s not older to younger, often it can be the reverse and it should be the reverse. You learn stuff.”

Manfield then offered her thoughts about the importance of cookbooks, particularly those written by women such as Marcella Hazan and the late Margaret Fulton. “[Fulton] changed the way people cooked,” said Manfield.

Going it alone — is the risk worth the award?

Herbert then lead a discussion about the pros and cons of operating a single venue or working in a group. Panellists Paul Dewhurst (Three Blue Ducks), Mitch Orr (ex-ACME, Da Orazio), Tristan Rosier (Arthur), and Tara Sullivan (Solotel) took part in a wide ranging conversation that provided tips for operators deciding whether to launch their own venues or stick with a group.

Ultimately, the panel was split.

“I get to work with a great team of people who all work collectively on our little patch to do great things for the community,” said Rosier, who opened his first solo venture, Arthur, in October 2018. “I’m enjoying every moment of it. Every day I walk in the door and think, I can’t believe this is my door.”

Wrapping up the session, Orr agreed but with a caveat: “The last five years were the most rewarding five years of my career, I’ve loved every minute of it and I’ll never do it again.”

From concept to concrete

Sven Almenning (Speakeasy Group), Sam Egerton (Merivale), Justin North (Concept Hospitality) and Hamish Watts (Applejack Hospitality) gave attendees plenty to discuss over lunch during a panel on turning a concept into reality.

The discussion covered strategies for developing cohesive concepts and turning them into successful venues, from finding the right location and understanding different markets to training staff and nailing fit out and menus.

All operators rely heavily on thorough ‘playbooks’ and manuals.

“The key we’ve learned over the years when you’re doing concept is just to have really good structure,” said Watts. “It’s not the sexy angle, but employ some sort of project managment tool, make sure you have the right people running it for you and you’re responsible for the deadlines and then you can really hit it out of the park.”

Front of mind

With mental health now an omnipresent topic in the industry, Jeremy Courmadias (Fink), Amber Kaba (The White Jacket Effect), Mal Meiers (Food for Thought) and Sabrina Warwar (Hello Sunday Morning) gathered on stage to offer practical tips to address mental health in hospitality.

All strategies, whether broad and specific, came back to shifting the culture of hospitality.

At Subo, Meiers said one of the biggest things they do is encourage development chefs to run food to diners, suggesting they can see the results of their hard work.

“I really wanted to get chefs into the dining room,” he said. “That way they can see the excitement and the enjoyment on the diner’s face. It really changes their well being, they come back in like ‘oh my god, that person is really enjoying [the meal].”

“It’s about creating the right culture.”

The keys to success

Other highlights included a panel on attracting and retaining staff with Lucy Allon (Appetite for Excellence), Dr Glyn Brokensha (Expr3ss!), Bernice Colcomb (The Star Culinary Institute) and Kylie Javier Ashton (Momofuku Seiobo).

Chrissy Flanagan (The Sausage Factory), Phil Gannon (Mary’s Group) and Michael Nicolian (Continental Deli) shared tips for boosting your bottom line with product lines, merchandise and pop-ups.

Nadine Ingram (Flour and Stone) spoke to Herbert about keeping her business small, training programs and educating customers about the true cost of creating a quality product.

“I’m pretty obsessed with staying small,” said Ingram. “The quality and consistency is the most important, for me, of being small — that all happens through our connection with one another and working through the challenges together.”

Brooke Burns (Savannah PR), Andrew Cavallaro (Example), Sophie McComas (Buffet) and Joanna Reymond-Burns (Reymond communications talked all things marketing, PR and social media.

The last panel of the day grappled with the future: Tim Domelow (OpenTable), Angus Lindsay (Single O), Kylie Roberts (Australian Pork) and Joanne Woo (Deliveroo) laid out their predictions — and hopes — for the year 2020 and beyond.

Finally, delegates then had the opportunity to digest the day’s learnings with help from their peers at the post-event networking drinks.

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