Over 100 hospitality professionals gathered for the 2023 Hospitality Leaders Summit at Melbourne’s Metropolis Events yesterday.

The event was held by Hospitality magazine, and saw a stellar line-up of operators, chefs, and professionals share their industry insights across a jam-packed program of Q&As, panels, and masterclasses.

The topics covered across the day included staffing strategies; hospitality marketing 101; a deep-dive into legal issues in hospitality; how to navigate the AI wave; tips for a sustainable business; a menu design masterclass; and a look into the future food and beverage trends.

The program began with an introduction from the day’s hosts Tawnya Bahr from Straight To The Source and food media personality and journalist Nerida Conway.

Australian Venue Co Executive Chef Telina Menzies kicked off the day as keynote speaker, filling in for Nornie Bero of Mabu Mabu who was unfortunately unwell.
Menzies spoke about her role overseeing 33 venues across the country and how she uses native ingredients in her offerings.

“I think education is really key and when we write menus I think it’s important to put native ingredients in front of people and start conversations,” Menzies told the audience. “But we certainly have fallen behind with embracing our native culture and playing homage to that.”

The executive chef also shared the importance of mental health and prioritising it as a manager. “We need to be better in that space,” she admits. “That’s where I see the most investment for me in terms of time is my people and being a better leader for them.”

Following that, it was time to talk staffing strategies with Sarah Dougas of Trader House, Nathan Toleman of Mulberry Group, Lee Smith of Stokehouse, and Adam Brownell of Hector’s Deli.

When asked on what channels they are using for hiring at Trader House, Dougas revealed staff referrals have been finding the best results.

“For a vast majority of roles we still use the traditional method of going through Seek, for more senior roles we’ve been going through LinkedIn,” she explained. “The best results are coming from staff referrals. People who work for us are advocates for our company and that’s a very powerful tool.”

At Stokehouse, Smith looks after around 80-130 staff each day and explained how the tables have turned when it comes to hiring with venues having to sell themselves now.

“We’ve been on the backfoot as employers and through Covid it was: ‘What can I do to get you to work for us?'” he recalled. “It’s nice to see it balance out more now but it is still a sales-focused task writing job ads. While we all know it, people outside the industry don’t know how much you can get out of hospitality and what you can learn.”

Toleman also shared his approach to retaining staff when it comes to being open about mental health. “The reality is we all have mental health whether it is good or bad and it’s all about having conversations about it,” he explained. “In the business we make it very clear that staff are entitled to mental health days and they are encouraged to speak to managers about it. Trying to not talk about it will just result in losing that staff member.”

Brownell also spoke about Hector’s Deli new four-day work schedule. He urged other operators to try and adopt unique practices to assist in making the industry more appealing. He started by asking the audience how many of them believed they would always work in hospitality from the time they had their first role carrying plates or washing dishes.

“Now there’s about a dozen there [with their hands up] and that’s a good indication that we need to change that and get around half of the room putting their hand up,” said Brownell. “How do we change that dynamic? We have an obligation as a panel and everyone in the room to change that perception and make it an appealing industry so we’re fighting against other industries to hire young workers.”

Cargo Crew’s Felicity Rodgers then took to the stage to share more about the range of functional yet stylish uniforms. Rodgers also revealed how Cargo Crew have received OEKO-TEX certification for their core range.

“It is a global standard for not having any harmful dyes and chemicals in our fabrics,” explained Rodgers. “Every single element from the fabric to the thread to the buttons is tested for chemicals,” she explained. “So it’s a huge process and something we’re really proud of as a smaller business.”

Benjamin Ewens took to the stage to share more about Impossible Foods who supplied a bunch of vegan-friendly meat alternatives across the day including sausage rolls, beef empanadas, beef burgers, and soup pork dumplings.

Marketing was next on the program, with an interesting and practical masterclass from Monica Styles of Canned Goods, Wendy Hargreaves of Bread & Butter Media, Joss Jenner-Leuthart of Belles Hot Chicken, and writer and publicist Genevieve Phelan.

A handy perspective came from Phelan, who works on both sides of the media sphere as a writer and publicist. When it comes to standing out to a journalist, she believes a good pitch is key.

“A humanised approach when sending a pitch is important. You want to keep it interesting to stand out in what is typically a very busy inbox,” she explained. “I love receiving pitches when there’s a quippy, interesting subject line, and a unique and personalised greeting which might even include something about a recent article that journalist may have produced.”

She also urged guests to include both high- and low-res imagery along with a media release that is no more than a page long when pitching.

Styles spoke about social media trends, but also sent a good reminder when it comes to getting caught up in the flurry. “It is much more important to create connections with your audience where they online, than to worry too much about the numbers” she urged.

But when it came to the numbers, Styles revealed Tik Tok has been leading the way. But for hospitality as an industry, Instagram should be the focus. She suggested using carousel posts to show your offering and humanised side of the business, while stories are great for showing user-generated content and behind-the-scenes insights.

Daniel Bean and Gemma Sibley Lewis of Melbourne-based firm KCL Law then provided tips on navigating legal issues in the hospitality industry. They focused on things to remember when it comes to terminating casual employees, and urged guests to always provide reasoning and an official termination letter.

Shannon Bell of Re (M&C Saatchi) shared statistics from the latest Future Foods case study which revealed interesting insights for guests. The data revealed a rise in consumers looking for products that target their personal health needs, and that a staggering 70 per cent of the global food supply only comes from 12 plant, and 5 animal species.

Before lunch, it was time to take a look into the future with Adam Theobald of online order management system Ordermentum. Theobald spoke about the AI wave that’s heading our way and why it’s not as scary as it sounds.

“Where AI is going help is it’s going to be a co-pilot to your businesses and doing it better,” he told guests. “I think the reality is it’s going to take away a lot of the manual work and allow you to reinvest your time and energy in places where you’re best placed to win.”

After lunch which featured a range of products from Impossible Foods, Grana Padano, and Tip Top, it was time for a drink with Sara Radman of Melbourne bar Omnia. She took guests through her recipe for Omnia’s house-style spicy margarita, which everyone was able to sip on while watching. Radman noted while the margarita may be made up of only a small amount of ingredients, it is vital to ensure they are high-quality.

Menu design is a necessary but sometimes challenging tasks for operators, but a masterclass with Ian Curley provided ideas and also a laugh.

“When designing a menu, I will look at what the place is first and what the staff levels are,” Curley explained. “For example, there’s no point in trying to put a vegan restaurant near a mining area – it’s just not going to happen.”

He also touched on the battle that is costing, and told guests to look to the season for budget-friendly creations. “Go out and have a look at what good fruit and vegetables are out there at the moment,” he said. “You can have a really good dish that tastes of carrots, which is cheaper as opposed to an eye filet which will cost you $50 a plate before all the trimmings.”

It was time to chat all things sustainability with a panel of eco warriors including Luke Whearty of Byrdi, Alejandro Saravia of Farmer’s Daughters, Blayne Bertoncello of O.My, and Jungeun Chae and Yoora Yoon of Chae.

Bertoncello spoke on a few dishes he is creating with ingredients from his estate garden with a low-waste philosophy. “Our artichoke dish uses the entire plant,” he explained. “The stalks go through a composting cycle and every single part of the plant is used including the skins.”

Korean fine diner duo Chae and Yoon spoke on all things fermentation when it comes to their intimate six-seater venue.

“Korean cuisine is largely based around fermentation and dried ingredients,” explained Yoon. “So that allows us to really minimise the food waste because we try to ferment or dry or salt most of our ingredients or vegetables when they are seasonal and are most nutritious. We then take them in a small batch to season and then serve up to our customers.”

Whearty rounded out the session by encouraging operators to get their staff involved in the sustainable process.

“My advice would just be if you’ve got an excess of something, you know, give it to one of your staff as a little homework project,” he said. “Say: “OK, we’ve got an excess of carrot tops or something. How can we find a use for it?”

The final session of the day saw James Thorpe of Odd Culture, Nick Mahlook of Public, Tate Connolly of Impossible Foods, and Simon Denman of Bahama Gold discuss what they believe will be the hospitality trends for the coming year.

Connolly shared her thoughts on why convenience and personalisation are big drivers in the industry. “Customisation is big trend that’s happening but comes through into food,” she explained. “How can you personalise the products and how can you give people an experience that suits them?”

Denham noted the role of hybrid venues and keeping it simple. “The hybrid model is something we’re seeing more and more of. It’s a way for venues to add value add to whatever it is they’re doing,” he explained. “But where the industry has been going for a long time no, is definitely the pared back model with less frills or they are something you have to pay for.”

Our wonderful MCs Bahr and Conway closed the day’s session before delegates came together for networking drinks and canapes.

Stay tuned for Hospitality’s next event.