Table Talk is Mr Yum’s event series that brings the food and drink industry together for food, a drink or two and expert advice from a panel of industry thought leaders.
The topic from our Brisbane event was Constraints and Creativity: thriving in uncertain times. Here are the key takeaways from the discussion.
Ben O’Donoghue - Author, TV personality and owner of Billykart West End in Brisbane, Ben translates his wide-ranging experience into practical strategies for running a successful business today.
Bernie Hogan - CEO of Queensland Hotels Association, Bernie ensures the challenges the hospitality and tourism industries face are addressed in policy outcomes and shares his insights into the opportunities for Queensland operators in the years ahead.
Lilly Heenan - Agnes head sommelier Lilly is charged with one of Brisbane’s most exciting and forward-looking drinks programs and details what’s in store for the world of wine and how to create and maintain a cellar that brings guests back.
Facing the headlines and overcoming public perceptions
In the wake of inflation, staff shortages and supply struggles, Bernie spoke about his experience with negative media and shaking off the self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom headlines.
“Well, first things first about all those headlines. Don't believe it. We’ve got to look forward, and I think 2023 is actually a really positive year… look at how many people are travelling. They’re going out and voting with their feet. I’m really positive about it… We’re okay. Stop telling us we’re not! Let’s not bash ourselves up too much,” said Bernie.
Overcoming supply shortages
Shaking perceptions is one thing, but the fact remains that prices are going up for business owners, and the supply of staples isn’t always a sure thing. Here’s how Ben O’Donoghue navigates that area as a small business owner.
“It's crazy to look at the supply shortages we're seeing that are driving up prices. You can't get chips at the moment.”
Note: During early 2023, Australia experienced a shortage of supply in potatoes, leading to chips being struck off menus and supermarket shelves (fries for our US friends).
“What we try to focus on is really restricting or downsizing the menu. The best way to address that is to have a concise, strong menu that's focused on local produce, seasonal produce, and you'll save costs in that way,” said Ben.
Attracting talent in a tough market
A global shortage in staff has impacted the hospitality industry, with kitchen and front-of-house talent becoming harder to source and retain. Ben spoke about how he envisions businesses can counteract the problem.
“Treating people with respect and kindness and paying them what they're worth. I think that's where you need to start.”
“I think putting people on a 38-hour week, strictly, is a must, not overworking people. You get the best out of managing people's time in terms of them being of value within that time,” Ben said.
Ben continued to talk about his past at the iconic The River Café in London and how they have retained staff for decades.
“For two weeks of the year, they would take 50% of the staff to Italy for a week, and you would go and eat in restaurants. Source the olive oil for the new season… that's how you retain staff.”
“I went back to the River Cafe for their 30th birthday, and there were people still working there as kitchen hands from when I worked there 15, 20 years ago. I mean, that's phenomenal,” he said.
Sharing passion and upskilling to keep staff engaged
As a sommelier, Lilly works in an area that requires a lot of knowledge, so she spoke about how to share her passion and expertise with staff as a means to keep them engaged.
“It's not just treating everyone with respect, but also giving them a reason to come to work every day. It's educating them and instilling purpose and value in each of your staff. If they are curious or thoughtful about what they're doing, then work with that, give them more reason to stay,” she said.
“We've put lots of energy into our wine program. We put lots of energy into the staff that we employ for the wine program. We've hired a wine educator, a wine trainer with the exclusive job title and role of training entry-level staff or anyone that's interested in furthering their position in the industry.”
“There is a staff shortage, there's not enough staff. And especially in the post-pandemic world, less, people are available, they're less accessible. So instead of trying to source them, you can just upskill. You can just work with the staff you have and encourage them to stay,” Lilly said.
Connect to your community
Bernie spoke about the importance of local communities and building emotive connections as a business owner.
“Good publicans, good restaurateurs, good cafe owners. Any good operator connects with their local. That goes back to the value that you can't compete against,” he said.
“Some of our very, very, very best hotels right across Queensland and some of those big accommodation providers have got a GM who just loves it and is connected to the community. Be the heart of your community. Everything stems from that.”
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