The Paris issue

Our October issue is on sale - the Paris special. Grab your copy for all-things Parisian, plus ultimate French baking recipes and more.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller before October 24, 2016 and receive 3 BONUS ISSUES - save 46%.

Gourmet on your iPad

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad.

Mouthing off

It's no secret that it's hardly a piece of cake in the restaurant game at the moment. With rising food and staffing costs, shrinking margins and increased competition, it has never been tougher to be in the business of restaurants. We asked chefs from our top 100 restaurants what the biggest challenges are facing restaurants today. Here's what they said.

Penalty rates
No surprises here: most chefs we quizzed responded with comments about penalty rates. "Compounding increases in labour penalty rates in an industry that thrives on weekends, nights and public holidays," says Teage Ezard, "is a challenge that decreases net profit, shuts more restaurants and could possibly cause reduced trading hours in our industry." For Rockpool's Phil Wood, the problem begins with lack of government understanding. "The main challenge to the industry is not having proper recognition from the government as being an actual industry," he says. "We are considered tradies, but our needs are so different from a builder or a bricklayer. Until we have the proper support from the government in regard to penalty rates and our own industry-specific immigration policies so we have the ability to attract well-trained staff from overseas, we will always struggle to function at a high level." Peter Gilmore of Quay believes increasing costs could affect the types of restaurants we see in the future. "The high costs that are associated with running a cutting-edge restaurant in Australia could mean less innovation in the future and more formula-based, homogenised type restaurants," he says. And while Sepia's Martin Benn is keen to train and employ more staff himself," he says "the cost of doing so is unrealistic."

While the bottom line still rules, many chefs were just as concerned about food ethics and sustainability. "The biggest challenge is really sustainability," says Neil Perry. "Not only for ingredients and provenance of those items, but for the environment and our impact on it." And for Kylie Kwong it's about striking a balance between lowering her environmental impact and maintaining a financially viable business. "Running Billy Kwong with an aim to reduce the business's carbon footprint as much as possible is always going to be a challenge. Using 'green and sustainable' produce costs a considerable amount more than using conventional produce, yet I wouldn't have it any other way, as I always want to be able to offer the very best quality I can, and I want to run my business with integrity," she says.

Skills shortages and staffing issues
Teage Ezard wasn't alone in lamenting the skills shortage. "This has a major impact on training and quality of product," he says. Tetsuya Wakuda says it's not only about finding staff, it's about finding the right staff: "The restaurant business is one of the toughest industries to be in, but it's so rewarding to see our guests happy - that is what we strive and work towards. The challenge of the future is to find staff who have the passion to be in this industry." Aaron Turner of Loam agrees. "It's extremely important that we as an industry work to shift the current perception of hospitality," he says. "In order to attract talented, progressive individuals we need to demonstrate that our industry can provide a wonderful, fulfilling career, rather than just a part-time university job."

Passion and vision
There were many comments about passion and vision in the industry. Jacques Reymond fears that passion alone may not be enough to support small restaurants. "I'm concerned that in the future the hospitality industry will be controlled by groups and that most shareholders in the groups are not from hospitality," he says. "I feel concerned for the small, passionate, dedicated food-loving chef who wants to succeed and has to compete against these financial groups of backers." For Ben Shewry the key to staying passionate lies in remaining healthy. "Operating hands-on at a high level for a sustained period is a big commitment physically and mentally. I find if the body is feeling great, it's much easier to keep up the creativity." But, he adds, the motivation remains the same: "To keep coming up with new ways of exciting our customers and ourselves, and to better express our personal vision of a restaurant." Mark Best says, "According to the media, the biggest challenge will be to remain solvent." But he's more interested in continuing "to add to the culinary dialogue with fresh ideas that engage with my customers and speak of Australia."

Too many restaurants
And then there's always the question of oversupply. Kylie Kwong believes there are simply far too many restaurants in Sydney in proportion to the city's population. "We're not in New York or London with their high-density populations and greater ability to sustain local business. Yet I do not know the answer to this," she says. "The continual opening of eateries and bars is a direct reflection of this city's obsession with great food, wine and good coffee - this is a great quality, is it not?"


Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
Melbourne’s Rosa’s Kitchen has closed
Hot Plates: Pickett’s Deli & Rotisserie, Melbourne
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards are coming to Melbourne and we know where and when
Missy French has closed
Automata’s Clayton Wells is taking over Silvereye
Ghostboy Cantina brings guest chef series to Tio’s
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
things to do this autumn

Whether it's foraging for wild mushrooms in a picturesque Victorian forest or watching a film by moonlight in Darwin, we've got you covered with 20 exciting autumn experiences from around Australia.

Read More
Gourmet TV

Check out our YouTube channel for our latest cover recipes, chef cooking demos, interviews and more.

Watch Now

You might also like...

Albert Street Food & Wine

Philippa Sibley may have left the building, but Albert St F...

Ananas Bar & Brasserie

With a soundtrack laden with dance beats and a dark, moody ...


To celebrate its sense of place, Appellation makes a grand ...

Aravina Estate

The family-friendly nature of Aravina explains the terracot...


Grilled heart of palm with white beetroot and quinoa. Scall...

Aria Brisbane

Matt Moran's northern outpost sticks closely to the templat...


Assaggio's very red, very mod fit-out has undeniable flair,...


Attica now has the profile of a first-grade fine-diner (and...


The grey-whiskered Ben Willis could pass for a maturing, bu...


Azuma makes a hushed refuge within a shopping plaza, and wi...

Annie Smithers' Bistrot

Annie Smithers may have decamped for Du Fermier, but the bi...

Aquitaine Brasserie

The name is a nod to France's south-west gastronomic heartl...


While the interiors give Alpha a feeling of modernity, Pete...

d'Arry's Verandah

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The old dictum resonates a...


With more than 30 years of experience, owner-chef Michael B...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.