Looking for some guidance on running a hospitality business and navigating the issues of 2023? In this piece, you’ll find insights from some of the leading minds in Wellington, as told to us a Table Talk – Mr Yum’s exclusive event series that brings the best of the industry together for panel discussions led by local experts.
Sarah Meikle - CEO of Wellington on a Plate, Sarah shares her experience in putting Wellington on the global food stage.
Jamie Williams - CEO of Kapura Group, Jamie outlines the strategies and skills operators need to navigate day-to-day challenges.
Dave Sutherland - With extensive experience in some of Victoria’s best kitchens, Dave shares insights from the kitchen.
Playing to Wellington’s strengths
Sarah knows Wellington’s food and drink scene perhaps better than anybody. Here are her insights into how Wellington has done so well at creating a defined offering.
“We have these amazing breweries that collaborate with chocolate factories and coffee companies that collaborate with lots of people, and they do all sorts of things all the time. That helps to tell the story of the unique people that come from Wellington.”
“When we started Wellington on a Plate 15 years ago now, we said it was all about the celebration of the great indoors. We do indoors well here, and we have to because, apart from the most amazing summer, we have amazing winters. So we make the most of those by being inside. And eating and drinking is a great thing to do inside,” Sarah said.
Another aspect of what Sarah loves about Wellington is the staying power of the people and brands that make up the hospitality scene.
“In a little place like New Zealand, we've got a city full of restaurants that you can name that you went to 20 years ago, and that's rare.”
Sustainability as an industry
With 35 venues in the Kapura Group and counting, Jamie works with plenty of brands and suppliers, so he is well-positioned to share his take on sustainability in the industry and why it needs to change.
“I don't think this sector had dealt with sustainability very well at all, and I think the reason for that is that business owners have always struggled to see the connection between doing things better and what it might lead to in terms of extra revenue,” he said.
“But I think that's changing because there’s demand from staff that you're trying harder and there's demand from consumers. So I think that's coming to a point where we're going to have to do something about it as a sector.”
“The trick is not greenwashing emotion, and be legitimate about it.”
Now more than ever, adding experiences is a popular way for venues to bring in more diners. Dave shared his experience in using passion as a value-add.
“We always try and bring the garden into the restaurant in small ways so that people know why we're here, identifying our passion and sharing it with people without pushing it down their throats, but instead allowing them to take a step further and engage in it,” he said.
Embracing native ingredients
Sarah sees embracing native ingredients and celebrating local New Zealand produce as an opportunity for venues going forward.
“It's really interesting that you walk down the supermarket aisle and you can buy dried basil and parsley, but you can't buy dried pikopiko and kawakawa. There's no recipe in Woman's Weekly that features those ingredients. As Kiwis, we don't actually know how to use those ingredients. It's ridiculous because both of them are growing in our garden,” she said.
“To me, that feels like the biggest opportunity is embracing and owning that food culture that we have here and being really proud of it because we're so lucky food tastes amazing here. So let's really celebrate that.”
Recalibration of kitchen culture
Dave spoke about his first-hand experience with shifting kitchen cultures and how businesses can retain staff, even if it’s at the expense of customer expectations.
“So we're always focused on attracting and retaining staff and a reduction of hours is the first step there. And that comes at a direct cost to the business, because you're not open as much, but you sort of you have to decide, okay, well, we're going to push these guys into the ground, or we can make a change and sort of try and be a bit more sustainable,” he said.
“As a hotel, we stopped doing breakfasts, which got a lot of pushback from customers. But we had to hold fast and say, look, we can't do this to our chefs, we can't do this to our staff, we can't provide that service.”
Advice for those looking to expand or start a business
As someone who has been there himself, Jamie shared some sage advice on how operators can get started and grow their businesses.
“You've got to really do your research about who the market is. So that's probably my first point. Everyone will tell you to get good advisors around you and broker a business plan. But the reality is you can only sell something to people who want something, so you've got to work that out first,” he said.
“The second thing is, be brave. Life’s short. Particularly for younger operators in the room that might be thinking of doing it. You've got plenty of road left in front of you. So worst case is you just go and get another job working for someone else somewhere and choose a different career if you really didn't like it. And you've got plenty of time to do that and catch up,” he said.