Star gazing. What can we expect from the restaurant sector in 2018?

18 Dec 07:00 by Jonathan Lamm

The bar at Neil Perry's Rosetta Sydney restaurant.

In the bustling Sydney restaurant scene, there has been no shortage of new and very impressive venue openings, particularly in the latter part of the 2017 calendar year. For example, Neil Perry’s Rosetta which is a 160-seat premium casual dining Italian offering. Located in Sydney’s CBD and open 7 days a week, this restaurant is a big name in a white-hot celebrity chef market. Interestingly, other restaurants in similar locations have suffered.


An example of this impact is Bouche which was similarly located and a beautifully appointed venue. Sadly, Bouche has recently closed their premises. According to their website in relation to the closure, “we have experienced tremendous ups and downs through the life of the restaurant and in the end, we could not weather the storm that had been thrust upon us. As a restaurant we did everything we could to ensure the success of Bouche but in the end, we found the unfair financial stress of our location too challenging”.


Sydney’s Chin Chin opening is an example of a new offering that has literally been going gangbusters since the second its doors opened. Their convenient location on the fringe of the Sydney CBD in Surry Hills will hopefully help them sustain positive momentum into the new year. The Australian describes Chin Chin’s Sydney operation as being a “lovely heritage building, classics soundtrack, a waitstaff roster of hospitable part-time models and very big loudspeakers. There’s the tap wine, the Go-Go bar with its funky, tongue-in-cheek cocktails and a Thai-inspired menu at price points that make the decision pretty easy”.


Another exciting offer that snuck into the hottest openings in the Sydney market of 2017 on December 15 is Matt Moran’s three-storey Barangaroo House that comprises a rooftop bar, Smoke, second-storey restaurant, Bea, and ground floor House Bar. Significantly, this project completes the final piece of the Barangaroo precinct, now overwhelmingly dense with new bar and dining concepts, most of which are barely 12 months old.


The Telegraph describes Barangaroo House as “a colossal, 900-seat ‘monster’ — and by far the biggest venue in his (Matt Moran’s) hospitality stable.” And regarding Bea, “a stunning 200-seat homage to native and seasonal ingredients — overseen by ex-Noma chef Cory Campbell — the venue will rival 250-seat newcomer Chin Chin and Merivale’s sprawling est. in terms of size and scale. It will also signal a move away from Moran’s fine-dining roots which first took shape across the harbour at Aria.”


These are just a few of the more high-profile celebrity-led examples of recent openings particularly in the Sydney CBD that have generated significant media and public interest and curiosity. Outside of the CBD precinct, areas such as Rosebery in Sydney’s inner west region, have found establishments such as Stanton and Co arise which is beautifully appointed with respected and dedicated operators.


Good Food reported on their recent opening, saying that “after a long gestation, Stanton & Co finally fires up on Wednesday, November 15, in a bumper restaurant opening season for Rosebery. The Alexander & Co interior is worth the wait. ‘It's stunning night and day’, group executive chef Regan Porteous says. ‘It just really oozes an inviting feel’. The latest venture from Parlour Group, the ‘Euro-American salon’ features a zinc-topped bar and kitchen bar dining, with a few park benches thrown in for good measure”.


Given the plethora of high-profile entrants to the market, the question must be asked as to the potential saturation of the upmarket restaurant sector. Will the next 12 months be a telling decisive period in the evolution of the sector?


Taking a retrospective view, it is evident that many venues will have a 12-month honeymoon period with patrons visiting them for the first time. This can be particularly lucrative for these operators from a workforce talent attraction and acquisition perspective given the excitement surrounding new venues for those working within the restaurant sector and wanting to be part of something new and on trend.


Of course, work-life balance remains a critical challenge for restaurants to deal with. There is a continuing trend in high-quality talent seeking to move on from operational roles in restaurants. Many restaurant and bar managers who are moving to a different life stage and simply not getting enough time to spend with their family. It’s challenging to manage the desire to work in hospitality rather than having Saturday at home with family, for example. Restaurant managers have transferable skills. This often sees sales roles in related industries such as food services, kitchen supplies, restaurant furniture become of great interest. Recruitment also continues to be an attractive space for those within the industry. This is not always an easy transition which continues to see a high number of new entrants turnover within 12 months.


Talent retention remains the key challenge in any restaurant and dining space. How can businesses retain their staff and customers beyond the initial honeymoon period?


With so many venues opening all the time, this is an ongoing challenge beyond the initial spike in activity and is the alternative management dilemma from the talent attraction and acquisition opportunity. The opportunity this presents for restaurants is to ensure they have best-practice HR frameworks and supporting processes in place to mitigate associated staff risks and harness the value this can provide to their business operations more broadly.