To answer these questions, we assembled a panel of experts with work experience both in North America and Australia to shed light on what tipping trends we might soon see in Australia’s future.
Adam Miles – Head Waiter at Porteño
Tristan Rosier – Chef, Waiter, and Owner of Arthur restaurant
Edward Randow-Stone – Chef D’Experience at Kounta
What do you think about Australia’s tipping culture?
Or, listen to the podcast here
Does tipping have a future in Australia? – Read the full transcript here
Shaun: Welcome to the Open Pantry podcast, episode 14 now powered by Kounta. Awesome to have you for another episode and great to have our first proper panel discussion today talking about ‘Does tipping have a future in Australia?’. Great to have these three guys with me today. Going around the room I’ll start with Ed Randow-Stone Chef D’Experience at Kounta POS, I can’t wait to hear what that actually means Ed. Adam Miles next to him, head waiter at Porteno in Sydney and Tristan Rossia chef, waiter and owner of soon to be opened Arthur at Surry Hills. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being on the show.
Ed: Thanks Shaun
Tristan: Thank you
Adam: No worries
Shaun: Alright now, because I want the audience to know a bit more about you guys, I wanted to go around just the room and do a bit of an origin story for a couple of minutes just talking about your history in the hospitality industry so we get an understanding of where you’re at I suppose as we go into this great topic of tipping. Ed, did you want to start off??
Ed: Sure yeah, I started in hospo when I was 15 at McDonald’s flipping burgers and working drive through. And graduated from there to kitchen hand in the cafe pretty quickly and ended up working my way up to be a waiter a bartender and a bar manager in Christchurch in New Zealand. From there I was offered an opportunity to come to Sydney to work at Rockpool Bar & Grill in 2010, so that brought me over here I basically dropped everything and came to work the bar at Rockpool Bar & Grill.
Shaun: Is that because you knew about, sort of the greatness of Rockpool at that point in time?
Ed: I’d actually just been introduced to the brand by the bar manager at the time who was from Christchurch who was back in town visiting his family and came into the bar where I was working and got loaded and offered me a job.
Ed: And I sent him an email the next day saying “were you serious, cause I was serious” and he was like “yeah”. So I shot up in Sydney a month later and kinda knocked on his door and he was like “oh yeah I guess I’ll give you a trial”.
Shaun: How nice of him
Ed: And then I passed my trial, just. I was definitely really underskilled compared to the rest of the team I was 21 and I got worked really hard.
Shaun: Yeah of course
Ed: It was Friday dish pigs and bartending and it was just really hard work, I got the s**t kicked out of me and that was a really good experience. I became a much better bartender really quickly but ended up moving away from the bar onto the floor, being a senior waiter on the floor. So working a section on the main floor and from there I ended up calling the pass actually so for the last year of my two years at Rockpool I was the expediter, I was calling the pass.
Ed: Which was the hardest job I’ve ever done, the hardest thing I’ve ever done and also some of the most exciting and fun work but also certainly the most pressure I’ve ever been under
Tristan: Cause how many seats do they have in that venue?
Ed: We were doing about 330 covers in the restaurant plus the bar next door on a Saturday night. So yeah calling the pass there was like a 4 person job and we had a pretty rigorous system that worked pretty well, everyone gets the right food, most of the time. I once made a single mistake of moving the order of two dockets because to me it looked like the right thing to do and I checked with Chef but he didn’t answer me and I just assumed I was right.
Shaun: On no
Ed: That decision cost $1600. We threw all the food in the bin for a whole table of 12
Shaun: Oh my lord
Ed: And yeah it just ended all in the bin. So that was a learning curve yeah. Actually, a guy called Graham was across the pass from me at the time who’s gone a long way in the industry as well he’s head chef at Shift Kitchen in Sydney now. Anyway, I burned out after a little bit after two and a half years at Rockpool and I was kinda working 11 shifts a week and I was partying as well. I moved to New York for 180 days, two lots for a 90-day visa waiver and worked for tips at a little cafe in Prospect Heights and in a dive bar in the Lower East Side which was disgusting, I was washing glasses by hand. It was like, dragging trash trough leaky toilets and like it was gross. Also a bit of fun, and didn’t end up getting sponsored in New York so came back to Sydney and took an opportunity at The Grounds of Alexandria. An old manager of mine from Rockpool was managing there a the time and ended up being a squatter bus of ex-Rockpool there were about 6 maybe working at the Grounds. I managed the Potting Shed when they opened that next door, so I was the bar manager there. And ended up being the beverage manager for the Grounds, taking care of all beverages that weren’t coffee.
Tristan: Really? Wow.
Ed: Yeah so that was my role there.
Shaun: Cause that was when it was really up and coming right?
Ed: Yeah we went from setting a table from every 3 minutes to a table every minute in the year that I was there. So yeah it was crazy, a crazy time it was lines around the block every day when we started. When we opened the door and there would be a line already and we filled the restaurant from that line by 7.30am and just full, full all day, 40 minute turn time just pounding the pavement turning each section.
Tristan: Yeah, yeah so busy wow
Adam: I remember doing there and a friend of mine Damien used to work there years ago. I would go and it was just like packed out, like insane
Ed: Damien trained me
Adam: Oh no way
Ed: Yeah he was in charge at the time he trained me out
Adam: I think that aged him about 10 years. He was 40 he looked way older
Shaun: The best and worst venues do that all the time
Adam: They sure do
Shaun: And then after The Grounds, what did you do from there?
Ed: Yeah I think I’ve gone over my time ah anyway
Shaun: It wasn’t time yet so that’s ok
Ed: I love telling my story. I went from the Potting Shed to Dead Ringer, I went from a middle management position at The Grounds to a restaurant manager at Dead Ringer for their first year of opening and ended up parting ways there after about a year for various reasons. I took a three months consultancy at Sydney Seaplanes which is where I first encountered Kounta, so to speak. So I was the consultant there, kind of put together their hospitality operations such as it was, trained a team and spun that up from nothing at very short notice. It was an interesting project that I probably wouldn’t do again but it was a really good experience and that’s where I first got to work with Kounta. The team at Tech Pantry were our consultants, they installed all the Kounta and I administered it from the Sydney Seaplanes point of view. Got to know the Kounta guys through that project so they asked me to apply for a job when I finished up their consultancy.
Meanwhile, I was working part-time at Hubert as a sommelier so that’s the last part of my story.
Shaun: Part-time style.
Ed: Yeah just two nights a week yeah just casual. So I’ve been at Kounta for a year and a half now, taking on the role of ‘Chef D’Experience’ I named my title myself.
Shaun: Of course, it sounds like it
Ed: It’s kinda a play on customer experience, CX which is a very kinda software term that I wanted to just soften and play with a little bit so I just put it back into a hospitality term. When I left Rockpool Bar & Grill the general manager wrote me a very nice written reference which called me the ‘chef d’ étrangers’ which is a super super French ancient way of describing a French expeditor. So I kinda played on that a little bit and so here I am I look after the experience of all customers who use Kounta.
Shaun: Right ok, so it’s a big and varied role
Ed: It’s big and varied
Ed: Yeah also it’s quite a new role at Kounta so I am very much making it up as I go along and trying to find opportunities to improve.
Tristan: Well done you.
Ed: Thank you
Shaun: Alright, Adam go for your life
Adam: Well I guess looking back it’s always easier to see the path you came through, I grew up on hotels like big accommodation hotels. My parents, they used to buy hotels, do them up, work them and then sell them. Or sell the leases on those things which was weird I was only small at the time but I left there obviously went to school. They got out of hotels when I was quite young I was only 10, they went back to owning their own small little businesses and things. I worked and did bits and pieces in hospitality driven supplies, things like that. I used to love working at this little cafe down the road, I just wanted money so I always used to go down there and bug them and they’re like ‘yeah fine’. I used to do the dishes and that kind of stuff. I didn’t love it but though yeah you know this is a bit of me I can do it, it’s not too hard to do.
Anyway left doing all of that, worked at bars worked at the Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay for quite a while just at the end of my school, did my HSC and thought I better do something serious. So I went into learning finance, got a job with BMW worked with them but my friends owned Porteno, we were old friends from dancing and we used to love rock and roll music and we always used to go out on the weekends. I didn’t know they owned a restaurant at the time, they owned a place called Bodega and it was a restaurant that I had been to when I was 19 or 20 and I thought this is pretty cool it was like the first cool restaurant I’d ever been to that wasn’t the Chinese restaurant on the corner of the street kinda place. You know a little bit fancy they’ve got an actual wine list all this cool stuff I felt cool going in there.
Ed: Bodega was hot stuff at the time
Adam: Yeah cause last night we had our 12th birthday so for a restaurant to last 12 years I think in Sydney that’s not the biggest craziest place but kinda I guess groundbreaking at the time when it started I mean there wasn’t really that kind of dining, like brash loud, heaps of different plates, crazy flavours that no one really understood. It was definitely a bit more formatted but I think they’ve done really well. Long story short I started working at Porteno, I kept bugging them I said ‘I really want to work at the restaurant’ they said ‘we don’t hire friends, thanks so much’. I was like oh that’s nice, anyway about two weeks later a friend Sarah one of the owners called me and said ‘hey we really need help do you wanna come and help’. So I was like ‘yep absolutely’ came in was hosting didn’t really know my way around a formal restaurant like I knew bars, I knew cafes I didn’t really know you know I guess there’s a lot of expectation when people are spending a lot of money
Ed: Of course
Adam: At a prominent restaurant in Sydney the expectations built before they come in so to deliver that. So I kinda just stayed in the background and just did whatever needed doing, polishing glasses, moving things you know setting tables all that fun kinda stuff. I was working six days a week for them and five days at BMW so like again double shifts. Split shifts running across town trying to get dressed but they offered me a full-time job they said why don’t you get out of BMW and come here you could take it seriously, you obviously enjoy it. And to me at the time I thought wow I actually really do enjoy it like why am I waiting, at that time we were closing at two in the morning ‘why I am doing it to myself?’. Obviously, there’s something I love about it. I like coming in and I like the interaction – it doesn’t feel like work and that’s what I love. I realised that I guess at that time it was fulfilment I didn’t really get in my day job, the finance-y side of things. It was a little bit of recognition it was like ‘hey how you doin?’ this not only from the staff but definitely from the consumers as well they had a good time, they were happy. It wasn’t like going into the finance guys office like ‘what about this contact, no get out!’. Like it wasn’t really that obviously heated and it gets crazy in a different way but it’s always moving. I think that’s what I loved about it so I started working for them.
In 2015 I got a green card to live in the States and a friend of mine from Sydney, Louie Tickerum who used to work at Longrain, he was the head chef. We have LPs down the road I was part of the group that used to help and was helping him out doing something and was like ‘oh you’re going to America’ and he as like ‘I haven’t made any plans why don’t you come and see Louie blah blah blah you can go over there and meet him see what happens it would be a job straight away. I thought ‘oh that’s pretty cool’. Went over there, the general manager kinda got canned in the first few months of opening this big restaurant. I took over as a senior management kinda position and I was there for about a year and it was really really interesting to just see, I guess I’ll just lead in here but the conversation between tipping and things like that in America compared to here as you would know as well.
Ed: Really looking forward to your point of view on that
Adam: Yeah I think that changed my perception of it as well. Anyway decided I wanted to come back I liked the Porteno group, I really do and they offered me a job as soon as I came back and kinda took it with both hands and here I am.
Tristan: What a great story.
Ed: Yeah really interesting to hear the inside perspective on that time at Porteno when it was just new. I’d just moved to Sydney and and like you guys were really just rock stars, like everyone like, it was the hottest place in town everyone wanted to come and bring their money there and it was yeah like looking at the Rockpool Bar & Grill team that I was part of I was like ‘I wanna work with those guys, they look like they have fun where they work . They were like chopping up big bits of meat and like caring just as much but just taking it way less seriously.
Tristan: Such a whole different angle you know to the same thing.
Adam: And I think that’s what got me excited working with them like it wasn’t an ego driven thing as much as people from the outside will always see it. But even to this day, they’re there every day, being there obviously there cooking and they’re not out of their kitchen. I know we have other restaurants but they’re always there. Well, they always have something to say about it and Joe the main owner, well not the main owner one of the other owners Ben, Elvis and Joe they are always working together and I think that’s, it can’t happen in massive franchises and things like that. I feel it can dilute if it’s not done which you are obviously a part of.
Shaun: Most definitely
Adam: It can dilute and Joe is there all the time talking about the wine, how we are going to change it how we are going to drive and kinda stay relevant. I think that’s really really difficult, especially with so many places open in Sydney. I mean Sydney has become Melbourne I mean Melbourne has always been seen as that really cool, trendy new, edgy you know. Sydney I think in the last few years in ways has done a really good job of not matching it but having an identity of its own.
Shaun: Yeah certainly starting to come through, it’s starting to gain some respect
Adam: Yeah cool wine bars, things like that. Like you don’t have to go and have a bit meal to get a good bottle of wine.
Shaun: Yeah that’s it
Adam: You can just duck in, have a snack. Have a wine, go like it’s I guess a bit more of a, I don’t know it’s probably not right but mature way of dining. Like you don’t have to go out and get wasted you can go out and have one glass of really cracking wine, people are aware of I guess quality. There’s so much more, you can go to a cracking little wine bar and have something you’ve never had before. You don’t have to go out and get polarized by the ones in Rockpool Bar & Grill that’s like a bible.
Shaun: Yeah like what do I choose?
Adam: It turns you off it’s frightening that scares people off. If you can try something from, I don’t know anywhere Vedura and you’re like ‘oh wow I didn’t know what that was like, I didn’t have to commit to a whole bottle’.I got this little taste, they’re happy to show me, they’re happy to educate me.
Shaun: At the end of the day it’s the recommendation isn’t it? From the floor staff, that’s important.
Ed: Leads really nicely into you Tris
Shaun: Yeah absolutely. Adam thank you that was cool
Tristan: I guess how far back do I go?
Shaun: I was born then ah…
Tristan: I got into kitchens when I was like 14 years old just as a kitchen hand. My like grandmother’s friend’s son owned a restaurant and needed a kitchen hand and I wasn’t doing to well at school so I just went and started doing that on the weekend. And then it became every single day during the school holidays as well, like no days off and I just got a taste of earning my own money which was like 10 bucks an hour but still awesome for that time.
So did that and then after like a few months of that they started saying ‘here butter this bread or here peel these potatoes’ and then it just leads into like ‘hey the chef didn’t show up on that section, now you are just gonna do that’. And they got someone else to do the wash or whatever so it just leads into those things.
So after I did that for about 12 months I decided that cooking was something that I wanted to do so went and got an apprenticeship, it was in a club in the Sutherland Shire. I worked at the St George Motor Boat club for like five years and that was really great experience because it was such a big venue it had like four function rooms and a restaurant that sit about 300 people. So we had two kitchens and got to work every single section for five years so like as far as grounding it was like pretty good. I got to run the pastry and like do functions and yeah every single section was really, it really grounded me and we got to do stuff en masse as well. You get really good at cutting onions when you gotta cut like 40 kilos of them.
Adam: Most definitely
Tristan: Which I think, yeah that really sets you up to be good formative training I think.
Ed: Yep I would say so I’ve seen you cut onions
Tristan: And then after that, I left there and went and worked in the complete polar opposite. I went and worked in a little winery in the Southern Highlands where there was a husband and wife who were both chefs who used to work at Aria and before that they worked in London with Marco Pierre-White. So they were really up-there chefs that got sick of Sydney and then went down to Bowral and then opened a restaurant and winery called Stones. And I worked there for about a year and a half as like a sort of sous chef to them and that was fun for other reasons it was like getting to see a small business operate and up they lived upstairs and their kids were always running around the kitchen so I would like sometimes cook their kids dinner, and like get ready for service for the restaurant and then the chef she’d be upstairs bathing the kids, put them to bed and I’d be like ‘oh I need help’ and she’d come back down and help me. It was just crazy.
So I did that and then…
Shaun: Did it make you understand produce more? Just to butt in, cause you were on a smaller scale and you were obviously more country
Tristan: Yeah it was like going from ‘you do the onions for an hour’ to now you do everything, it’s a little bit of everything. Yeah, that was definitely a whole other thing to learn like I got to deal with more expensive meats that I’d never touched before and that kinda stuff. And just way more responsibility which at the time you think, you don’t think about it too much cause you’re still young at that point. But now you look back you’re like wow that really helped me learn how things operate and where things need to be and all that kinda thing. And after that I probably thought it’s probably time to take things a bit more serious so I went and applied, I applied for Quay and they didn’t call back so I applied for Est. and Est. called back and the next day I went for a meeting with Peter Doyle and he gave me a job.
Adam: Wow amazing
Shaun: How was that, was that walking in to I’m sure you guys have had situations where you’ve walked into interviews of legends and people that you’ve known before, pretty much before that Peter would have been one of those
Tristan: Yeah totally
Shaun: How was that?
Tristan: To be honest I was a bit naive at the time like I realised at the time I didn’t know so much about the hats or the top restaurants. It was like I went to the Good Food Guide I just figured out kinda what is this thing and I was like ok I’ll go and apply for some of the top ones. And then meeting Peter was a bit naive to know how prominent he was, official for sure. But when I had my first shift in the kitchen I really realised like I’ve been cooking for six years at that point and thought I’m pretty good, I was f**n s**t.
Tristan: Like the level of detail in there I was like basically back on the larder section like from the ground up. They, not in a Ramsay kind of way, they break you down then build you back up again. But it’s more like this is the standard, you meet it or you’re out. It wasn’t like an abusive kitchen or anything like that, although he did like to call you an a**hole occasionally.
Shaun: Or have stuff thrown at you
Tristan: No only like tissues, like wet tissues he’d wipe the plates, dip the tissues in vinegar and wipe the plates and then if you’d smile he just chucks them at ya.
Tristan: But that was probably, I look back and we were talking before about a specific time in a certain restaurant that window of like six months where that team was just awesome. It was like fricken awesome, that was one of the highlights of my career for sure like we had at the time Josh Nighland was the sous chef, Adam Wolfers who’s doing the Etelek pop-up, he was the sous chef as well and a friend of mine. Taposh who’s owned a restaurant called Bang in Surry Hills. There’s just like a lot of people, one of the girls Stef she’s working at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in London now as a sous chef, like everyone who was there at that time has just gone on to do really cool stuff and my mate Mike who has Farmhouse he was working there alongside me so it’s just a really cool time there. And Peter Doyle, he’s definitely the name, he’s the legend like he’s a total legend. His approach to food is insanely good and a really nice guy.
And then after that I went travelling to Canada and then when I came back I went to Biota worked there for like a year and a half I think. And that was a pretty crazy restaurant, at the time we had barely any staff but we were pushing for the two hats. I remember the reviewer, we knew the local reviewer from the Good Food Guide and she came in when it was the weekend that Taste of Sydney was on and James and the head chef were both in Sydney selling croquettes and then she came in for lunch and I was like running the kitchen with like two apprentices and was like oh s**t. But yeah I don’t know it all worked and that’s the year we got the two hats and won best regional restaurant and it was a pretty cool experience.
And then after that, I got offered a job through Peter Doyle funnily enough to open Farmhouse restaurant with my mate Mike who I worked with at Est. so a bit of history on that restaurant. The owners were two builders and a designer who decided they would open a 35 seat restaurant in Kings Cross, oh 35 square metres sorry and 20 seats and that was like a side project for them they were going to invest 50 grand each, the guy would design it and they would build it after work from like 4:30 in the afternoon till 9:00 at night they would be in there building this sort of thing. It took them 12 months and then they’re like s**t now it’s nearly done and now we need to hire some staff. So one of the builders went to school with Lana Doyle who was Peter Doyle’s daughter and asked her ‘does your Dad know any chefs?’. Of course he does. So he asked around and then we got the call, Mike says ‘I’ve got this restaurant thing on, come to Sydney ’cause I was at Biota at the time in Bowral, ‘come to Sydney and help me just do this thing’. I was like ok
Ed: It’s totally how Mike talks.
Tristan: I was like ok we’re all good, let’s go. So I drove up to Sydney we went shopping he had a list of stuff he’d written a menu we were cooking out of his Mum’s kitchen and these three guys turn up and we cook them dinner. They’re like ‘alright guys so how much money do you want?’ And we’re like ’I don’t know, what have you got me into?’. It’s the restaurant opening and they want us to be the chefs. And I was like ok. And then they told us how much we could get and it was more than what I was on so I was like let’s do this thing so yeah.
We ended up opening Farmhouse in 2013 I think and that was another big learning curve. Like back to running a small restaurant again but from the ground up and something that was pretty unique, really really small and having to do everything. At the time we thought we’d do really cool stuff, now we look back and think god how did we do that? Like what s**t were we serving but you know you gotta learn and hopefully, it was kinda good and we didn’t publicise ourselves much and we could hide in the background, learn everything and then become good. And it’s been running for five years now and it’s rated number 1 on Trip Advisor which is pretty good for NSW so we’re really busy all the time.
Ed: Yeah I’d be alright with that
Tristan: Yeah then after that I went to Canada again for six months for sh**y snow season which failed and then got headhunted for the Dead Ringer which was where I met Ed. So I was the head chef at dead ringer for two years and yeah I think the next project is Arthur which is opening in Surry Hills on Burke St, we’re opening in October and I guess that’s a product of like working in other restaurants and saying ‘oh I’d do this differently’ and Ed would know this first hand like we had so many conversations where we were like ‘if I owned this restaurant I’d do it like this or I would change that’ and then after a while it’s like you better put your money where your mouth is you can’t keep just talking trash. So yeah that’s how we decided to go out on our own.
Shaun: Wow, alright I feel very humbled to be here with three people with such great experience so it’s awesome. So with such varied experience, especially in different countries with American and Canada and there as well, tipping doesn’t really have a culture here in Australia. It’s very different we have more of you know, award wage mentality through most of the industry. Obviously, lots has come out in the past year about how much people are working and how much they’re not getting paid. But tipping really has it origins in America for about 100 years and that kinda stuff. It’s actually interesting to note that only seven states out of the 50 in American actually have a minimum wage component for floor staff, which is about $10 an hour
Ed: $9.50 for New York state
Adam: In California, it was just under like $9.30 something
Shaun: Yeah but I think currently in like Washington state it’s about $2, just over $2 just a base hourly rate for someone who’s just working on the floor of the restaurant. So I guess I want to understand where you think tipping is currently at the moment, I suppose in America especially and then Australia as well. Ed, can we start with you?
Ed: Sure, yeah I quite eagerly followed the story in the news about the Danny Mayer and the Union Square hospitality group starting to do I think they call it ‘hospitality included’ rather than tipping so they really went through a dramatic change at some of their restaurants and there’s been a lot written about that and they went through some real struggles as well they lost a lot of important staff. It’s not clear yet whether it’s going to work. I also think it’s super clear to everyone at scale when you look statistics on tipping that it’s really broken, it’s really racist and sexist. Women always get more tips and black people get less tips and that’s pretty c**p. It’s also this kinda weird situation where the diner has the responsibility for paying the rent of the server and the business owner is nowhere to be seen in that arrangement. And it’s like ‘what’s going on here’. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not in the customer’s best interest, I think. So I hope that the change will be driven by the consumer in America, who actually just rejects the culture because it’s c**p and bias.
In Australia, it’s much more varied, at Rockpool Bar & Grill I earned nearly half my salary in tips and that was absolutely critical to my livelihood and if I hadn’t I would have gone to another restaurant where I would. And I imagine that’s been the case for a lot of people in the hospitality industry. That tip portion of their wage is really important to them and their livelihood but it was also really inconsistent, not every customer leaves a tip. Some customers tip 20%, some customers tip $20 on a $1000 bill and they think they’re being generous and they genuinely mean it when they hand you that $20, they think they’re being generous and you’re sitting there as a waiter and going ‘that’s a 0.2% tip buddy, that’s nothing’ so there’s all these kind of imbalances and disconnects everywhere in that whole system I think. And especially when you look at the kitchen, cause we used to split our tips to some extent with the kitchen that they were getting like $30 bucks a month you know a little gesture and you know they were also working hideous hours on apprentice wages but they were my peers. They were just as skilled as me, just as educated, they lived similar lifestyles and I was earning like double, easily than what they were earning.
Shaun: And that’s half the experience of that restaurant, they’re the food that you guys sell
Tristan: Couldn’t have done it without them, that’s true.
Ed: So that’s the lay of the land as the way I see it, it’s really fragmented.
Shaun: Adam what do you think, from your time in America?
Adam: I see exactly the same as that, when I was in the states the wages were about $9 something like early nines, which they were talking about increasing to $11 and everyone was losing their minds. Coming from here earning mid 20’s, early 20’s and then getting tips on top I was like ‘$2 doesn’t mean much to me’ but it’s such a big component to them, like a $2 increase is huge. But I was noticing again, the tipping culture was going from firstly 10%, now it’s 15%, 18%, 20% on the bottom of the bill. And some of the waiters I was managing at the time, I had heard stories at the time, they chased a group of people out. They were like ‘oh you didn’t tip’ but they were from somewhere that it’s not part of their culture cause tipping is the American culture. To me it was cringe-worthy, I could never imagine doing it here, chasing somebody out and saying ‘hey, you only left $5’.
Tristan: I’m literally cringing
Adam: I think it definitely had something to do with the service there. The bill would be paid and they would be packing up like it was the last table service of the night. My mentality is that the table needs to be looked after until they leave 100%. It doesn’t matter, if they need to know where the toilet is, they want a glass of water whatever. But there, they were like “‘they’ve paid, the tips been paid, I”ve been paid they’re done’. But again, that whole mentality, the business model of how it’s being done in America, the consumer funding the staff is crazy. Looking at it from here imagine you guys being solely responsible for the staff. Take that consideration out of the business, I know for us our staffing cost is astronomical, it’s high and I would assume that most restaurants around town it’s labour heavy you have 8 in the kitchen, 12 on the floor so you’re looking at 20-25 person for 130-140 seater kinda thing. It’s a lot of people to have on, to take that component out and put it onto the guest, I just couldn’t imagine. I just don’t think that would ever work.
Tristan: Nah we wouldn’t cough it
Ed: People do say though that the American system incentivises better customer service, do we agree?
Tristan: I would disagree with that, for this reason. Because if you have two waiters and they’ve both got a section, and one’s got a section where all the tables are full and the other is empty. That person with the full section doesn’t want the other person to help because then they’re gonna want a share of their tips, so they’re against each other like ‘get out of my section’.
Shaun: Yeah it’s a rivalry.
Tristan: Yeah it’s like you should be one cohesive team working together.
Adam: And exactly I’m sure you saw that in the states as well. Here we run on a points system essentially so there’s a breakdown. The more experience and responsibility you have the more you get tipped out and it trickles down. In the states how they were talking where I was, how they wanted to do it was like how you’re saying, your section your tips then you tip out your busboy. So it’s on your discretion, so if you get $200, for example, the busboy helped you a lot you give him $50. You might only take $100 of the $200 but you’re responsible for paying the other people. I think that can be biased as well as you were saying sexist bias, however, gender specific.
Shaun: Yeah they have so much control
Adam: Exactly right and I think as a manager or something like that you wanna stop any form of that behaviour. Like you stole my locker, I’m not paying you I’m gonna give you less. Completely away from the diner, completely away from any guest experience it’s a personal issue. And it’s wrong, I think it’s really hard to build a culture where that is separate and work is work. So what I tried to introduce there was exactly what we do here, everyone gets a percentage it doesn’t matter it’s pooled and we percentage it out so that everybody is looked after fairly. It was seen as really controversially at the time but it was an Australian owned company that I was working for so the bosses understood it but the waiters were like ‘well this isn’t how we’ve ever done it’. But it worked.
Ed: You successfully rolled out a different system in your team
Adam: Yeah and it was, I’m not sure the legalities you can’t take tips off premises and things like that in the states everything stays on site, we would actually pay a waiter to sit with you at the end of the night and go through the tips with you because obviously, it’s such a big percentage of their wage. But I would see $30 an hour being paid just in tips to some of the waiters. So when I looked at that I was like well the $9 isn’t the issue, they’re still earning $30 an hour it’s not so bad, you know. They can whinge about the low hourly rate but where I was it was unique but they were still making good money they were making over $1000 bucks a week for a 5 day week. Which I think for a hospitality job, $1000 bucks a week, you don’t get that in retail. I don’t know I haven’t done retail in forever but it’s hard I mean you can earn such good money in hospitality I feel and it’s taken seriously now it never used to be. A lady said to me the other day it hit me like a ton of bricks she said ‘what do you do, like what do you normally do?’. And I was like ‘this’ and she was like ‘yeah but when you’re not doing restaurant type things what do you do?’. I was like oh god, how do I answer that question without making her feel foolish this is my chosen career I’ve been doing this for like 10 years.
Ed: Yeah and when I’m not doing this I eat in other people’s restaurants
Adam: But yeah I’ve been doing it for nearly like 12 years and I feel like a conscious choice it’s not like I’ve just fallen into hospitality I don’t wanna do it there’s an opportunity elsewhere, I choose to do it. And that’s what you will lead to with tipping and having informed wait people or managers or sommeliers or bartenders, apprentices that have worked all the way up. People going out see the value in that I hope in that and that what breeds a bit of tipping culture because it’s not your entry-level people its people that go ‘you know what I want you to have a good experience, I’m gonna do everything possible for you to have a good time’. And people respond to that I hope. I was thinking about it on the way here, sorry to talk so long.
Tristan: No that’s cool
Adam: It’s never seen as a bartering system, I was thinking what if people tipped at the beginning a nominal 10%. Would that change the guest experience? I don’t think so. I think then you’re bartering on it and I don’t think that’s what it’s all about. But if you give someone such a good experience and they want to tip you I think ‘wow, they actually want to go over and above’. Because you’ve gone over and above, not because there’s money waving in the air but because you know, maybe it’s their anniversary and you think it’s so important so you bring them something to start or you go ‘f**k I want them to have a great time’. Someone’s birthday and as minimal as it is and I don’t understand it, a flaming little stick of wax changes people’s lives.
Adam: What does it cost a cent, 2 cents? But it’s the notion of ‘wow I remembered it’s your birthday, I remembered it’s your occasion I want you to be recognised for that’. And they go omg that’s amazing.
Tristan: I think that’s what it represents a candle isn’t it? It’s like, we’re putting the light on you for a moment.
Shaun: That’s what true hospitality is right?
Ed: Yeah exactly
Adam: And from the beginning to the end. You’ve seen it everywhere bar side, floor side you know it’s easy to tip on a drink you go ‘oh it’s $9 just take $10’. You’re tipping a cab ‘it’s $14 just take $15’. But you don’t tip your hairdresser I mean it’s such a blurred line.
Tristan: It totally is
Shaun: So when you guys go out in Australia, how often would you actually tip do you think?
Ed: I tip when I go out if I genuinely feel like I’ve made a personal connection and that person has gone over and above. Yeah, I guess I do tip. And I tip to show my appreciation for being taken care of.
Ed: Yeah and if I don’t feel like I’ve been taken care of I won’t that’s for sure.
Shaun: Do you think it’s more of a real thing here in Australia when you actually get really good service? Cause you know that they’re maybe not just pushing for that tip as hard as they are in North America?
Ed: Yeah it’s not mandatory
Tristan: I always tip, generally like 10% in most restaurants and bars that I go to. But there is room in that for exceptional, I give more. But the opposite as well if it was really c**p I’m not gonna give you a tip. Like if my water is empty all night or if you’re just over there on your phone and I’m like this is c**p.
Adam: You don’t want to be here, exactly
Ed: It’s about care, right?
Tristan: Yeah it’s totally just about care, like engagement. Just wanting me to have a good time. Some of the best service sometimes is when everything just happens and you don’t really notice.
Adam: It’s magic. It is a magic trick like when you know how the magic trick works, you don’t care anymore. But when you don’t know I’m like how the hell does he know that I want sparkling when there’s no indication on the table. And at the basic level, they’ve got their own little system going. You get sparkling, you get tap, you get still it’s like wow my napkin gets folded everytime I come back to the table it’s like wow really amazing. People notice it, and I think beyond being looked after as well if someone is not on their game, why should they get a tip? If you go to a retail space, I don’t know if they have your size. Thanks like I really want these shoes but like ‘nah I can look out the back’, you’re not gonna want to buy those shoes. So why is someone going to want to buy a steak of somebody if they’re not like this is some of the best meat produced here, that’s why you’re paying $100. But you know building that expectation, building that experience for me is such an important part. You know why am I going to your place rather than my place? Why? Because they’re informed, they know what they’re talking about it’s not a sham, it’s not bulls**t it’s actual experience. Like you know how you were saying I was only cutting onions, who cares about cutting onions the consumer doesn’t care but you can knock it out quicker you can knock it out better you’re actually building a skill for yourself. And I think that money might go to beer fund at the end of the week whatever. But it gives you validation, I don’t know if it’s a validation thing I feel like I tip, wherever I go but if it was bad service I wouldn’t. I see it as a team if everything’s bustling, everything’s moving I’m like wow this is cool I’ll go.
I went to a popular new spot recently table next to me had c**p all over it for about 10 minutes I was like how, how is that even possible? Not that I care but I think there’s people walking past it back and forward
Shaun: Like how have you not seen that
Adam: Exactly how are you not seeing that as a waiter or as a manager? How are you allowing that to happen? You think wow, it makes me feel dirty letting it happen.
Adam: Yeah and you feel sh**ty
Tristan: It starts niggling at you though. And if you’re working in a restaurant you’ve got this order of service. What’s my next biggest priority? That table needs to be right up there.
Shaun: It’s very true it’s the first thing the customer sees right?
Ed: I’m sure you guys are similar to that whenever you are in someone else’s restaurant you’re doing that order of service prioritisation on behalf of them right?
Tristan: Yeah you can’t just relax
Ed: I can’t yeah, I’m terrible company at a restaurant because I’m just like trying to manage the restaurant instinctively.
Adam: And even with new staff that we hire I can see something, and not cause I’m a professional in any capacity I like what I do, but I look at things and I go that sticks out to me and that needs fixing. I can see it from a distance those people are out of water, waiters like oh yep. It’s not a fear-driven thing they go oh that’s such an important thing and being able to identify what you’re actually looking at. Because people can see something they can’t see the forest through the trees. It’s clear as day but they can’t actually see it cause they’re not conscious they‘re not tuned in.
Ed: So in a way it kinda feels to me like that possibility or the promise of a tip for going above and beyond might actually be incentivising us to pay that little bit of extra attention or stay a little bit more focused and in the zone instead of drifting off into our phone. Do you think you and your team would be able to maintain that level of care and focus if no-one ever tips starting tomorrow?
Adam: I don’t know I guess that’s interesting
Tristan: For me, if I’m working on the floor I don’t make the connection between the two. Between tipping and giving good service I think I just like want to give good service. I don’t really make the connection but maybe subconsciously it’s there but I don’t ever really think like this is because it will pay off.
Ed: I hope I never really was that way when I was serving as well
Adam: I think would be very highly incentive of that and for everyone to say there’s long hours in hospitality, of course, you could be long hours in accountancy as well. I guess demanding hours you wouldn’t do it if you cared about the money. And not just the money, the tipping side you’re gonna go oh I’m gonna get a tip I don’t think people are testing people are hard people are annoying you’d just get burned you wouldn’t do it. You’d be like I’ll just go and work somewhere else. Because I think it’s a bonus but if you’re just expecting it you’d just hate yourself
Ed: I don’t even look actually.
Adam: I remember the first time I started working at Porteno they gave me a packet at the end of the week or whenever it was I don’t even know what it was for so I took it and they’re like oh that’s your tip essentially and I was like whoa how cool is that? I come from cafes where you like might take the croissants home or something you know that no one had used or you’d take a sandwich or whatever but it was never a monetary thing but to get that initially I was like omg why wasn’t I working in restaurants before? Screw this cafe stuff but if you want to actually do it I don’t think it impacts your service I feel but I’m sure there’s the outliers and people that rely so heavily on that and that it does impact their judgement.
Tristan: Well I notice that when you hire an American staff member and they’re always like ‘f**k they didn’t tip or whatever’. I’m like you get that keep going
Adam: Or on like $1000 bill you only get $20 I mean it seems nominal. And I don’t know I wouldn’t tip that little on a bill if I’d gotten good service if I was like wow that was amazing I mean people sometimes don’t really have a barometer as to what is expected 10%, 18% maybe? I mean it’s polarising for people I hear it all the time like I don’t know what to tip. I normally say whatever think we are worth please feel free to just whatever. But I think you can’t ever put someone one that spot it’s a question you don’t want to answer. How much do people normally tip? I don’t know
Tristan: Yeah totally
Ed: What we used to do at Dead Ringer I quite like which was we tracked our tips every day as a percentage of that day’s revenue. Like we would track that percentage as a KPI for the team. Like if we made 7% tips on every dish we’re like ok that’s a good day if we made 3% it was a bad day. But we kind of hovered around 5%. So when people ask what do people usually tip, I’d say we’d average 5%.
Adam: That’s really good. Yeah that’s honest
Ed: It was really clear it was like we averaged 5% but you go for your life it’s certainly not compulsory.
Tristan: That’s really funny because we found at Farmhouse it’s 5%.
Ed: Is it? You track it as well?
Tristan: Yeah it’s about 5% for us
Shaun: I was gonna ask you guys a hypothetical when you go out, let’s say the food’s bang on, but the service is not bad but it’s pretty vanilla. Do you still tip?
Adam: I think that’s pretty impactful I mean it’s probably a bit more obvious the food could be amazing but then you’re just blinded by directly what’s in front of you.
Shaun: Yeah exactly
Adam: There’s a grumpy person that doesn’t really want to be there. You know what I mean
Shaun: Makes the food not taste as good
Adam: The business suffers I mean that is horrible I always say if the food is amazing but the service is c**p it’s not on and if the food is c**p but the service is great it’s still not on. That’s not a good business.
I feel both are as detrimental as the other.
Tristan: Do you find with reviews, people will find one thing that goes bad or the service is bad and they’ll try and back up their argument with even more things that they’re picking on?
Shaun: Oh right to make it sound worse
Tristan: Like to back themselves up like the service was c**p but this has happened and the food was s**t. But it’s like, the food wasn’t really s**t.
Adam: I read a review on us the other day and I try to stay relevant I do I try to keep up to date I think everything is valid. If someone doesn’t have a good time I wanna know and I think it’s easy to throw stones on the internet cause it’s hard to have a right of reply. But I was reading a review saying ‘the food’s amazing’ this and that oh no they said ‘it was good, shame that they moved locations blah blah blah it’s disappointing that the foods still good’. And I thought well just cause we’ve moved and our food quality is still good and he’s touched on that he said the food’s still amazing, it’s a disappointment though. Why was it a disappointment though? Was he hoping we’d fail because we moved to another venue?
Ed: I think I can kinda empathise with that person and I’ve had a really interesting learning curve taking on this experience role and started to realise actually that all I was really, the best bits of my job in my time in the industry were actually engineering and customer experiences just like I do now. So it really seems like an extension of that process like the best bit of your job is that imagination and engineering of a good system that creates that good experience right? But that’s like it is for me at Kounta at every restaurant the experience is a whole total sum of everything right? And it’s not just the food, it’s not just the service it’s also the building. And that customer remembers that certain magic that the Porteno site on Cleveland St had, it was magic the room was special. And the new restaurant is very beautiful but it doesn’t, I think maybe you can see, it doesn’t have that same grandeur that Cleveland St had so maybe that customer is just expressing that difference you know and I can kinda understand that.
Adam: In saying that I do see it I can agree I think it’s always a changing landscape and it’s hard to fulfil every need and I think your right customer experience doesn’t just start at the food or the service is starts as soon as they walk through the door. Someone welcoming you in ‘hey, thanks for coming’. Like when you open the door and you leave, the bathrooms are clean you know they don’t see someone on their phone. I think you’re right it does lead to a lot more than what just comes to the table. And I think that’s interesting with Kounta yesterday, diverting a little bit, but with Kounta a system you have with them now with the names, for example, we were fighting backwards and forward about which way we’d do something, which way we’d order something and I said ‘we need to embrace technology, we need to allow this system to do what it does best’. And Kounta, for this reason, was so streamlined and the reason obviously this hasn’t been put into it is to do this thing it should do. But the guys were fighting the change on it I was like you need to embrace it
Shaun: Embrace the change
Adam: Yeah you have to keep on moving and technology is moving forward quicker and quicker and for example, Kounta we’ve just gone to like you were saying. But I think it’s changed our service model, I mean we’re still strict to what we do, but it’s streamlined if you save two or three seconds here or there next minute you’re there you can be up to the customer you can be at the table quicker you can sell another bottle of wine you can talk to them about the meat you can do so many more things if those things are in place. Which is interesting which I think leads on to giving them more of an experience
Tristan: One of the most important commodities in a restaurant
Adam: Yeah 100% and it’s always fleeting
Tristan: Especially in the kitchen side it’s like ‘I need it now’!’
Adam: Yeah exactly right
Shaun: So I guess two more questions before we wrap up guys. I’ll ask probably a loaded question but do you think the taxation office is going to crack down over the next few you know few years about things like tax and stuff? I mean we’ve seen the industry really change in the last two years, especially with some big names in the industry being called out for improper wages and that kind of stuff which I think has been forever and ever what’s happened. But now we’ve got a new generation of employees going I don’t want to work 80-90 hours a week.
Ed: Or if I do, I’m going to get paid every one of them
Shaun: Correct, what is the reasonable overtime? Which is a totally different podcast and conversation but do you think the ATO is gonna crack down with all this money coming in?
Ed: We have some interesting insight on that with our scaled perspective of the industry that we have at Kounta because of all the data. So one trend that is going to affect that so over the last two years if you look at cash payments vs card payments right, the graph just looks like an X cash is just plummeting and card percentage is just approaching 100%. So I think the ATO has never really had a s**t show of tracking people’s tax on their tips until now when all that revenue will be in their counter. And in their zero and there will be a spreadsheet somewhere managing who gets what and it will all be recorded and you won’t be able to get away with it for much longer I think. And it will be really interesting what effect that has on the culture I think that’s pretty hard to predict.
Adam: Yeah I agree, I think cash is definitely king always years ago it was easy to give cash and you don’t pay cash. Cash is cash. But with Albert now, there is a spreadsheet with those things, there’s data being recorded so it’s potentially a matter of time. In the states the adding the percentage together instead of paying tips I think it’s the interesting thing and another restaurant tried to do it and they decided to not to do it any more they decided to start billing it into the pricing which pushes the pricing way up. But to make sure their staff is looked after
Tristan: It’s ok if you’ve got the name and presence to tell people
Shaun: Yeah it is interesting and Danny had a massive platform right. I went to Maialino in New York last year, best meal I’ve ever had hands down and the bill was expensive, right? But I still wanted to tip and they wouldn’t let me tip and as a consumer wanting to tip knowing that is the culture in America I actually felt quite bad that I couldn’t tip.
Shaun: Because that was literally the best meal I’ve ever had and I told them all that and probably got to know six of the servers and bar by name during that cause I was there by myself eating.
Ed: Did you have a few drinks, Shaun?
Shaun: I did
Shaun: I had a few free drinks as well. Like a simple thing I did was that I didn’t know what dessert I wanted so I said you choose. So then they brought me two plates of what they liked at that point in time so I could have half of each. You can’t train that, that’s just an instinct.
Tristan: Yeah totally
Shaun: It’s just all instinct and gut feel. It actually felt bad for me not to tip in that situation and I wanted to so, interesting.
Ed: What are you guys gonna do at Arthur?
Tristan: So cause we’re such a small business and there will only be 35 seats and six staff members and our service is a bit different as well. So the chefs will also serve the food so the split with tips shouldn’t be what it is in normal kitchens. All our chefs will be trained at least to the base level of all our wines as well so if someone says can I get another glass of Pino they know what it actually is.
Tristan: So in that sense, we’re going to be pulling tips and splitting it evenly among everyone based on the days you’ve worked essentially. Which I think you know I’ve been a chef, I’ve worked on the floor I earn way more money when I work on the floor and I am a way better chef than I am a waiter. And I’ve been cooking for a very long time and you know tips have definitely helped me when I was earning not a lot of money but it’s just one of those things the service is a really important thing and chefs forget that as well.
Adam: I think that’s an awesome idea, I think knowledge is where the money comes into play I feel again going back to that other thing if the servers or the waiters front of house know as much about the food as the back of house I think that’s so empowering. Likewise coming the other way it’s only going to do well for the business and I think people will want to strive for more, most people.
Shaun: People who wanna be in the industry for a long time
Adam: And they wanna know they don’t want to go to a table and go ‘I don’t know what that is’ and s**t don’t want to get caught like that, I know I don’t. Tips from our side of things, I’m always building knowledge I say, guys, if we’re going to move forward and we’re going to make money then we need to be able to add value and the way we add value is knowledge. It’s really the only way. You can fake it for a small amount of time but if someone knows about their premier Crus Burgundy and things like that and you have no clue you have to be honest with them and say I’m not sure I’ll get you someone. Or you educate yourself and you learn more and more and more. Which then again is saving time on the floor you don’t have to get someone you know.
Ed: It’s really interesting that you, if I’m understanding correctly, you’re using the point structure of the tipping system to actually incentivise the staff so they will upskill themselves.
Adam: That’s the way I see it.
Shaun: That’s really cool.
Adam: I feel like if you’re front of house with us you need to have a certain amount of knowledge
Ed: Of course
Adam: And if you’re coming in as a runner, not that you shouldn’t get it, but you should be striving to learn more. Because you will be a waiter in this restaurant one day and I think we need to educate you through we don’t want to turn and burn you we don’t want to just come in and just set tables for five years and go home we want you to come in and go wow this is what it can be. I guess that’s the whole, not apprenticeship but when you guys are starting in the kitchen you don’t get to saute a bunch of crazy stuff you don’t get to plate you have to go the full way through and I think building an experience in a restaurant or a bar or anything like that. The glass polisher, if he’s brand new you can’t let them talk to guests straight up or you can but you need to do that background work so the experience isn’t hindered when it comes to the table. Cause the expectation of the diner never decreases the only thing that can decrease is the knowledge and the service given to that person I feel.
Tristan: Yes they don’t know that he’s the glass polisher
Ed: And also I’m new here is not an excuse
Adam: And you don’t want to hear that at Rockpool Bar & Grill oh I’m new here I don’t know what that is
Shaun: I don’t know what’s going on
Adam: It’s like what? And you have no idea it’s like going to an accountant and a lawyer and they’re like oh I’m not too sure
Shaun: It’s my first year but this is $300 an hour
Adam: It’s like you would lose your mind, you wouldn’t see the value
Shaun: I think the cool thing in all three of you and what you’ve done and what you’ve created in your own venues or worked in is you’re giving people opportunity. And I think you’re really doing that because you got given them that opportunity
Shaun: And that’s how powerful an industry like hospitality can be for people so I think it can really be changing perspectives in people’s lives.
Anyway, my last question for you guys. Cause that could be a whole long conversation um the wage issue in Australia. In regards to hospitality and people not getting paid correctly, if you are getting paid award and if you are getting paid hourly you’re getting paid very well especially if you’re working on a Sunday or a public holiday. Do you think it’s just gonna happen in Australia where the tipping culture will come in, wages will go down in order for venues to stay open over the long term? Or will people have to pay more money for their food? There are probably two questions in that because something needs to give
Tristan: I agree
Shaun: Tristan do you wanna start?
Tristan: Yeah I think I’ve been saying for a couple of years that the price of food needs to go up
Shaun: Yes coffee especially
Tristan: Yes but there’s always gonna be someone that’s gonna just do it cheaper you know what I mean? Like you can go and get a great meal in Chinatown way cheaper than you can at Surry Hills you know. I think the whole industry just needs to put our prices up by 10% but that’s not gonna happen, it’s an easy solution but it’s a marketplace, it’s a free market and people will only pay what they deem is fair and you know you can charge more for things when you back it up with knowledge and service in a nice room and all that kind of stuff so it’s like what you’re saying upskilling and making that experience better and adding value, that’s when you can charge more. And then that’s when you can pass that onto your staff. You know a lot of restaurants are starting to incentivise staff with less hours as they do for chefs working four days a week instead of five. They’re four big days but three days off a week is pretty good.
Shaun: Pretty sweet
Tristan: You actually have a life, you have a girlfriend all that kind of stuff it’s not
Shaun: You’ve already lost enough
Tristan: Yeah it’s like I think it’s changing in that way maybe the prices won’t change so much in the close future but I think as guys come through the ranks and open restaurants that have been on the tail end of that culture have been on s**t money for heaps of hours they’ll find ways to start incentivising their staff for a better work-life balance for their people.
Ed: At Kounta we’re extremely aware of this pressure everyone is under right everyone is running so close to the wire in some way or another and we see a lot of businesses who open and close them, unfortunately. We are really trying to wrestle with that problem and figure out how we can help and I guess the way we see it is that the technology we build can enable efficiency in your business that can actually allow you to run with one fewer staff member maybe every shift. If your courses have really streamline your operations maybe you can run with a slightly leaner tenure every day and then pass on that saving to your team so I think as well. I think the price pressure comes with the reasons you spoke about Tris, about someone is always going to undercut you right?
I don’t think the industry will put it’s prices up by 10%. I can’t see it happening. But I do think that technology can enable those businesses to shave 10% off their operations and if you can shave 10% off your operations you can pass it along to your team. And the best operators that we work with are doing that using technology to do it.
Tristan: I think for the most part business owners want to look after their staff. It’s not like this big guy who just cares about profits. For the most part, I think they really care about paying people properly.
Ed: I hope that’s true
Tristan: I think so
Ed: If it is true then it’s very very new and maybe a developing trend but I still think a lot of the industry is behind on that.
Shaun: I think it will go through a big change, there’s gonna be a lot of carnage and a lot of badness over the next 5-10 years. I’m really worried about private equity firms bringing in a lot of money to these great chefs you know and we’re going to see how that’s going to play out. I think for you guys at smaller venues obviously you can just feel just meeting you today, I just know you’re going to do the right thing. This is what you do.
Ed: No private equity in the future of Porteno?
Adam: I think it’s detrimental to our business at what our business, it’s not restaurant specific we’re all in it together. Like we’re all involved in the industry but it doesn’t benefit me hiring new people cause I’m burning old people I’m trying to get these people to believe in what I believe in and work in the way that I like it to be done because I feel like it’s the best way that we do it. If I’m training someone every week because I just couldn’t be bothered paying them more or yelling at them, I came from a culture of a bit more leniency I’ve dealt with a lot of bad things. I’ve never been scolded in front of anyone, I’ve never been yelled at I’ve never had a pot thrown at me I’ve never had those things. I’ve been maybe yelled at behind closed doors but I think when you were saying when a tissue gets thrown at you or whatever we’re leaning away from the real hard line I hope. Maybe we don’t increase our prices, we don’t pay anyone more but we make their lifestyle more approachable with 4 days a week, you get longer days but maybe you get a prep cook in that’s on a lower wage I don’t know how that would work. But to give more of a balance not only earning more money but stripping back and refining the way that we’re doing it, making our processes leaner without compromising the quality and expectation that people have.
We should keep our quality high and I often think it’s not what we’re earning it’s what we’re losing and we’re throwing away wastages such as wine we have wastage calculators through Kounta and being able to track it, like how much did we waste that day, how much have we gone through, how much have we ordered, is someone nicking a bottle what’s happening? We did this wine thing the other day where one of the guests actually walked out with a case of wine apparently. We couldn’t find it and we were going did it get taken, we couldn’t equate for it, that could have been a lot of profit. But maybe we streamline that procedure and we lock everything away. I mean whatever it is with Kounta I think you can see the figure, so years ago it was all pen and paper when I started all our lists and everything was on paper. And I struggled to change, I didn’t want to but I think maybe that’s where the change is.
Tristan: Yeah there’s definitely room in that
Adam: So now you have 3 days off you have a girlfriend that’s nice
Adam: Or however it works you come in and you wanna do more. You want someone to have a great time you don’t want someone to come in bitter and angry
Tristan: Till 2 in the morning and then they don’t give a s**t anymore
Adam: Yeah exactly and again making it a nicer working environment
Tristan: But changing that culture it’s almost like a badge on honour to work that many hours like the old school way thinking
Shaun: It’s an old-school way of thinking it’s very true
Tristan: Yeah but now change that to like ‘yeah I’ve just had 3 days at the beach how good do I feel?’
Shaun: Compared to last week I smashed it
Adam: Yeah exactly. And I think it’s always been in kitchens that I’ve been around like I’ve been here 100 hours this week and I’m ok. Someone told me they had been working 120 hours last week and I was like come on it’s impossible I was here before you, like who cares we should have an environment that everyone wants to be in ’cause that translates it comes across you’re smiling. It’s great it’s not like I’m harder than you, I feel that that’s kinda died.
Ed: I agree as well I’d also like to point out that I think there are new restaurants that are opening that are innovating in the way that they engineered their customer experience to be more efficient and you’ve thought about that a lot in your business like the whole way your business is designed from the ground up is about lifestyle and is about providing you and Bec a lifestyle. It’s sustainable for you and Bec and your team and your community of customers. And I think that is a really exciting trend that I see. I spoke to a venue at Kounta and at the end of the chat which had gone really well I asked her ‘what’s your five-year plan, what’s the end game for you in this business cause I wanna see you there?’. And she said ‘actually you’ll laugh cause we have a negative growth plan so in 5 years we wanna reduce our seats by 20 and then 5 years after that we want to reduce our days of the week by 2 and then 5 years after that we’ll be able to shut’. And I’m like that is such an interesting dream, it’s like anti-business right? If every Kounta customer had that attitude they would be out of business
So we’re really excited working with Porteno expanding rapidly, opening more Porteno restaurants soon which is cool. So maybe I shouldn’t spruik that trend too much but I totally respect her position and I wanna go eat there that’s for sure.
Tristan: Isn’t that a similar business model to like Ozharvest? I’m pretty sure they’re trying to do that.
Ed: Sure but they’re actually a not for profit.
Tristan: Yeah but we want to change things so we don’t have to do that.
Shaun: Yeah so true
Adam: And I think that definitely does revolve around experience and tipping I mean it’s also such an integral part of everything.
Shaun: It is
Adam: I mean that’s an incredible business model really
Tristan: I’m like take me there
Adam: I think everyone’s wanting for more and Sydney’s got so much knowledge now consumers are expecting more they want more, restaurants are trying to give more. There is this little place I went to once and they only worked till 12:00 they closed the doors and left. It was just a small bakery but I thought that’s pretty cool they’re not increasing production, they’re not working until the end of the day, they’re not doing more. They know what they need, they know what they wanna do, as soon as they’ve hit it they’re happy they go and have their afternoon or whatever it is.They’re not lumped with 50 croissants that they can’t sell because it’s what they spent all morning doing, They’re just content with what they’re doing.
Ed: Iggy’s Sourdough? It’s one of my favourite examples. You try and get on the Iggy’s account and they’re like nope. Waiting list buddy, you can’t I’ve tried
Shaun: That’s the way it is in Melbourne as well.
Ed: The only way to buy Iggy’s bread is to go and wait in line with all the other muppets
Shaun: That’s it, see what happens
Adam: Which then could be a higher price which is part of the experience, which means people can be paid properly.
Tristan: I think we’re doing the same thing when we open Arthur we’re going to set menu only and just two sittings and nothing hurts me more as a chef then ordering food and prepping it all day that may or may not get ordered. It’s just like see what happens.
Adam: It’s disheartening
Tristan: It’s completely disheartening
Ed: We’ll have to have another episode on the death of the al carte menu
Shaun: True, very good
Adam: I was thinking one more thing just before we wrap up. Often times I’ll go to a restaurant people will bring out desserts and things like that I feel the mentality of people wanting to tip because of that. But I always think with my guys or the people that work with us or my friends, I don’t tip because of that, I tip because of other reasons. I think it’s very easy to blue the line I got free stuff so I should tip. I don’t think that’s a correlation, I don’t think it should be a correlation. I think it’s generosity and then you tip for another reason but people always go oh they gave me three desserts and four of this what do I tip? It’s not what life should be based on and you shouldn’t garn tips because of that.
Shaun: It should be based on what you feel
Adam: Like I give free stuff give me money. It’s a sh**ty feeling it’s a blurred line as well it’s a real tricky one
Tristan: What about if you got a discount, should you tip on the full amount?
Adam: Exactly what do you do?
This is so interesting because there are so many inconsistencies, what’s not rude? I think that’s what Sydney is like, what do I tip that’s not a rude amount? That will come across that I’m gracious but I’m not giving you too much. The next time I come are they going to give me bread again? I hope it’s not based on that. And in five years, reading earlier I wonder where it will be? I mean you say chaos potentially, it could just spiral and it just perpetuates and gets worse and worse.
Shaun: I think it will go into carnage unfortunately in some way, shape or form and I think you’re doing a lot of venues Tristan where it will be smaller. More bespoke where the customer deserves but the staff deserves as well. I hope it plays out
Adam: And the kitchen, the floor, the customer.
Shaun: Yeah that’s a great experience
Adam: Yeah it’s very interesting
Ed: Shaun do you see a difference between Melbourne and Sydney in terms of tipping culture? Obviously very different dining cultures
Shaun: It’s a very good point I think there are more high-end casual venues in Melbourne. I think there are more higher-end venues in Sydney and I think Sydney will naturally lend itself more to tourists, international tourists which will, therefore, mean it’s probably more of a tipping culture here. I would very rarely tip when I’m in Melbourne unless I go to dinner. So I’ve done a lot of work with a brand called Abacus in Melbourne, arguably one of the sexiest venues in Melbourne but they’ve very much got restaurant and brunch component to their brand. But I’d be interested to see how many people actually tip at that venue. Like if you go out to brunch in Melbourne I don’t think you’d probably tip.
Ed: See that’s funny I wouldn’t tip when I go to a cafe for brunch but if I go to a restaurant for a fancy brunch I will right?
Adam: How funny is that?
Ed: And fancy brunch is a thing now right. St Peter in Paddington doing brunch it must be a $200 brunch every time right.
Tristan: Let’s get up there
Ed: Yeah not that I’m judging, I want that and more power to them and the Dead Ringer brunch experience is the main play of their business now and an awesome experience for their customers
Shaun: Boys, thank you so much for joining me today I know we can talk for a lot longer but I wanna let you go as well to enjoy the rest of your Friday. Really appreciate it, we will link up all the bios of everyone’s venues so you can follow them as well so guys thanks so much.