Hospitality is a proud profession


Ballarat Courier Weekender Feature 21 November 2015

When I first came to Ballarat in 1982, there were some 50-odd hotels in the town that were providing a vibrant “pub” drinking culture. There were also pubs that supplied good “pub” food such as the Park, the Blue Bell, the Red Lion, the Robin Hood, the Criterion and Eureka hotels.

In relation to restaurants, there were only a few: Dyer’s, Craig’s, Number 10 Camp Street, Lillian’s, Torvil, Steptoe’s and, of course, Ballarat’s and regional Australia’s finest restaurant at the time, Luigi and Athalie Bazzani’s award winning La Scala, international cuisine with classic silver service fine dining right here in Ballarat.

In Melbourne, there was Club Grill at the Southern Cross, Fanny’s, the Florentino and Glo Glo’s – named after the pet name for owner Gloria Staley given to her by her grandchildren.

In the early 1990s, there was also Porter’s (now Freight), which my then partner, Andrew Crompton and I ran for five years; other eateries at that time were the Courthouse Deli, Alibi’s, Frangelis, Conders, Crowded House and Café Pazani. Today, Dyer’s and Frangelli’s are the only continuously operating restaurants from those times.

Although many of these fine food institutions are now closed, they left a legacy of high-quality dining, which is now being continued by a growing number of excellent establishments as detailed in The Courier’s Good Food Ballarat festival guide released recently.

Ballarat has a diverse supply of fresh produce available from across the region, which is complemented by some of the best Australian wines that are also produced locally.

I, for one, know how hard it is to keep pace with customer service and satisfaction. In the 1980s, I recall often hearing, as I still do today, “If you want a great night out, you need to go to Melbourne.”

I’m not against going to eateries in our capital city. The quality and diversity of the dining experience in Melbourne has established its reputation as the best dining city in Australia. I must mention two excellent Melbourne CBD restaurants with exceptional service: Coda and sister restaurant Tonka.

However, I need to draw people’s attention to the fact that “good food” is only available when the community sufficiently supports its various hospitality providers, cafes and restaurants to enable them to prosper and remain fresh and innovative.

Ballarat and the surrounding region is made up of over 120,000 people of whom only five per cent eat out on a regular basis. That equates to around 6000 people, which is not many for our expanding hospitality sector.

So frankly, for good restaurants and cafes to survive we need to patronise them.

As for hospitality itself, the unfortunate prevailing attitude is that working in this sector is not a profession. Being a waiter, for example, is regarded as a “service position” that anyone can do – “I mean, really, how hard is it to wait on tables?” How much time have you got!

To be a good, skilled waiter requires training, and for a restaurant, café or bar to be successful, it must have professional staff who take their work seriously and are proud of it.

A customer who has had a less than satisfactory experience at an eatery due to the poor attitude of a waiter is unlikely to return to the establishment no matter how good the food.

I don’t know about you, but I am often underwhelmed by the service I receive in restaurants and cafés – and that’s not just here in Ballarat.

Chances are that your experiences of their service are similar: impersonal, lacking a sense of urgency (were you offered a drink when you were seated?), and, generally, no genuine desire to make this a pleasant experience (first impressions).

Did you feel special? Did you make a mental note to come back? Would you recommend this establishment to others or would you “warn” others not to go?

Whilst writing this article, I spoke with one of the industry’s multi–award winning, passionate professionals, Athalie Bazzani (La Scala and Warrenmang Resort and Winery). She reminded me that for many years Federation University provided a hospitality course under the expert tutelage of Cynthia Jardine, Jill O’Donnell and John Hayes (also ex La Scala and Lamby’s in Geelong).

Each year students were provided with a good basic knowledge of hospitality, the expectations and skills required for table service and dining procedures, and communication with guests.

Unfortunately Federation University no longer provides this course, which is a sad loss for the local hospitality sector. There are still many restaurants in the region where waiting staff do not have the knowledge, skills or experience to clear a table without heaping plates on top of each other in front of the guests, let alone prepare a formal dining setting with the cutlery and crockery placed correctly.

Surely if we are to believe that Ballarat has quality eating establishments, then hospitality and training must be at the core of their operations. With the reintroduction of TAFE, we must demand better and insist that the hospitality course be reinstated at the University.

As I have said, good restaurants survive with regular patronage and must evolve through demand. For the owners to have a successful business, the restaurant must become their priority.

My advice to people thinking about such a venture is that if you’re not prepared to devote all your time and energy to it, don’t establish a business in the hospitality industry. You need to live it and work it; the fact that it is hard work over long hours should not daunt you.

Poor service is a problem that plagues the hospitality industry. When you analyse why that is, the answer can usually be found by studying the attitude of the owner or manager.

The successful restaurants have owners and/or managers who provide direction and training to their employees through their quality leadership. They lead by example and, when required, are not averse to clearing tables, washing up, cleaning floors etc.

Employees need to know what the organisation’s expectations are of them.

Training, therefore, is vital to ensure the direction and service principles are understood by the staff and are reflected in how they undertake their duties and interact with the customers.

As I said before, hospitality is not a casual job, it’s a profession; quality customer service can only be achieved when the owner or manager sets the standard and “talks the talk and walks the walk”.

Loyalty from staff is earned. Staff need to know they are valued, and regular staff meetings are essential to keep them informed, particularly of changes and expectations, as well as giving them an opportunity to provide feedback to management.

Implementing such practices builds a dedicated, effective team, where the reduced staff turnover rate also assists the business to be successful. Consistency of service and quality is another key.

To have a successful hospitality business, customers must receive the attention and service that will keep them coming back. They will no doubt tell other people of their favourable experiences and encourage them to try it – word of mouth is still the best form of promotion.

However, that’s not to say that sometimes there are not difficulties with unreasonable customers. I don’t agree with “the customer is always right” mentality.

Many working in the industry will know that there are occasions when a customer will arrive in a bad mood, or is part of an agitated group, and there is simply nothing you can do right for them. In these cases, it’s not your fault that they did not have the best of times.

Despite the occasional difficult person, you must make ALL of your customers feel welcome. Be pleasant, attentive, but don’t overdo it by lingering nearby or being overfamiliar.

It’s also helpful to have a general knowledge of Ballarat’s history, attractions, and what’s on and where, in order to be able to answer questions from visitors on such matters.

An excellent reference for hospitality business owners is How to Run a Great Hotel by Edna Larkin. She refers to the following four themes, which combine to make achieving excellence a more attainable goal:

  • Define direction
  • Lead to succeed
  • Engage employees
  • Captivate customers

A great service experience is a primary source of competitive advantage and profitability.

For waiting staff, I leave you with a couple of tips: don’t hover over tables; only enter into conversations with customers when invited; if you are in a bad mood or unwell, go home.

I spoke about this issue to my former partner, Andrew Crompton, who, I don’t mind saying is one of Ballarat’s best hospitality exports. He has been excelling in the UK hospitality sector for the past 15 years and said: “…you can make a healthy career from professional hospitality provided you’re at the top of your game!” And from me, I would say that if you can make a go of it in Ballarat, you can make it anywhere in the world.

And, from the customer a “please” and “thank you” is appreciated.

Ron Egeberg

Former joint owner of Ballarat award-winning restaurant Porter’s 1991 – 1995.

13 November 2015

About Porter’s

The Hotel was built in the 1860s, it first traded as the Australian Hotel, then the Athletic Club Hotel, Paterson’s Siding, the Siding, then Porter’s and today trades as Freight.

Porter’s was named by us after writer Hal Porter who was a regular at the hotel – then named the ‘Athletic Club Hotel’ when its exterior was painted dark green.

  • Won Ballarat Chamber of Commerce Business Award (1991).
  • Finalist in Victorian Tourism Awards (1992 and 1994).
  • Received Victorian Tourism Special Commendation (1993).
  • Received Australian Hotels Association Special Commendation (1994).
  • Consecutive annual listings in The Age Good Food Guide and The Age Cheap Eats.


November 2015 marks 20 years since Andrew and I sold Porter’s in 1995 after trading for five years.

Categories: Uncategorized
This post was written by , posted on May 29, 2016 Sunday at 6:07 pm

Comments are currently closed.

Cloudy theme design by Ali Han | Powered by WordPress | Customise by