Hire Society: restaurateur Chris Lucas is recruiting 450 staff for two new Melbourne restaurants

Chris Lucas, Martin Benn and Vicki Wild at Society restaurant, which opens mid year.
Chris Lucas, Martin Benn and Vicki Wild at Society restaurant, which opens mid year. Photo: Julian Lallo

Chris Lucas wants you. Or, more precisely, he wants 450 of you – chefs, sommeliers, waiters and bartenders – to staff his latest Melbourne CBD restaurants, the highly anticipated upscale diner Society headlined by leading chef Martin Benn, and Australian-Japanese grill Yakimono, earmarked to open at the 80 Collins development in mid and late 2021 respectively.

The high-profile restaurateur last week formally launched a recruitment drive, both nationally and internationally, in what is seen, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a much-needed boon to employment, with the end of JobKeeper.

"(It's) one of the single largest employment undertakings in hospitality for a single complex," says Lucas, founder of the Lucas Group, whose portfolio includes Chin Chin in Melbourne and Sydney, and Kisume.

Chris Lucas is also looking for staff for new Japanese grill Yakimono, also situated at the 80 Collins development.
Chris Lucas is also looking for staff for new Japanese grill Yakimono, also situated at the 80 Collins development. Photo: Supplied

The full-time jobs boost comes as the hospitality industry tries to regain its footing in the aftermath of various COVID restrictions and lockdowns that have left many businesses struggling to fill vacancies.

Nonetheless, Lucas is confident of finding the necessary staff, across junior and senior levels, for both restaurants, saying the group fielded about 400 inquiries in the first few days of its campaign. "There are headwinds, but this is a unique opportunity," he says. "We are providing a world-class amenity for hospitality workers and, importantly, career paths."

Lucas says the restaurant precinct showcases the city as a "new destination for hospitality workers who hadn't considered coming to Melbourne before".

The lobby cocktail bar at soon-to-open Society.
The lobby cocktail bar at soon-to-open Society. Photo: Julian Lallo

"As the city rebuilds and repositions and starts thinking about coming out of COVID, a lot of people I've spoken to are excited by the scale and quality of the project and that it's the only one of its type is Australia, at this stage," he says. "It gives us an international standing."

Benn, who sees mentoring integral to his role at the restaurants, agrees. "It's aspirational," he says. "You won't have to go to Europe to work in one of the best kitchens in the world."

Both CBD restaurants are located at 80 Collins, an L-shaped retail and commercial precinct at the top end of Collins Street.

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Society will offer multiple dining experiences for more than 300 people across the centrepiece 100-seat main dining room;  the Lillian Terrace – named after Lillian Wightman, whose fashion house Le Louvre fronted Collins Street for seven decades; a casual lounge and bar and three private dining rooms on the mezzanine.

Next door, the high-energy Yakimono will seat about 200 over two levels.

The national campaign will hit major recruitment websites over the next few weeks. The international campaign targets expat hospitality professionals working in key overseas markets, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Singapore. It will also encompass New Zealand, now that trans-Tasman travel is restarting on April 19 and New Zealanders don't require a visa to work here.

Successful applicants will be given at least four weeks' training in the Lucas Group's purpose-built training facility and restaurants. The intake adds another 50 per cent to Lucas' already 1000-strong restaurant workforce. The chefs employed will support a core team of five chefs already working on the opening menu in Benn's imposing dream kitchen.

"We're creating not only a huge number of jobs but at different levels," says Lucas. "It'll appeal to young people not in the industry who want to come on board."

Restaurant and Catering CEO Wes Lambert believes the industry is increasingly been seen as a profession. "The green shoots of hospitality as a profession are coming out," he says.

WHAT LUCAS WANTS

  • About 450-plus jobs across Society and Yakimono (300 for Society, 150 Yakimono)
     
  • 300 front-of-house wait staff (200 for Society, 100 Yakimono)
     
  • 70-80 chefs (40-50 for Society, 30-40 Yakimono)
     
  • 20-30 bar staff (10-15 each for Society and Yakimono)
     
  • Up to 30 restaurant management and back-of-house support staff
     
  • 8-10 sommeliers (for Society)
     
  • 6-7 events service staff for private rooms (Society)