Startups and peer-support key to hospitality growth

Michael Bascetta and Banjo Harris Plane.
Michael Bascetta and Banjo Harris Plane. Photo: Darrian Traynor

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Who would dare to open a hospitality business in 2018? The market is saturated, and while it's great that the Fair Work Ombudsman is making sure employees are getting what they're owed, it's become clear that much of the industry has long been propped up on cutting corners and cannot make ends meet without seriously jacking up prices – prices diners are already loathe to pay. Worse, technology is changing the dining landscape so quickly, it's difficult for business owners to keep up.

Who would walk into that battle? People like Banjo Harris Plane and Michael Bascetta​. But they aren't going unarmed. They not only run Melbourne restaurants Bar Liberty and Capitano, they have also launched support initiatives to help themselves and others not just survive in the industry, but succeed.

Harris Plane say the problem is that the resources provided to hospitality professionals to train and support employees are outdated.

"In the modern world, chefs must be dietitians, eco-warriors, human-resource managers, and photographers. Managers must be translators, sommeliers and financial analysts. Everyone's a cleaner. As the expectations on us grow and change, we need to keep up."

Enter Grow Assembly. Now in its third year, this not-for-profit event series features talks and ideas by hospitality professionals.

Harris Plane says it came about because "we need a completely different kind of hospitality education than is currently available in the mainstream". Read: real time, real life, applicable wisdom.

"At the first Grow Assembly, Kevin Donovan (of Donovans restaurant in St Kilda) shared his personal takings/costings spreadsheet and profit and loss report with the whole audience. This kind of stuff needs to be discussed and taught to up-and-coming hospitality entrepreneurs."

Grow embraces the idea that cooperation, even between competing businesses, is the only way for the industry to maintain standards and actually progress. And everyone benefits.

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Harris Plane says, "We all know how lousy it feels to receive service from unhappy, under-trained and unmotivated people. The equation is simple: satisfied staff means satisfied customers."

Another knowledge and resource sharing initiative is Worksmith, Bascetta's hospitality co-working space in Collingwood, replete with a test kitchen.

Bascetta co-founded Worksmith "from the realisation that this industry needs office space, development kitchens and a place to network with like-minded businesses supporting one another".

Since opening, they've seen hospitality staff trade ideas and plans, and easily obtain contacts for further action.

If information is power and time is money, these knowledge and contact trading hubs have undeniable currency. And Bascetta and Harris Plane want to see more.

"There are some great start-ups out there but not enough. Let this serve as a call to arms for anyone in hospitality who sees a problem and wants to solve it. There's a world of opportunity out there for those of us who dare to do things differently."

The next Grow Assembly will be held on November 19 at the Fitzroy Town Hall. Tickets are available via growassembly.com.au. Details for the next Sydney Grow Assembly are still to be announced.