We had the great opportunity to interview Anthea, Membership Manager representing the states of Victoria and Tasmania from the Restaurant & Catering Association Australia. She shared plenty of insights with regards to being a part of an organisation that's helping the restaurant industry to tide over this crisis.
Anthea came to this role when one of her past employers, who has operated a high profile restaurant in Melbourne over the last 2 decades was heavily involved in the association, was previously Chairman and was familiar with the role the R&CA plays in looking after the interests of restaurant, café and catering operators.
How long have you been with the R&CA and in the hospitality/restaurant industry?
I have worked for the R&CA for about 2 and a half years. In the past, I have worked in all aspects of the hospitality industry over the last 20 years. I completed a Bachelor of Business in Catering and Hotel Management and then worked in 5-star hotels for a number of years in the Accommodation Management area rather than food and beverage.
I left that career after a number of years to pursue my dream of eventually owning my own café. I subsequently worked in cafes, catering companies, gourmet food stores, and restaurants to learn about the industry in general and get some good hands-on experience. I finally went on to open 2 cafes from scratch over a period of 10 years. I felt my years in the industry in running a food business provided me with great skills and insight into the challenges of operating a hospitality venue and has given me the right tools and skillset to assist members of the R&CA.
How has COVID changed the way restaurants in Australia operate?
Venues have had to work very hard to pivot their business models in order to survive, earn some sort of revenue, and keep their staff and customers engaged.
How are the restaurants in Australia coping currently?
In Victoria, the situation is a lot harder than the rest of Australia. As we speak, the association is putting a lot of pressure on the state government to provide a road map for recovery so the industry can have a clear plan on reopening their venues and learning to work within strict COVID guidelines.
Have you seen a lot of closing downs?
We have seen a few closures but while Job Keeper is in place and other government grants and stimulus it is keeping many businesses propped up at the moment. The true cost of the pandemic won’t be seen until well into next year in the final quarter of the financial year when all these assistance packages come to an end.
What do you think is the main reason restaurants are able/unable to survive in this climate?
Thankfully the association lobbied hard to keep restaurants open for takeaway and delivery even during Stage 4 restrictions in Victoria. This has enabled them to have a revenue stream to help pay their bills and keep staff employed and also offer paid work to visa workers who have received no government support.
The pandemic has brought out the best in some hospitality venues who have turned this situation into a positive and created some highly creative and exciting revenue streams for their businesses such as virtual cooking classes, produce boxes, packaged take-home meals in delis/grocers as well as giving back to them by their local community.
Those that have been unable to survive were struggling to sustain a profitable business model even before the pandemic hit our shores. Covid-19 was probably the ‘last nail in the coffin’ for some of these failed businesses.
Has the R&CA faced any setbacks ever since the pandemic hit Australia?
The R&CA has actually become stronger and more vocal in their advocacy role since the pandemic hit. Our presence in the industry has become ever more relevant and crucial as we have fought hard and continue to work hard to represent the best interests of our members to assist them in recovery and create a better and more sustainable platform for businesses to thrive post-COVID.
How is the R&CA helping restaurants to cope with the situation currently?
Our role is to be the single source of truth and information. From the beginning of this pandemic, we have assisted members by creating our Corona Virus Information Hub which is an excellent resource for our members to use during the pandemic.
We have been successful in providing recommendations to the government with regards to changes to the Restaurant Award to assist employers to work more flexibly with their staff in reducing hours and other constraints in terms of duties.
We have provided recommendations for Job Keeper 1.0 and 2.0 to better assist more of the industry to access this support and other relevant grants for small to medium size businesses.
We have also held many Webinars and Q&A sessions with our members and provided other useful sources of information and assistance through our sponsors and partners.
How long do you think this pandemic will affect Australia’s hospitality industry?
I’m probably not well qualified to answer this question but the true effects are not yet known. We don’t have a crystal ball but what we do know is that the financial losses will be felt well into the next 2 years and possibly for many more years into the future. One thing is certain, the pandemic has forced the industry to put a microscope on their businesses and truly examine the way they have been working in the past. It has forced many to understand the need to adopt digital technologies to run their businesses more efficiently. This will change the industry without a doubt. Those that survive will come out stronger but only time will tell.
FoodRazor is officially partnered with the R&CA especially to help enhance the current operations of these affected restaurants in Australia. If you're an R&CA member and would like to understand more about our invoice management and food & beverage cost tracking product as well as the specially subsidized package we have in collaboration with the association, feel free to drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.