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Published 18 June 2012 08:08, Updated 18 June 2012 08:23
TV cooking shows make more people think – mistakenly – that they can run a restaurant, Sydney chef Christine Manfield says.
Shows like MasterChef Australia, now in its fourth season, and more than a decade of kitchen rock stars like Jamie Oliver and Kitchen Confidential author Anthony Bourdain may have revolutionised popular interest in food and cooking but they have not automatically bestowed the ability to manage the complex business that is a restaurant, says Manfield, the owner and chef of Universal in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
“There have certainly been a lot more openings – more openings and more closings,” Manfield tells BRW. “Being a good chef or a good cook doesn’t mean you can be good at business. Far too many people go into it without having a real handle on what’s required on a business level. They don’t have a business plan, don’t have projections for six months out, let alone five years.”
The award-winning author of such books as Tasting India, Fire – a world of flavour and Stir says it is hard to know how many new restaurant ventures fail, but agrees that the 60 per cent failure rate cited by Bourdain in his best-selling 2000 memoir could be “about right”.
It is not only novices whose restaurants fail, however. Manfield was recruited to London in 2003 to open an investor-owned restaurant, East@West, in Covent Garden. It lasted for just 18 months – winning acclaim such as Tatler magazine’s Best New Restaurant 2004 award – before the owners sold it.
The owners – “who just thought having a smart restaurant was akin to having a trophy wife”, Manfield says – had unrealistic expectations of the return they would get in an industry that typically yields 3 per cent to 5 per cent on investment. Still, she says, it was a useful experience.
“It did teach me a lot,” she says. “London was a bigger, uglier and more vicious market than Sydney.”
While the current boom in food and cooking may not be churning out better business people, it is affecting the restaurant trade in other ways.
“I think customers have become more savvy, have become more educated nowadays,” says Carl Contractor, food and beverage manager at the Four Seasons Sydney. “You can’t really bullshit somebody.”