The Media to the Hospitality Industry – friend or foe?

5 September 2019

Is it just me or does there seem to be a lot of negative media currently circling around the hospitality industry? Do you feel it? Do you listen?  Does it influence the choices you make?

Sometimes I wonder if the food media could be considered a kind of gentle gang.  If you are a consistent reader about all things hospitality, I am sure you have shared a similar thought.  Do we only have a handful of critics in Australia? It feels oddly like a small circle of mates with a monopoly on our livelihoods.

I no longer find myself frustrated with the lack of attention paid to established restaurants such as Bitton.  These days I spend more time wondering if being in the media spotlight is actually a positive thing.

Take a moment to consider all the negative press our industry has endured lately – the reported under-payment and overworking of staff, the abolition of the 457 Visa causing staff shortages, the drought and other factors forcing cost of goods up, licensing laws affecting our night life, the noticeable rise of mental illness within our world, and then of course there are the restaurant critics and their unprecedented power in this country. We hear almost weekly of another venue closing and/or another chef falling from grace, sometimes with devastating consequences.

I have an opinion on all these factors and also, as a business owner, feel a strong sense of responsibility towards many of them. 

So where does good, informative, educational media cross the line into irresponsible, bias reporting in order to sell stories?

Let’s think about the well publicised case of George Colombarus. George made a huge mistake. It is his company and ultimately the responsibility lies with him.  It does have to be noted however that he has a well-paid team behind him who ultimatley failed him. The media was swift and brutal. Yes, we need to report these wrong-doings and pay our staff their dues, however don’t we also have to make sure that all parties involved are OK? After all, remember that before the media even grabbed hold of this story, George had put his hand up, flagged the mistake and had paid the full amount back. And remember, we are all human, we all falter and make bad choices.  All of us. 

This industry does not enjoy 9 to 5 hours.  Many people are like me and capable of long, hard working weeks as that’s the way its always been.  No one holds a gun to our head, its just expected and needed in order to succeed. Or is it? I feel strongly that we should take better care of our staff and the people doing these hours. We have to be careful not to take things to the extreme - to ensure the future of our industry is strong by not making it difficult for our business owners as well.

Interestingly, the fierce negative press around George was followed by what can only be viewed as a reneging of attitude – the media turning on themselves to back track on their initial response. Perhaps they are starting to realise the impact they can have when behaving in a reactive instead of responsible manner.

So I put it to you, and to the Australian media – why don’t we focus on the positives for a while?  Why don’t we shift the way we are looking at what is, in my opinion, the heart beat of Sydney and many other cities around Australia and the world. Why don’t we write about establishments such as The Malaya or Beppis – successful and in the same family now for many generations.  Or the newer stories such as that of Saint Peters which I read about recently, what an inspiring journey Josh, congratulations. Let’s get back to sharing the stories of success and passion – of good food, bringing people together, enjoying different cultures and recipes, pumping life back into that heartbeat. But let’s do it in a pure way – not by clutching onto anything that is a new novelty, let's stay true to our values and our heritage, whatever that may be and share it with those around us in its truest form.  After all, hospitality is no different to having friends for dinner at home. You welcome your guests, offer them a drink, serve dinner, check they are enjoying themselves, offer a tea or coffee and walk them to the door to wish them a good evening and hope to see them again soon.  That is what HOSPITALITY is.

Bitton is in the midst of a big growth phase – we turn 20 in a few months, we will open Bitton 3 soon and Bitton Consulting has never been busier.  We will continue however to ensure that the business continues to be run to our true values – a love and passion for what we do,  on family, on hospitality and most of all I will remind myself that there is no other option, this is it, this is my end game and we will succeed.