by Dominic Rolfe
Lisa van Haandel brings over 30 years of hospitality experience to our young waiter panel and is a doyenne of the Australian hospitality scene. In the 2nd of Appetite for Excellence’s hospitality is… series, Lisa shared her thoughts on the industry she loves, the lessons she’s learnt along the way and some advice for those just starting out…
What does the word hospitality mean to you and how has it changed since you started?
Hospitality is always about making people feel comfortable and looking after them. That hasn’t changed and in fact it’s probably more prevalent now because the world is so ruled by technology which can make people feel quite isolated. So while some people come to restaurants just to be fed , being able to go somewhere to meet and eat , have fun, be nurtured and totally looked after is becoming more important.
You can have the best food in the universe but if you don’t have the ability to make people feel comfortable, to project that warmth, they just don’t enjoy it. That’s what hospitality is for me, what the human factor brings. If you don’t have that, people don’t come back.That goes for hotels, pubs, restaurants and bars.
What I love about hospitality is the human contact element, and giving people joy. – At the bank, the supermarket and so many other places there is no longer any service or interaction. So to be able to offer somewhere that people feel well looked after is really special.
Technology in hospitality has so advanced service, sharpening efficiency , speed and administration. Mind you – I still prefer people putting things on a pad when I’m ordering!.
People also have so much access to the venue before they arrive – they can see the menu, what the food looks like and read about it, they can post their own views on it. It means we are under more scrutiny than ever, but also provides t the obvious advantage of reaching a greater curious future clientele.
Did you have a mentor?
Not really. I am largely self-taught. Thrown into it! I come from a family of six and I was always happiest making the meal and watching them enjoy it. I have always had that delight in looking after people.
I don’t remember ever getting any advice but I wish I had! I do remember doing a management course and realising I didn’t Have to do everything myself!. Then we opened our second restaurant and I was pregnant so I was forced to delegate. The information I had received about the advantages of giving others responsibility, not micro managing, was probably the biggest thing for me. Learning how to relinquish day to day responsibility was really hard. But you cannot grow unless you embrace that.
What was the goal when you opened and is it different now?
The challenge of opening a new place and finding the right place has always been really exciting. So the goal really was finding a gap or a niche in the market, looking at the demographics and knowing what was happening in the food scene, feeling what people wanted at that time and creating a unique new venue.
Now it’s wanting to give your team opportunities in new places, to open a place together. But you need to have your own vision. [My husband and co-owner] John has a talent for design, great vision and is always on to the next thing and then I fill in the gaps!
New ventures are always exciting, but having built up the mothership you always need to look after her. For us.25 years ago it was the Stokehouse, As the team grows, talent developes and opportunities are identified, a successful solid base enables growth and new ventures.
Do you have a piece of advice for current chefs starting out? Did you have a piece of advice that you’ve carried through?
Eat out a lot, read a lot, tap into your basic hospitality. If you don’t have the instinct to nurture, then don’t even go into hospitality. It takes intelligence to serve people, to look after and manage them. Tap into your passion.Be dedicated, it will reward you.Smart employers hire attitude and teach skills.
Don’t underestimate the life skills you also learn along the way – the efficiency, the economy of movement, thinking ten steps ahead, the people management, stress management and crisis management.Let alone the food and wine knowledge, peer exposure and the great people you will meet.
And never forget we are in the wonderful business of bringing happiness!