Meet Wes Lambert, COSBOA's newest Board Director. A fierce advocate for the restaurant and catering sector, Wes says that hospitality has been in his blood his whole life. In this interview he tells us what Restaurant & Catering does for its small business members, how hospitality has been affected by COVID-19, the most important advocacy issue for the sector, his recently published book, and more.
This is part of an ongoing series, Meet our Members.
What does Restaurant & Catering Australia do for small businesses?
R&CA is the peak industry association for restaurants, cafes, and caterers in Australia. We’re the voice of nearly 50,000 businesses of which 93% are considered small business, employing fewer than 20 people and with less than $2 million a year in turnover. R&CA advocates strongly for those businesses across the issues of workforce, costs, supply chain, insurance, landlords, and red tape.
We also are an RTO, providing training and education to the industry as well as micro-credentials and other learning resources. We have developed unique partnerships with suppliers, offering small business members huge cost savings on services like electricity, insurance, and equipment, amongst many others.
How did you get involved in the restaurant, café, and catering sector?
Hospitality has been in my blood my whole life. I faked an ID when I was 14 to work in a fast-food restaurant, waited tables through high school and uni, and then became an investment banker in restaurant capital. I was one of the founders of the company that was the first in Australia to take a full-service restaurant public. I became CEO of Restaurant & Catering Australia in 2019.
What is a small business advocacy topic you are passionate about and why is it important for your sector?
The number one advocacy topic is the workforce shortage. Addressing it is extremely important for the industry to recover from the COVID pandemic and get back to full productivity. The workforce shortage is presently tens of thousands of jobs. The shortage is across the board, including chefs, waitstaff, baristas, bartenders, and managers. It’s affecting all restaurants, cafes, and caterers.
How has the hospitality industry been affected by COVID-19?
Accommodation & Food service as a broader industry, and restaurants, cafes and caterers as a segment, was the hardest hit during the pandemic. We faced the most restrictions, were the most affected by lockdowns, and the most affected by both state and international border closures. There was a mass exodus of the workforce, and it will take some time to fully recover. If it wasn’t for takeaway and delivery, the industry would have collapsed.
In fact, the industry has likely changed permanently. COVID has fundamentally reshaped how people move around the cities of Australia. The absence of office workers in CBDs has meant that businesses in those areas have seen revenue drops of 60-80%. Even now, people are only going into the office 3 days a week, but CBD rent is based on the presumption that office workers will be there all 5 days. There are no tourists on the weekends, and we don’t expect them to return until 2022. The upside is some suburban restaurants have seen trade increases of two to threefold. Once you go years with something being changed, people don’t want to go back. Dining habits change as a result.
What is a misconception people have about the hospitality industry?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that hospitality isn’t a profession. In reality, senior professionals in the industry often make well into the 6 figures. Globally, hospitality is considered to be a great profession. In America, Cornell University – part of the Ivy League - has a school of hospitality management. It’s very important that we continue to champion hospitality as a career and as a profession that is the engine of Australia.
What do you love most about the hospitality industry?
The people. It’s the people that I have met along my journey working in hospitality and working on hospitality that continue to drive my passion for every small business in the industry.
You’re also an author. Tell us about your book, Saving Hospitality, One Venue at a Time: The 7 Pillars to Pivoting Your Business Through a Crisis.
I wrote and published the book in 2020, during the pandemic. It’s a bit of my life story but also 7 really key pillars to actually pivot your business when you’re in trouble. The pillars are timeless, not just for the pandemic: becoming a hospo champion, finding a trusted mentor, understanding financials, creating a forecast and making a plan, creating new streams of revenue, executing your plan, and not being afraid to make changes where necessary.
You can order Wes' book here.