Peter Morelli

Peter-MorelliHaving an exit plan is the key to success, the Adelaide Festival executive tells Erin Delaney.

I started in small restaurants and hotels in Adelaide, and had a bit of a shift when I began work at the Entertainment Centre. I started as a business development manager, as they were looking to connect with the Adelaide hospitality scene. After about six months, having grown into the role I took over as food and beverage manager. When I started it was a pretty small part of the business, and within one year our revenue was more than what we took on ticket sales.

I think good mentors really gave me a solid grounding when I started in the industry. I did a food and beverage certificate course, which became a diploma, and went to work in a few different hotels. There was a fellow that I studied with down there working in what was probably Adelaide’s busiest restaurant. And we’re fairly competitive, so he convinced me to go and get some work in that restaurant, and it was great fun. I learned a lot from the guys that I met.

You’ve got to allow people to make mistakes and to prove themselves—if you’re there for them all the time, then they don’t learn and grow. So, in smaller businesses that I’ve run in the past, when I’m not there I don’t like people ringing me. And I grew up in the time before everyone was as connected as they are today, so they had to work it out.

A key learning experience for me was having to write monthly reports for the board, and going to the meetings. You really learn to understand financials and what people are looking for. You can’t be long-winded—you have to be succinct, and you have to be able to read the market [to be able to] offer people a good experience every time they come.

Before you go into business, work out how you’re gonna get out of it. I was in business with a friend for a while, and we were running—at that time—a pretty successful restaurant with high turnover. He had the major share in the business, and he wanted to get a little too big too quick, so I left. But I didn’t manage to get all of my investment back, and within six months he went bankrupt—it taught me a big lesson. Partnerships are fraught and the industry is littered with these sorts of examples. I’ve had many offers to roll that dice again, and I’ve resisted. There’s definitely benefits to being your own boss and people making money for you
when you’re not there, but losing substantial amounts of money… it happens pretty quickly. And there’s some great people that have gone out of business all around Australia
and around the world.

Someone that inspired me early on was a fellow called Roger Moore. Not 007, another Roger Moore [Editor’s note: More’s the pity!]. He’s been involved in the Adelaide hospitality industry for a long time, running a successful wine distribution agency. He owned the Botanic Gardens Restaurant when I managed that a long time ago. He taught me the value of being good to the three most important people to any restaurant…

It’s about staff, suppliers, customers. It’s no good trying to screw your suppliers to get better prices, then dumping them to go and look for someone else. Looking after your staff… we talk a lot about work-life balance now. And it’s difficult in hospitality, but I think the scales have tipped very much into having more time off. And your customers… it’s a lot easier to maintain your customers than to always be after new ones. So if you look after the people that are coming through the doors, then they’ll become your best advocates. And having specials and discounting and all that, stay away from that. Discounting, to me, is the enemy.

A lot of people get into running a restaurant because they love food. When I explain to people that restaurants
only make a 2.8 per cent average net profit, they ask why anyone would get into the business? The reason we all get
into the business is because we love it.

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