Go into any restaurant kitchen in Australia and you’ll find men are often the majority. As chefs increasingly enjoy a level of mild celebrity, it means the equally hard-working women in hospitality rarely share the same limelight.
While there are many excellent female chefs in the city we could celebrate, we took the opportunity to meet the women in Melbourne’s hospitality industry who, for years now, have been getting on with it and making magic in restaurants; the ones who keep our glasses topped up and who know what we need before we do.
They’re often the quiet achievers of the restaurant world, the ones who orchestrate and maintain the consistency you feel around you at the haunts you keep returning to. Actually, they are probably a big part of what makes your favourite restaurant, your favourite. These are the people taking care of you front of house (FOH).
Broadsheet: How long have you been working in the hospitality industry and how did you get into it?
Madeline Morgan: Does making chicken-and-salad rolls at the “one-stop shop” in Sorrento on school holidays count? If so, that would make it 30 years. I dated a chef when I was 17 and he introduced me to Rosati where I was thrilled by the excitement of a social and buzzing environment with fabulous food and wine. As a result I studied Hospitality and Business Management at William Angliss, and worked for the two prominent Italian restaurateur families, the Bortolotto’s and Marchetti’s. The rest is history.
BS: What’s the best thing about working FOH (front of house)? And what’s the hardest?
MM: I truly enjoy working for great people with a wonderful team who become family. Looking after guests during the (mostly) best part of their working week is a reward and great to be a part of.
The hardest; I’m yet to find out.
BS: The restaurant kitchen is known to be male-dominated. Is it a similar scenario front of house? Have you had to manage much sexism in the industry or from customers?
MM: The gender ratio in FOH is a lot more even than the kitchen, resulting in a more liberal environment. I have seen flirtatious and romantic behaviour, but no sexism. With guests’ behaviour towards staff, my experiences have been inconsequential and shut down.
BS: During your time in the industry, what have been some of the biggest changes in diners’ expectations?
MM: The current dining climate presents us with a more educated diner, with this knowledge and experience expectations are raised. I can only see this as a positive and believe it enhances our commitment to great service and consistent delivery.
Customers now have heightened awareness of their health and specific dietary requirements are prevalent and something we deal with everyday. Many diners suffer from serious food allergies and intolerances; gluten and dairy and many more. This is only a snapshot of the dietary needs of many of our diners and our duty of care is paramount and we take these needs very seriously.
BS: How has technology changed the way we dine?
MM: Our sophisticated reservation system allows us to create guest profiles, which are beneficial for tailoring diners’ experiences. The system notes each guest’s general preferences – what they like to drink to start, what they can or can't eat – which enables us to be on the front foot when they dine with us next.
I would never want this to take away from the true sense and meaning of hospitality and looking after guests with a sense of sincerity and integrity. We will not be robots (am I sounding old fashioned yet?).
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