When Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia moved from Sydney to Melbourne, the first thing he wanted to do was put down roots and begin to understand his new home.
“I wanted to understand where my food was coming from,” he says. “I wanted to meet the people behind the ingredients.”
So he toured the regions and got to know the farmers from Gippsland, in particular. After a series of sold-out events in the area, the idea for Farmer’s Daughters was born. A beautiful three-storey restaurant in the multimillion-dollar 80 Collins development, it would showcase the best of what Gippsland had to offer.
After a long gestation, Farmer’s Daughters finally opened in January. It provides a unique opportunity to examine how technology has changed the ways in which a modern restaurant is run – and so we asked Saravia to show us. For his part, the chef is by now an industry veteran, so is well placed to speak on what works best when it comes to managing a restaurant – and what has changed over the years.
There are a lot of moving parts involved in getting a restaurant ready on any given day, week or month. It means having quick and immediate access to data is invaluable. When he opened his first restaurant in Australia more than a decade ago, Saravia didn’t have the right tools to monitor sales and finance in any live kind of way.
“Now we can do it with Square for Restaurants, ” he says. “It’s basically minute by minute.”
Having accurate information means a restaurant operator knows when the busy times are, and how many staff members to roster on.
“We are time poor in terms of [being able to sit] on a computer. We need the information quickly,” Saravia says. “And the information is really, really handy because we need to make calls and changes. It makes a big difference.”
Having up-to-date information also helps Saravia shape decisions about his menu. By knowing how sales are going he can see what dishes are popular and let that information drive menu changes, rather than the traditional approach of changing with the seasons or mixing it up every three months simply because he can.
“There are a lot of people who go to certain restaurants because of one particular dish that they like that they feel represents the restaurant, ethos or theme,” he says. “So why would you change the bestseller dish if people like it?”
Fresh produce and listening to farmers about what’s available are core to Saravia’s work at Farmer’s Daughters. So, as different produce becomes more or less readily available throughout the year, he can swap ingredients to keep a certain dish on the menu. The essence of the dish is the same, but it also remains seasonal and showcases what’s available in the region.
In the kitchen
“Our ethos is all based on the farm-to-table experience, and we have constant communication with farmers and producers,” Saravia says.
Different ingredients dictate different percentages of profits, so there’s a lot to weigh up when it comes to choosing certain produce for menu items. Having data on this allows the restaurant to conduct in-depth analysis very quickly.
“You’re saving a lot of time on doing the analysis, doing the graphics, doing the comparisons,” Saravia says. “And then all that time can be used in making and executing decisions in the restaurant.”
Saravia has seen a lot of changes in the way food is presented across the course of his career, but says “nowadays, things are going back to basics.”
It makes sense in the modern paddock-to-plate world we now live in. And at Farmer’s Daughters it of course all comes back to highlighting where food comes from.
“If there’s a carrot you need to see the carrot, not a thin paper gel made of carrot essence,” he says. “That is amazing cuisine and super technical, and I have been part of that … but nowadays, it's more about the provenance of the food and how people understand and see these foods.”
Shifts in technology have been vital to the restaurant industry at large, particularly over the past two years. Saravia points to how it helped during lockdown periods when connections were cut between customers and staff. “We had to reinvent our way of hospitality,” he says.
Restaurants pivoted to deliveries, and also found ways to change how orders worked on-site. These are perhaps the most visible changes – but it’s the less obvious ones that have made a bigger impact day-to-day.
At Farmer’s Daughters farmers sometimes bring in produce unexpectedly – perhaps it’s because they’re in town or they have an extra box of plums they want Saravia to try. If he wants to work the new ingredients into the menu he has to do it quickly. Saravia says there have been point-of-sale systems for a long time, but often they were time-consuming, difficult to read and tricky to program.
“Now it only takes minutes to put a special on the system,” he says.
Of course, Saravia says, no system is perfect, but that’s where modern apps’ customer service tends to make a difference.
“What I like from [Square] is that we have the support team available all the time,” he says. “They are always there to help.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Square.