Melbourne Industry leaders on what’s important in the opening stage of a restaurant

Melbourne Industry Series Coverage – Part One

Earlier this week, we were excited to welcome Angie Giannakodakis (owner of Epocha and Elyros), Naomi Lindon (Marketing and Communications Manager at DELIA Group) and Kristian Klein (Business owner and co-founder of Mr. Miyagi) to our panel at the OpenTable Industry Series in Melbourne.

Moderated by our VP of Asia Pacific, Lisa Hasen, Angie, Naomi and Kristian shared their experiences on how they have thrived in the restaurant industry, and tips on strategies and avoiding pitfalls.

Here, we’re sharing part one of our three part coverage from the panel discussion — read on.


Content has been edited for the blog.

The earliest stage of your restaurant’s life — the period directly before its opening, the opening itself, and the first months of service — hold a lot of potential. You’ve already made large decisions about operations, systems, concept, location, decor, menu, staff.

Now comes maximising all of those elements for success.

What should a restaurant’s goals be from a marketing perspective?

Angie Giannakodakis (AG):

The clear thing to me was, what is it going to look like? What is the image of where I want to go? Darren (of Taylor and Grace) mentioned a lot of things that rung true and is clear as day.

What I did to start, was create a scrapbook, with a vision and a clear picture of what I wanted Epocha to be.

I started stringing up all all these images together because I knew in the future, I wouldn’t know how to express myself. What I was thinking about branding-wise, was who am I, where am I going, and what type of mission statement I would have.

I pieced together what I wanted, which was a restaurant where my parents could come to, my kids can come to. A place where everybody got looked after. And that can be really hard to achieve.

Everyone needs to know the image of what you are. Your waiters need to know how to express your brand, and also your kitchen strategy. I wanted the supplies to be looked after, the animals to be looked after. Our mission statement is “Everybody deserves to be looked after”, which is really hard.

If you come into my restaurant and you don’t get that, I’m bitterly disappointed.

You’re about passion. You’re about desire. You’re about completing the journey with people. So whatever you do, as far as your money is concerned, and your drive and your energy levels are concerned, what you do every single day in hospitality, is because you have passion. How you deliver that every day, becomes your branding.

After 27 years in the industry, marketing-wise, we started from the brand. We started looking at what’s important for us. We looked at the words, as they’re what define you. And we came up with our mission statement: that became our guide, so every time someone came into our venue,  that was the expectation.


Naomi Lindon (NL):

We have a really unique position, where we have marketing and comms separate from our restaurant services. We started with Maha, which is more of a fine dining restaurant, and started doing reservations and events.

As the business grew, we created another brand, which is Biggie Smalls. I wasn’t there when Maha opened, but (I sic) was there for the rebrand, as well as helping create Biggie Smalls.

For Maha we articulate creating the experience, so that for every single touch point with the customer is important. Website, digital and social; they’re really obvious things to me. It’s also the way you answer the phone or the words that you use.

We teach people how they communicate with people over the phone. “Smile before picking up the phone – because your tone will be lighter” and the experience on the other end will be really positive. It’s their first interaction with you, before they have even been inside the restaurant, eaten the food, or other customer service interaction.

And then it’s going into aesthetics and design. The space, the actual restaurant, the design.

What does it smell like? What does it look like? Are they happy with what they have? Are they positive about it? Can they just smell food smells? Is there aromatherapy out there? Do the bathrooms smell nice? There’s always an approach to the brand that we create. Not just voice, but every single thing that you do to touch.


Kristian Klein (KK):

When you think about the word marketing, everybody automatically thinks advertising. Certainly through my experience, marketing is about all these other things that the guys are talking about, and the interaction in the little things.

Because marketing is what people say to you after they’ve interacted with you – that’s the most important thing for us.

I came from outside a restaurant background, at all, had nothing to do with restaurants, and we decided to open a restaurant.

Because I didn’t have any hospitality training, it was not about what was the right way to do things. I didn’t have the hospitality handbook or been trained by anybody, so we just went with how can we do things the way we want them done.

“What’s cool? What would be a fun way to go out for dinner? How would we like to be interacted with by the staff? What would we like?”

That’s essentially what we did and that was our “marketing”. People came in and went “Wow! This is really different. Am I in a nightclub or at a restaurant? A girl in high heels just greeted me in a such a friendly way, and people were a bit thrown because it was a bit different.

We did traditional marketing stuff like engaging PR companies for the launch, as well as having articles written about us. But to me the most important thing marketing-wise, was to make it an epic experience.

NL: Word of mouth is still the greatest way to get your brand out there.


Does Social Media count as word of mouth?

KK: It depends on who’s generating the content. If it’s something from social media stuff, I wouldn’t’ call it that.

But when other people start posting about it, that’s word of mouth, and that’s awesome. People care enough about you to post stuff, because they want to show off what they’re doing, and where they are. That’s great word of mouth through social media.

AG: There’s a certain demographic that it will appeal to. We don’t know many 70 year-olds that have social media or have Instagram, which is fine. It’s interesting to see a generation that use Instagram quite a lot, and it’s that market that might be a reflection of what you need. But that’s not always the way. Instagram does work to certain extent for certain places.


How do you weigh what’s important in the very beginning, versus what you talk about later on?

KK: The most important thing for me, and it still is now, is that every customer has an incredible experience. At the very start, I didn’t look at financial figure properly in the first 2-3 months. It wasn’t about that. It was about fixing that stuff once we get the experience right. That was probably the lack of hospitality knowledge and we got ourselves in a pickle the first few months! (Laughter)

It was important that we just had this stuff down pat. That is still now what we focus on.

If anything, it’s probably become more important to us, as we go through the journey of the last few years as we hit it on the head. If we get a customer complaint, we make sure we deal with it, and turn that bad experience into a positive one. Like my dad always said, it’s not what you do wrong, it’s what you do afterwards.

Things might have changed, but the ethos of what we’re trying to achieve remains the same. Now that this is on auto-pilot, we do get it right most of the time and we can look at the financial stuff and tweak.


Since we’re on the topic of brand – what’s the first word or phrase you want people to think of when they eat at your restaurant?

AG: “Darling”

NL: “Opulence”

KK: “Fun”

Read part two and part three.

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