Speaking ahead of the launch of his latest (and biggest) venue – Barangaroo House in Sydney’s Barangaroo – Matt returns on the My Business Podcast to provide an insight into how his career has gone from restaurant apprentice to household name.
We pick his brains about:
- Taking on time-consuming marketing activities despite being a busy business owner
- Key mistakes he has made in building his company
- One core element to business success that most people overlook
- His tips for growth, particularly during the tough times
Plus lots more!
If you missed Matt’s first episode on the My Business Podcast, or simply want to give it another listen, you’ll find it here.
Announcer: Welcome to the My Business Podcast. Insight, inspiration and wisdom for business owners, wherever they may be. Here are your hosts, Adam Zuchetti and Andy Scott.
Adam Zuchetti: Thanks for joining us on this episode of My Business Podcast. We are live in Woollahra, in Sydney, where Matt Moran has one of his famous venues. And you'll probably hear the gardeners are at work on the gardens, live, the chefs are cooking, so there's plenty of action going on around the place. Matt, thanks very much for joining us.
Matt Moran: Pleasure, pleasure. Good to be here.
Adam Zuchetti: How did you actually get into TV in the first place?
Matt Moran: Someone asked me to audition for a show called My Restaurant Rules. And I told them it was a stupid idea and the concept wasn't gonna work. And they said, great, we want you to re-audition. And I said, look, I'm too busy. “Aw please, come and audition.” I went and auditioned and I just said what I thought, and they came back and said, we want you.
And then my publicist at the time, used to work in TV, she said, you've gotta do it. It'll be a great idea, great concept and then hence, I did it. And it was just being honest. And that's the thing with TV. That I don't want to be produced, ever. I want to be myself. And that's what's worked for me. I've done what, nine different TV shows now.
Andrew Scott: And that's obviously part of the brand that you have. Obviously you have a lot of venues and restaurants. How much of a challenge is that now? Because you've said before that you don't work on all your restaurants. You don't cook in all of them by any stretch. But do you find a lot of people are turning up thinking they're coming to a Matt Moran venue, and almost expecting to see you on the pans?
Matt Moran: Yeah, you do get that. But also some people are quite shocked when they do see me at Aria. And go, oh my God, he's here! It's like, well yeah, I own the joint. So, I think it's probably 50/50. You know, I think people realise nowadays that you're not going to be in every venue, every day. But I move around a lot, so I do get around a bit. I can do three restaurants, four restaurants in one night.
Adam Zuchetti: With that wow factor with customers, is there a real novelty factor that you have to overcome to try and get them to be repeat customers?
Matt Moran: Not really. I think that the idea is to give them a good night. Give them what they came for. You know, good food, good service, good everything. And hopefully they come back because of the experience, not because they saw me. I think that's the most important thing.
If they saw me and had a crap meal, they're not gonna come back are they? But if they have a great night, and they feel great, well hopefully they'll come back for that reason.
Andrew Scott: How do you actively gauge customer feedback? Or do you?
Matt Moran: We do, as much as we possibly can. We have feedback lines, and we spend a lot of money on that. And obviously, signing up to our database, which is really important, and how many hits we get on that, and how much feedback we get from it. It's really important. More so than ever.
Andrew Scott: Have you found a lot of these review sites. Are they a blessing or a boon for your businesses?
Matt Moran: I think they're great for our business, because they give you constructive feedback, whether it's right or wrong. You gotta listen to it. If someone's that arrogant that they don't want to, well then they're an idiot. Because everybody has a voice and if somebody doesn't like something ... Well, every complaint letter I get, or phone call, we take it serious. We follow it up. It's really important to us.
Andrew Scott: Is that a hard thing for you to get used to. Because chefs obviously, they're passionate, they put their heart and soul on the plate, someone who doesn't know anything tells you your potatoes were undercooked or something...
Matt Moran: I think it's more confronting for the person when I ring'em. And say, it's Matt Moran on the phone. They're like, uh, uh, uh, uh, it wasn't that bad.
Andrew Scott: Was a deliberate ploy to do that?
Matt Moran: Not at all. I just used to do it all the time. And to be honest I do it very rarely these days, unless it's a big one. But I used to do it all the time. And I used to enjoy doing it. Because I wanted to hear.
Andrew Scott: You felt that connection with customers was really important.
Matt Moran: Yeah absolutely, and you know what? You can always win a customer over. And invite them back, and make sure that they get a good time next time. And be honest, restaurants do have bad nights. There's no question. But hopefully, there's more good ones than bad ones.
Adam Zuchetti: But as you say, doing that, you can ring someone up, it's Matt Moran, and they go, oh it wasn't actually that bad an experience. You're not getting the true feedback as if it was someone...
Matt Moran: Oh, you know. You know from their letter or whatever they've done, what they're saying. And you know that they've had a bad night and you try and turn it around.
Andrew Scott: Is that something you push through to all your staff as well?
Matt Moran: Absolutely. We're in the hospitality game. It's about being hospitable. And I can't remind people enough about that. If you're having a bad day, and you've got a booking at one of my restaurants, and you're in a shit move, there's been traffic, you can't find a park, or whatever, you're late, you're on edge. The minute you walk into that restaurant, you see someone with a big smile on your face, it turns you like that.
And that's really important. We're in the hospitality game. Service is key. And that's as simple as that. I'd say to my guys, all I wanna do when walk is see a big smile.
I was somewhere the other day, and the girl was just so grumpy. It was on a flight. Flight attendant. And just grumpy, and sour, and short. And I just thought, you know what? She shouldn't be doing it. Because she's a hosty, but she's in the hospitality game. She's there to make people happy and smile. And she probably didn't ever realise. Twenty people probably commented on how grumpy and cranky she was. And what a cow she was. To me that's not hospitality.
Andrew Scott: Do you actively have to train your staff to do that? Because as you've said, a guest at one of your venues could have had a crap day. Could have had a crap drive. Could have all sorts of things going wrong. That happens to your staff as well, and yet they're expected to come up and big smile.
Matt Moran: Of course it does, and that's why when waiters go into the kitchen, and they used to get screamed at by chefs, and then they'd walk out frozen. That doesn't happen anymore. And it can't happen anymore. And that's just by creating a culture that you wanna see in your venues.
Of course everyone has a bad day. I have a bad day. I have a bad morning sometimes, but it's about how you can turn someone around. And I'd like to think that my guys are trying to do that all the time.
Adam Zuchetti: We spoke with former Olympian, Eamon Sullivan recently...
Matt Moran: ...oh yeah. Saw him the other night, actually.
Adam Zuchetti: Yeah, so he's got his hospitality businesses over in Perth. And he was saying that he actually felt that his profile was detrimental to his success, and building his profile in the hospitality game. Because he felt that a part of that was, food critics would be extra harsh on him. Oh, he's got a profile, therefore we need to hammer him. We need to be really aggressive. Is that something that you felt?
Matt Moran: It's called the Tall Poppy Syndrome. No I saw Eamon last night. They had their food awards in Perth and I was there doing a book launch. And I saw him at the hotel. He's a great guy. And he's very passionate about what he does. I suppose it's like anything in life he does. He's very driven.
Yeah, of course, that is unfortunately the Tall Poppy Syndrome. People like to bring down success. And always have. And that's just part of the game, unless people really know who you are. People will judge you no matter what.
Adam Zuchetti: Do you find that you get fake reviews on that, as part of this Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Matt Moran: Oh, I don't know. Maybe, I'm not sure. I'm sure, but I wouldn't know, good luck.
Andrew Scott: How important are critics reviews for making and breaking venues for you? Thinking in terms of, I know other people have launched restaurants. And the week that Terry Durack might be turning up, everybody's, this could be it. How big is that for you guys?
Matt Moran: Look, there's no question it's been diluted. There's multiple guides now. And multiple different lists that you can be on. So it has been diluted. It's important for the staff to be recognised. I think that's key. It's probably the most important thing.
A lot of them come and go. A review will be there, and then it's gone. It's about delivering quality product, day in day out. And if you do a good job, well then people will talk about it. They'll talk about it on social media. Social media's probably just as big as what food reviews are these days. Bloggers are not more important, but as important. So it's a combination of all of them. We don't discard any of them. But we want to give everybody the same sort of experience too. It's about being consistent more than anything.
Andrew Scott: Is it the confidence that you get from delivering that consistency that you think will see you right, regardless of the odd critic here, or the odd comment that you hear, or the odd Instagrammer there?
Matt Moran: I've been lucky with the critics. Over the twenty years that I've been in it, they've been very kind. I'd hope to think that they're kind, because of the product that they're getting. We just do what we do, and hopefully people love it. I don't know it's about the confidence. It's about the confidence in the staff, I suppose, more than me, because they're here more than I am.
Adam Zuchetti: When it comes to the consistency element, there's a point where you need to change. Change the menu, change the offering. Where is that? How do you identify exactly when that is before customers get really bored with your offering?
Matt Moran: It's seasonality. That's an easy question to answer; i's about seasonality. We don't chase produce around the world any more. When asparagus is out of season, we don't buy it from Peru or Mexico. We let it go, and we like the romance of getting it back when it comes into season. So, it happens quarterly, no matter what. And we can see trends too. If something's not selling, well then we'll change it mid-season. If something's really popular, we might keep it on for a little bit longer. Because people obviously want it. You've gotta give the customer what they want.
But all the menus, that's why we have food tastings at certain times of the year. And every quarter it's pretty full on because we're tasting food everywhere. But it's all about seasonality.
Andrew Scott: How many different people do you have for the food tastings? Are you ever concerned that group-think might develop? That you all like similar tastes and you have the same things.
Matt Moran: We mix it up a little bit. I don't go to all of them. I go to all the branded ones, of course. I don't go to all the pubs. But they might be a couple of different chefs from different pubs that might go to one. So we mix it up a little bit.
Andrew Scott: Have you ever walked into one of your venues, seen a dish that personally, you just cannot stand, and you've spoken about it. But someone's gone, yeah but Matt, this is our biggest seller.
Matt Moran: Yep. Yep. But that's hospitality. That's looking after people that want it. And I'll tell you where it's a chicken snitty, out at the Ivanhoe Hotel in Parramatta, which I can't stand. They're like it big, it's what they've been getting for years. And you try to mess with it, they start coming.
Adam Zuchetti: Most people in business fear failure. And the bigger the profile, I suppose, the bigger that pressure. Is that a fear or a pressure that you feel?
Matt Moran: Every business I open, I get nervous about. And it think that's a good thing because it means you care. Failure: No, I don't think that. I'm not worried about that. Because if a business doesn't work, and we've opened it, and concept and ... To be really honest, it hasn't really, it hasn't happened very often. It's about change. And being true to yourself. And going right, well that hasn't worked. We need to redo it, and do something else. So, it might have failed, but it's not giving up. Do you know what I mean? We don't fail and walk away from it. It's, alright, what can we do to make it better. And that's the way that we think about all our businesses.
I have a philosophy that I want my businesses to be better year on year. Better than what it was the year before. And you reflect on it. You look back and go, was it a better business this year? Is it better food? Is it better service? Yeah, it is. And if it's not, well then you do something about it.
Andrew Scott: In terms of all that you've learned, and obviously you've done number of successful businesses. You've not just done the same business again and again. What are the three tips, or the three guides that you would give to people starting out in business? Or going through a tough time in their business? That are essential sort of, watch-words for you now?
Matt Moran: That's interesting. Look, you've gotta love what you do. That's the most important thing, I think. Especially in hospitality. But to have a key business, you've gotta have the right staff. And the business is only as good as the staff you employ. Obviously, do your due diligence on what will make money and what won't. And surroundings. I think location is really important. Good food is really important. Good service is really important. I could just list on, and on, and on what will make a good business.
But I think staff is a crucial one. And making sure your figures stack up. Doing projections. And working out what you need to do. How many covers you need to do. And then working out your cogs, and your GP on that. I think. Did I give you three? I probably gave you five, then didn't I?
Andrew Scott: Ah, you know, who's counting?
Adam Zuchetti: It sounds like you've got your due diligence quite down pat. Is there something in that process that you've developed that basically came to you over time through experience? Because we need to include that.
Matt Moran: Yeah, of course. Probably a lot of mistakes I've made over the years is where it comes to costs, and budgeting. And building restaurants that are always blown out with costs. And that's something that we're working on a lot more. We're creatives. We see something and we go, yeah, I wanna do that, and I wanna do that, and I wanna do that. It's like when I built my house. The architect said, that's what it's gonna cost you. And then as we started going, oh you can have that if you want. Yeah, I'll have that. And I want that, and I want that, and I want that, and I want that. And the budget for the house ends up being twice as much. Same thing happens in restaurants. You just want to make it better, and better, and better. But we're learning over the years to say no. We gotta stick to our budget. Because they always blow out.
Adam Zuchetti: But things that come up and you go, actually that's going to be quite central, and we've overlooked it or something. So were is that line sit between, no that's fanciful and we can do without it, or actually that's gonna be fundamental to the success of this operation?
Matt Moran: Yeah, and there's fundamentals that you have to have, and you have to do and they just blow out whether you like it or not. Whether you can save money somewhere else, you can. But most of the time you have to. It's part of being a creative, it think. Isn't it? You want something a little bit different than everybody else has got.
Andrew Scott: Do you ever worry that you might drift away from the narrative like that? Get excited by the process and build some kind of Frankenstein's monster that's moved away from your vision?
Matt Moran: No not really. No, because I get excited by that narrative and I wanna create that narrative. No, I don't think I do. No. I think other people want to branch out a little bit more from it, but no, I try to keep it as tight as possible. That's the concept, that's the idea, that's the creative that came up in the first place.
Andrew Scott: Perfect.
Adam Zuchetti: Thanks so much for joining us.
Matt Moran: Pleasure.
Andrew Scott: Matt, appreciate your time.
Matt Moran: Pleasure.