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Kickstart – Phee Gardner coordinates Appetite for Excellence, an awards program for young chefs, waiters, and restaurateurs. Our expert panel helps her overcome her website’s identity crisis.

Photo credit: Steve LunamKickstart – Phee Gardner coordinates Appetite for Excellence, an awards program for young chefs, waiters, and restaurateurs. Our expert panel helps her overcome her website’s identity crisis.

The Panel

  • Jonathan Crossfield – Netregistry. Expertise: Online content
  • Carine Diaz – Peaches PR. Expertise: public relations and promotions
  • Josh Mehlman: Moderator

Awards for up-and-comers

Josh Mehlman: Phee, tell us about Appetite for Excellence.

Phee Gardner: It’s a national hospitality awards program that was founded in 2005 by Luke Mangan and Lucy Allen. They wanted to encourage and support young professionals in the industry. It was originally just for chefs and now it has grown to include young waiters and restaurateurs.

What’s the website for?

Jonathan Crossfield: So the target audience for your website is not only the hospitality industry but the general public as well?

Phee: Yep, food lovers.

Jonathan: When they come to the website, what do you want them to do?

Phee: That’s a really good question.

Jonathan: I went there and it’s like, “OK, I’m interested, but there is nothing actually here for me to do.” It looks to me like this website was built from the business’s view out, rather than the customer or visitor’s view. Now that the entries have closed, what happens on the site? Are there any reports about what happens at this stage? What about a bit of video?

You don’t need Channel 10 to do you as Master Chef. You can get a small camera and YouTube and have a video on the site that says, “This is what happened in stage two of the competition.” You can have people leave comments underneath it and interact. It gives them a reason to keep going back to the site and following it all the way through.

Phee: This is why I have tried to start the blog.

Jonathan: You have all these judges, all the contestants, a whole lot of other people who are involved in it. You could build a great community blog. Even if only half of them write something once a fortnight, just a 500-word piece, you would have a really vibrant, active blog that was constantly turning over.

Building a community

Jonathan: You literally have two events on your calendar: close of entries and announcement. The goal of the website can’t just be about you and getting people to send in forms. It should be about them achieving their culinary goals, advancing their careers. Maybe you need to provide a network to help visitors build their careers or a venue for restaurateurs to identify great employees. It gives them a reason to participate with your site.

Carine Diaz: A community site, exactly. You could have news, product reviews, recipes, places to go, where we’re going – you know just get this community involved. They are out there, they’re all on Facebook, it should be easy to just bring them to one portal, a culinary portal, that encompasses all that, plus the awards. You could even do some magazine-style articles, profile past winners and profile people competing this year.

“The best idea for a community is one where you can just stand back and let them do it”

Jonathan: The best idea for a community is one where you can just stand back and let them do it. Rather than providing blogs or recipes, allow them to do that work for you. You could have a bulletin board, a forum where people are contributing the content by networking with each other. These are things you can set up more or less free with open-source software.

Chefs and tech don’t mix

Phee: In hospitality, front-of-house people are very much upon their gadgets and mobiles, but chefs aren’t. They don’t have the time; a lot of them don’t have access to computers. That’s why they’re so hard to communicate with unless you put something down in front of them. I met one chef who had a laptop, he had an iPhone, but that was really unusual.

Jonathan: Most of the hospitality people I know are really attached to their mobile phones. That might be your channel into them if you can make the content easily accessible through that device. When you go to the website, do you have to download a form and then fill it in and email it back?

Phee: No, they have to hard copy it back.

Jonathan: It’s not hard to have a form within the site that then goes through into a database and submits it automatically.

Phee: The reason we don’t is that the chefs need to submit eight copies of the application and they need to have photographs with them as well. A lot of them don’t have digital cameras.

Jonathan: Most mobile phones these days have a camera in them that would do the job. So they have to fill out eight forms separately and send them in?

Phee: They can fill out one form, print it out eight times, and then send us all those copies, which we distribute to the judges.

Jonathan: It’s not that hard to have a form in your website that processes the entries and emails them to the judges. The audience doesn’t care about your processes, they just see that it’s too much trouble and they don’t understand why it’s necessary.

Carine: You’ve got to make it as easy as possible for them.

Jonathan: Can I ask how many entries you get and how many of them have problems with the system?

Phee: Every year it increases. It must be up to 300 or 400. About 20% of them have trouble.

Josh: Could Phee avoid this manual handling, which costs her time and money, and eliminate people who can’t work out how to use a computer? Surely if you’re a young chef and you don’t know how to use a computer, you are going to be in trouble.

Jonathan: It would separate those people who are genuinely motivated enough. If they don’t know how to get a digital photograph, they could get advice from a friend. If they were motivated enough to want to be in the competition, because there’s something in it for them, they’ll find a way of doing it. I know you feel like you should give everyone equal opportunity, but I also think the people who are most likely to succeed are the ones who have already started taking themselves down that path.

Telling stories

Josh: Do you get a lot of media interest in the awards?

Phee: Trying to get them interested in the different aspects of the program can be quite difficult. I think one of the best stories is about Adam De Silva, who is a chef in Melbourne. He was in the program in 2005 and 2006, and now he has just opened his first restaurant, Coda, in Melbourne. He came out and had a chat with this year’s finalists and said: “It took me a few years, but I finally got my own restaurant.”

Jonathan: Why isn’t that on the website? The media aren’t going to take it if you are not even going to put it on your website.

Carine: People want to know about people. So telling these stories will bring it closer to people, [make it more] tangible. I also tried to think about a way of uniting the aspiring chefs with the judges or last year’s winners, people they look up to.

Phee: Mentoring.

Carine: Exactly! What a difference it would make if people who were applying thought, “I could spend an afternoon with Tetsuya!” #

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