On the 15th of June 2022, ICMS hosted a Neil Perry Masterclass where students learned from Neil Perry on how to manage a successful hospitality business, strategies that have led him to maintain and continue to grow his relationship with Qantas, how he has built his brand to represent Australia overseas, and how he overcame the challenges of Covid and his thoughts on the future of the hospitality and tourism industries.
Neil Perry is one of Australia’s most famous restaurateurs. At a recent Masterclass hosted by Melissa Hoyer, ICMS hospitality and tourism students learned about Neil Perry’s journey to success and his 20-year collaboration with Qantas.
Neil is an Australian chef, restaurateur, author, television presenter, cookbook author, and highly successful business owner. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2013 for his service to community in both his capacity as a chef and restaurateur and as a fundraiser for charities. An icon in the hospitality and tourism industries, he has helped shape modern Australian dining and brought us to the international stage through his two-decade partnership with Qantas Flight Catering.
As Maria Macri-Nosari, WIL facilitator for Hospitality Management, said: “Neil Perry is an Australian hospitality legend. The original Rockpool restaurant at the Rocks was exemplary in Australia at the time.
He told the ICMS Bachelor of Hospitality Management students and ICMS Bachelor of Business (International Tourism) how he took a gap year travelling in 1975 and worked as a waiter as a way of making extra cash.
He fell in love with the social aspect of hospitality and worked front of house for seven years. His love of cooking, sparked by his dad – a butcher – was fanned by being around good chefs and fine food and before he knew it, he was in the kitchens working as a chef. Now famous for the many successful restaurants he has opened over the years – including the famous Rockpool Restaurants, from which he retired as culinary director in 2020 – he shared with ICMS students how pursuing a passion results in career success. “With the Rockpool business I just wanted to create a great restaurant; there was no ‘master plan’,” he said.
When asked by Glenn Murray, ICMS Head of Tourism and Hospitality whether he credits his background in hospitality for his business grit enabled him to be resilient and adaptable to trends, Neil recounted times gone by of trying to recover from new tax laws, RBTs, worldwide events that changed tourism and the recession. All of which changed how restaurants operated and behaved. Yet, all this experience, albeit traumatic at times, built this resilience and made Neil fundamentally question and remodel how his business operated. All of those experiences have made Neil realise that nothing is forever, and nothing is certain. When things change or go wrong, you have to adapt otherwise if you don’t like a dinosaur you will perish.
Neil was just 32 when he opened Rockpool restaurant, taking out a big loan and taking a huge risk. It paid off, and over the years he has distilled his recipe for success into this formula: Importantly it’s about knowing the ‘why’ for doing things and taking ‘care’. The ‘why’ is to create great memories for people. The ‘care’ philosophy is important, especially in relation to suppliers, ‘care’ for how a place looks and for the cleanliness, and ‘care’ for each other.
Neil puts a premium on building a culture as a team and uniting the front and back of house. It helps that he has worked on both sides!‘Care’ for the community and giving back takes the form of his Rockpool Foundation, which is now Hope Hospitality, and partnering with Oz Harvest. ‘Care’ for the environment and sustainability is a priority for Neil. ‘Care’ for the customer means creating great experiences for the people who pay good money to enjoy great food. But remember that as a businessperson you must also ‘care’ for profit so that you can look after staff and motivate people,” he said.
Neil creates menus and meals for Qantas and explained how that relationship was founded. “In 1996 Qantas launched a new first class and they wanted to take the experience to the next level. Someone joked ‘get Neil Perry’ to do the food,” he said
Neil insisted that if he did it, he’d do it his way or not at all. He worked his way through the brand and now manages all the food and also selects the wine.
The hospitality industry was struck particularly hard during the global Covid-19 pandemic, and Neil spoke about how difficult that time was. He had just started his new business, ‘Margaret‘, in Double Bay, Sydney. The fine dining restaurant was due for opening just before NSW went into long lockdown in June 2021.
“All this fresh produce had to be thrown out, half a ton of seafood. I did get a bit negative and had to send staff home, not knowing how long it was going to last for.” Difficult times spark ingenious solutions and Neil started some doing some delivery options and found different avenues to explore, which bonded his team.
Having got through the period of lockdowns and restrictions, he said challenges remain because economic activity has sprung back but there are fewer people (staff) to work in Australia. He encouraged students to take advantage of the career opportunities in Australia currently. Neil is currently running Margaret in Sydney, which is named after his mum.
“I’m where I want to be now,” he said. His daughter and her friends work there too, it’s a real family business. He loves being there with the customers. His ideal meal reflects his current approach to life: Simple. Chicken cooked over charcoal with some great veggies. Cook it properly and season it properly. If simplicity is the art of sophistication, Neil Perry is as sophisticated as they come.
* The Neil Perry Masterclass was hosted by Melissa Hoyer, ICMS Professional Mentor, at the ICMS main campus located in Northern Beaches, Sydney, NSW. ICMS also has a city campus in the city of Sydney.
Founded in 1996, ICMS is a leader in career-focused, quality education and offers undergraduate bachelor’s and postgraduate master’s degrees to Australian and international students.
For more information on the ICMS Bachelor of Hospitality Management, click here
For more information on the ICMS Bachelor of Business (International Tourism) click here