60 – Lessons on Restaurant Innovation and Creativity with Chef Shaun Quade from Restaurant Lume

Restaurant Innovation

We look at how Restaurant innovation can help you build a more profitable Restaurant business.

What is the link between innovation and creativity? We’ve talked earlier about Restaurant Innovation, but this time we look at specific examples of how the Restaurant innovation process works in a real kitchen.

We look at the Triad Technique, Inputs and Creativity and how that feeds into creating an innovative menu, an innovative restaurant, and an innovative business.

We look at the approach to the ingredients that Shaun uses with sourcing ingredients.  How does the selection of ingredients interact with the menu and the guests?

We walk through the process of how Chef Shaun Quade creates one of his amazing dishes, the Sea Corn Taco.  What is the problem that he is trying to solve with it?  What techniques did he use and how did it evolve to being the item that can open the menu?

How can technology change the dining experience?  What is Lume doing with virtual reality?

We talk about the work of Charles Spence.  Whilst his work has been implemented in a lot of high-end fine dining Restaurants, it has also been used by airlines, fast food chains, and a wide range of Restaurants. This is because of the way that it can subtly enhance the dining experience.

We look at failure in the Restaurant.  So many people shy away from failure on the menu and in the Restaurant, but it is a critical part of the innovation process.  Limiting the impacts of failure, but ensuring that you fail enough and fail fast is an important part of the innovation process.

We talk about how you innovative when you’ve got a menu that works.

If you aren’t innovating, then you are probably dying.

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Transcript on Episode 60: Lessons on Restaurant Innovation and Creativity with Chef from Restaurant Lume

JAMES ELING: Hi, everyone. Welcome back! I think this is a really good time to talk about innovation and creativity because it’s following on directly after a podcast on how to create a story that sells.

I think that having a successful story and being innovative and creative go hand in hand. If your story is the same as everyone else’s then you’re not innovating. You don’t have a unique selling proposition. You don’t have anything that’s going to help you differentiate yourself from all of the other restaurants that are out there. But with a little bit of restaurant innovation and creativity, you can then start to do things that are different, and that feeds into your story. That is what drives people to want to come and visit your restaurant and want to return to your restaurant because you’re providing them with something–be it the food, be it the value, be it the experience. Whatever it is, that’s the story, that’s the innovation and creativity.

So, I wanted to talk to [Chef] Shaun Quade for quite a while now about innovation and creativity because fundamentally he is doing some things that are just very different to the way that most restaurants operate in fact million restaurants.

So, as [food writer] John Leathlean has said, there are things going on in the kitchen at Lume that aren’t happening anywhere else in Australia and possibly not anywhere else in the world. Now, you’re definitely being innovative, you’re not following the trends, you are creating the trends, and you are the head of the pack which puts you in a really, really strong position from a marketing point of view and from a business standpoint as well.

There are people who will want to work at Lume because of the fact that it is cutting edge. So these innovation and creativity. It’s not just about putting a new menu item in there and this is what I think this conversation is really interesting because we talk about business processes. There are some things that Lume are doing in Australia that very few in fact I think no other restaurants are doing in Australia from a business process point of view which is giving them fundamental advantages.

Restaurant creativity at its finest in Lûmé

Definitely, the menu is incredibly creative. The work in the bar probably one of the most creative bars in Australia and I think it has been recognized as that as well. The challenge for everyone listening to this is that Chef Quade has one incredible advantage and that is the technique that he brings to the kitchen, so there are a lot of things that he can do that really aren’t accessible. Because you have to remember that not only do you want to it’s something that you might be able to do but you need your entire kitchen to be able to replicate these dishes. So, if you’re going to do something that only you can create and your whole kitchen team that’s not going to scale very well and you’ve just signed up for working very hour that the restaurant is open and that’s probably not what you want to do.

However, there are a lot of examples out there of restaurants which are coming up with little bits of innovation, little bits of creativity that are making really big differences to their bottom line. And that might be creativity in the way they do their marketing, creativity in a way that they tell a story, creativity the way they put their menu together and these are having really big impacts. What I would like you to do is have a listen to this and just see, try and get a glimpse into the mind of Chef Quade and see what pearls of wisdom you can pull out of it and how they are going to interact in your kitchen and restaurant. Let’s kick it off.

James: Hey, Shaun welcome back to the podcast.

Chef Shaun Quade: Thanks, James. Thanks for having me.

James: So, I’m really excited about doing this podcast. I want to talk to you about innovation. Do you want to tell us a little bit about restaurant Lume and what it is that you do there?

Shaun: Yes, of course. Lume just started two years ago now and we’re a multi-sensory restaurant in South Melbourne. And, basically, what we’re trying to do is offer people this experience that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s not just about the food that we do. I mean the food is quite innovative and, I guess, avante-garde and we just use different techniques and ingredients. But that’s just one part of the wheel so the service style and the way the restaurant looks and how we talk to the guests and all that sort of things. It all comes together to create this experience. You know it’s quite multi-sensory and that’s how we like to offer people. It’s not just dinner, it’s the whole package as an experience that you can’t get anywhere else, so that’s what we do.

James: And there are a lot of people who agree with you and I think it was John Leathlean who said that there are things going on in the kitchen at Lume that aren’t happening anywhere else in Australia and potentially nowhere else in the world which is a pretty good rep?

Shaun: Yes, that was very nice feedback from John in particular.

James: So, when it comes to innovation I really think these sorts of three parts. The imports, what it is that you are going to do there, the techniques that you use and then the creativity. So input obviously it starts with the ingredients, what’s your approach to the ingredients that you use at Lume?

Shaun: We use a lot of different ingredients and for me when I’m looking at doing a dish, I don’t know Orlando, who works as our bar manager, he has the same approach. I always start with the ingredient. We would never start with a technique, so we always start with the ingredient because you need to have that baseline to create from because you need constraints, otherwise it would just end up being whatever. There would be no focus behind it; there would be no kind of star behind it, it would just be something. Yeah, it will be creative but it won’t be yours necessarily because there are no constraints being put on you. So, I always like start with the ingredient first and just say it’s like okay we got this amazing ingredient whatever it maybe whether it’s a fruit, vegetable, a piece of meat, a fish or something like that. It’s like what are we going to do with this? How are we going to serve it? What are we going to serve it with? What is the dish going to smell like when the customers have the plates in front of them? What’s it going to look like? But otherwise it starts with, what it’s going to taste like?

Now because that’s fundamentally the most important thing so you know you research the ingredient and you figure out what flavours can potentially go with it and then you start thinking about the techniques that you may apply to that ingredient to kind of bring out the flavour that you’re after and then finally when you’ve tested things out and you’re like happy with how it’s tasting and then you start figuring out how am I going to serve this to people so that it looks appealing and it gives people the sensation that I want them once they eat. They are kind of the main aspects to it and then we also try particularly to have a sense of smell like a sense of aroma like it’s really important. I think 75% of everything that we eat like experience by our senses is olfactory so, we smell something before we say it or taste it. We can smell something and it such a powerful sense you know you can smell something that reminds you of your childhood memory 30 or 40 years ago so it’s quite an important thing that we always look at aroma when we’re creating a dish so A 20 question always starts with the ingredient so we work with a lot of different suppliers. We have a farm that we work with exclusively that grows things for us to our specifications and we have amazing seafood in Australia. We use a lot of seafood on the menu. Seafood, by nature, is very seasonal so it is constantly being forced to change things and create things based on what’s available which to me is quite exciting I mean that’s what I like doing. It’s being creative and you’re kind of forcing yourself to innovate because essentially mother nature is calling your hand essentially you can’t just have this one thing on the menu for two years because if you are really using seasonal produce, it’s seasonal by nature so you have to keep changing. Yeah, that’s where we start.

Restaurant creativity process

James: Can you able to give us an example of a dish that you started with? One of the dishes that’s quite innovative, creative and just sort of talk us through maybe like the Sea Corn Taco–that’s quite an innovative dish. It’s the first one on the road menu, I think.

Shaun: Yes.

James: From my point of view it definitely sets the expectations that you’re in for an amazing night. How did it come about?

Shaun: So that started from memory. It’s been awhile now but I think from memory that started I was trying to make a, basically just a savoury custard and what sort of flavour we can put in it. I trained as a pastry chef so I have a little bit influence on the menu particularly for all the savoury dishes. This is one of the pastry influences that I kind of threw in there, so I think that is one element that makes what we do very unique.

We are using different types of sugar and I’m not afraid to use sweetness and sugar in savoury dishes because if you know how to harness the flavour it’s actually really beneficial to the other dish so that’s how it started it’s actually me trying to create a savoury custard and once it’s never been the same before once I got the flavour of the custard that’s what I wanted and so okay, how do we make it? A custard which is such I guess a boring thing to look at it’s just a yellow liquid, how do we turn that into something that’s presentable in a fancy restaurant or market restaurant? So, I was like let’s make it look like a piece of corn. We made our own silicon moulds out of real corn and essentially what we do is set that custard into this corn mould so when it’s unmoulded it looks like just a piece of corn. They can’t really tell the difference. So, it’s kind of quite surprising when my guests eat it. I mean, pretty much everyone that sits down.

Innovative food – unexpected surprises in a restaurant

And what we do with the custard now is actually place that into like a taco shell that we’ve made from puffed polenta that we cooked at so it just looks like a little taco. You pick it up and say, “There’s a piece of corn in there that looks nice.” There’s a little bit of mud crab and some herbs and stuff that when you get to eat it the texture is the polar opposite of what you’re expecting to have a kind of crunchy baby corn texture in your mouth. You’re expecting that you have to chew it but as soon as you bite into it, it’s a soft custard–still tastes like pure corn. We put a little bit of scallop roe in there as well so it’s kind of base of seafood and corn, particularly mud crab and scallops, is still quite a classical combination.

And, yes, it’s totally unexpected to people and it is eaten with the hands as well so it plays a few different roles. It’s the first thing that people have when they sit down to eat so we place it in front of them and we can tell by which hand they’ll pick it up, whether their left hand or the right hand and so it’s very important in that aspect and that sets the time for the rest of the night. That’s what people’s expectations, they’re expecting to get something and then we’ve given them something totally different but hopefully that succeeded of what they’re expecting. I think that’s when you create something that’s truly memorable is when you exceed people’s expectations. You know we all go to a French bistro and have coq au vin or whatever and you know what you are going to get. You’re going to get some shoestring fries; you’re going to get like a flank steak or something like that with Burgundy. But when it comes to Lume we want them not to be memorable. We want people to have this amazing experience so it’s important that we kick them on the toes and give something unexpected but at the same time hopefully we’re exceeding their expectations that they have when they come through the front door so that’s why our dishes are quite important. It’s the first thing that they eat.

James: It’s a very surprising dish because it’s a fine dining restaurant and I think a lot of people, we definitely had the impression that this was to demonstrate your attention to detail because it’s like a taco except very, very small but it’s immaculately put together. And that’s the impression that you get is look at the attention to detail we’ve got. That’s what tricked me, I was like, “Oh, wow they’ve been out with the tweezers and they’ve been putting this together like a good fine dining restaurant should do.” You pop it into your mouth and then just like, “What happened there?” because there’s no crunch or whatsoever and I was like, “Well, it tastes amazing but not anywhere near where I was expecting and it’s like, “Wow, that was quite amazing.”       



Shaun Quade: And that’s good, that the memory that you have of it is it makes you smile, it makes you laugh. That’s another thing that’s very important to me. It’s that I don’t want the restaurant to be stuffy and people to sit there and be like they have to bow down to the chef—that kind of bullshit. Yes, it’s a fine dining restaurant and everything that goes with it—beautiful plates, wine glass, etcetera, etcetera.

But at the end of the day, I want people to have fun, and laugh, and enjoy themselves, and talk about the food, and talk about what they’re experiencing with the other people that they’re dining with. So, that’s something that we always try and keep in mind when we’re talking to guests is we’re always a little bit cheeky, there’s a lot of kind of very tongue in cheek things that we talk about. And the menu descriptions are very much reflective of that. The explanations of the dishes, when we go to the table, you know, we have a script for the staff but we very much encourage them to make it their own and, you know, be a little bit cheeky and kind of mislead people just a little bit to, I guess, kind of take them along that magician’s route of what’s happening in one hand is different to what’s happening in the other hand. Slight of hand is essentially what I’m trying to say, so it just all adds to the experience.

Using technology to change dining experience

James: Absolutely. So, what are some of the other inputs that you play with then? Like, do you do anything with cutlery, or what are some of the other things that you’ve worked with at Lume to create a more creative experience?

Shaun Quade: I guess the presentation of, not just the food, but the drinks. Also, it’s very important as it sets people’s perceptions. Like, as soon food is put down in front of them, depending on how we made the dish look, it will put a perception into their heads straight away. So, by doing that we can then play with that perception, we can change it in the actual dish. Whether it’s a different texture, or it’s a different temperature, or, you know, we can make something that looks like a dessert but it’s actually a savory dish etcetera, etcetera. So, you know, the presentation of the dishes, you know, the different crockery and cutlery that we use is quite important in that regard.

One quite big thing that we did last year, that basically highlighted all those points, was that we started using virtual reality (VR) to serve one of our dishes, a dessert called The Meyer Lemon Tree. So, that was quite a game-changing moment for us. I think the technology is there for us to use. I think I’m very adamant that when we are creating something we’re not just, you know, we’re in the hospitality industry but there’s so many other industries out there that are just as creative and that are doing really cool stuff. You know, why can’t we collaborate with people like that and use ideas and techniques that are not necessarily traditionally used in hospitality. So, VR was definitely one of those and it’s been really fun. Like, people respond to it really, really well. That’s a really good example.

James: And I think that it’s worthwhile talking about this a little bit, because the first restaurant in Australia to use VR, and I haven’t been able to find any reference to any other restaurants who have been using VR before you were. Where did that idea come from? Because in tech, VR is huge and people are desperately trying to find uses for VR. Because, you know, apart from first person shooters which, you know, it works really well, people are really exploring things in medicine and a whole range of training and simulation. People are looking at ways of harnessing the power of VR, and yet you were potentially the first in the world to use VR in a culinary setting. Where did that idea come from?

Shaun Quade: It’s something that we’ve been looking into. So, my partner Veronica she is a massive tech head and is, you know, not from hospitality. She is an economist by trade, and many other things, as well. And it’s basically something that she’d had an idea that this would be amazing to use in a restaurant setting. And I guess my memories of VR, because VR’s been around for years and years, and my memories the last time I’d actually experienced it was this kind of clunky, TRON-like, shitty graphic sort of experience. And it’s really come a long way, and it’s the total opposite now. So, we ended up doing an event called Taste of Melbourne, and we actually set the restaurant up basically like a mirror image of the restaurant in a shipping container. And we kitted it out with restaurant chairs and tables and all the cutlery and everything. And we actually did four people at a time, so people would come into the shipping container and it’s totally pitch black, and we’ve got a smoke machine going, so you can’t really see anything. You walk in, you’re given your headset, you put the headset on, and then you proceed to go through the two-and-a-half-minute video which is essentially me taking the guest out to the Yarra valley where our farm is and walking through the lemon orchid, and picking the lemons off the tree and kind of smelling them. And, you know, just looking up at the blue sky and you can hear the birds chirping, and you’re walking through the mud. So, it’s really taking people to where the produce comes from. So, essentially that’s what the video is. We take them out to the Yarra valley and then it kind of morphs back into the restaurant setting, and they’re sitting at one of the tables in front of the kitchen and they’re watching myself and the chefs plate this dish up. And then it comes over to the table and that’s when the video kind of fades to an end. And you take your goggles off and the dish is actually sitting there right in front of you. So, when we did this in a shipping container, while the people were watching the video they’ve got their headsets on, they can’t hear or see anything, we’re busily scurrying around setting the tables, turning the lights on, pouring champagne, bringing the dishes out. So, when they sit down and take the goggles off, the dish is there, there’s champagne, the table’s been set, there’s music on and it’s just like being at a restaurant. But there’s no staff there, we’ve disappeared again. Because we wanted it to be as seamless as possible.

So, what we did do with that also is have a Polaroid camera, so we’d take selfies with the people while they had their headsets on and just leave it on the table. So, they’re like, “Where did all this stuff come from? Where’s the staff?” And the Polaroid would be developing on the table, and it’d be myself, or Orlando, or whoever, you know, just taking really cheesy selfies. You know, doing little peace signs and all that sort of thing with the people. So, again, like so many different elements, like really immersive and multi-sensory. While people had the headsets on we’re spraying lemon perfume in the air, so they can smell the lemons. We’re brushing their backs with lemon leaves, so it felt like they were walking through the orchid. And they, of course, get to experience the dish at the end. So, for me virtual reality is just this amazing tool that we can use that transports people into a reality where, you know, wherever we want to take them. And that was just a starting point for us, doing that. You know, it works really well we use it in the restaurant sometimes. We don’t always use it, depending on who the tables are, people aren’t always receptive to sitting in the middle of a busy restaurant and putting headsets on. So, we have to kind of pick the tables accordingly, but it’s something that, when people are open to it, it works amazingly well.

James: They say that need is the mother of invention, and a lot of people go to so much effort to source amazing produce for their kitchen but they never tell that story. You’ve actually taken people to the farm in a multi-sensory way of doing it, they’re feeling the branches of the leaves, they’re smelling, they can feel the wind as it’s going through their hair. And it’s only right at the end that they actually get to taste the lemons. And so, you’ve used VR to be able to do that and rolled it in with all of the other multi-sensory kind of things that you want to do. That’s an amazing approach and it’s really exciting, and it’s really fascinating that you guys were the first people to come up with that solution.

Shaun Quade: You know, that’s what I’ve been saying. It’s like looking outside of the industry – the hospitality industry is very insular and, especially in Australia, we’re very cut off from the rest of the world geographically, and we tend to be sometimes a little bit behind what’s going on above us. And, you know, there’s no need for that now, the world’s such a small place. I mean, the amount of technology that we have, we have access to everything 24/7 no matter where you are. Especially being in a major metropolitan city, there’s no excuse to have not access things from other industries where they’re so readily available. And, not just specifically talking about serving food in the restaurant, but just the way that you run your business in general, can be quite innovative, as well. It doesn’t need to be how you’ve always done things, or how you were shown how to do something at the last place you worked. You can do whatever you want, that’s what makes places successful is when they have an identity, and they embrace new things, and they embrace change. Because otherwise, if you don’t, there’s going to be someone coming along in five minutes time that is going to embrace change and is going to go straight past you, and take all your customers at the same time, so.

James: Which is quite scary. The thing I find really exciting about it is that, for you to say, “Let’s do something with VR,” five years ago would have been a fairly poor experience, and it would have been hideously expensive.

Shaun Quade: Yeah.

James: The thing that’s amazing now, is that VR is just one of dozens of types of technology that you can put into the restaurant, and it’s just waiting for someone to say, “How can we use this better?” And it’s really, really quite accessible.

Shaun Quade: It is. I mean, you can buy – Google’s a perfect example – you can buy Google cardboard headsets for $15 and essentially get that same VR experience that you would if you had, I don’t even know how much they are, hundreds and hundreds of dollars buying an Oculus Rift headset. So, the technology’s there and we have access to it. And I think another really good example is, you know, there’s a lot of problems in the hospitality industry that everyone talks about, but no one really does anything about. I mean, there is people doing things about it, but it’s still very, I don’t know, it’s almost outdated before it becomes a thing. So, when we open Lume, in about six months after opening we were having a lot of no shows, which is a very, very common problem in restaurants. And particularly in high end restaurants where the profit margins are very, very small. Like, you just can’t afford to have no shows.

So, we were losing, on average, about $3000 a week in no-shows, whether it’s people not showing up to a booking, or people that are booked as a four top and turning up with three or two people. And, you know, the thing is it’s not really their fault, they don’t know any better, they don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, they don’t know how much effort and time and money goes into producing what we offer at the restaurant. So, our booking system we decided to change to a system called Tock, which is based in the US, it’s made by The Alinea Group. The amazing thing about that is that everyone that comes into Lume actually prepays for their experience. So, it immediately cut down our no-show rate, I think it was 0.013 per cent, so pretty much nothing. And by doing that, we’re kind of setting, again, a perception of what people are getting themselves into when they come to the restaurant, it’s thinking about the restaurant as, you know, you’re going to like a concert, or you’re going to the theatre, or you’re going to see your favourite band, or whatever it may be. You prepay for all those experiences, you don’t go and see a band and then decide whether you’re going to pay for it afterwards, or whether you’re going to leave a tip. You pay for it beforehand. So, that’s been a big game changer for us, as well. And I think that’s something that, you know, we looked outside of Australia for a solution to a problem that we had, and we found it.

So, I think another part of innovation is just keeping an open mind. You have to kind of create chaos to be innovative, you have to throw things out, you have to put yourself into risky situations to really be innovative. Because otherwise humans are creatures of comfort, you’re just going to fall back on what you know, or what you’ve been taught, or what’s easy. And that doesn’t create innovation, that doesn’t create change, that just creates stagnant water, essentially. So, that’s another interesting point that we brought onboard to offer people a better experience, because, at the end of the day, that’s the main goal of any restaurant is to offer a great guest experience.

James: I was talking to a fine dining restaurant earlier this week and the chef was talking about no shows, and I said, “So, what do you do with a group of five or six no-shows?” and he just shrugged his shoulders. Smaller restaurant than Lume on a Friday night, you’re not going to be profitable when 10 or 20 per cent of your seats just don’t turn up.

Shaun Quade: No.

James: And it’s very hard to resell that. And it’s a perfect example of technique. When people talk about technique, they’re thinking about, “How am I going to cook something?” There’s a lot of techniques that are used in a restaurant, there’s a lot more that are used outside of the restaurant industry. And this is why, I think, the importance of looking outside of the restaurant industry. Because if you look at Tock, I don’t really see there being any difference between Tock and booking a flight with Qantas.

Shaun Quade: No, it’s exactly the same.

James: There’s terms of conditions, there’s a couple of upsells, and there is different pricing based on the demand – I don’t think Tock does dynamic pricing yet, they’re probably working on that – but it’s definitely more expensive to fly during peak times than it is on the quieter times.

Shaun Quade: Yeah.

James: Now, so all you’ve done is take an airline booking system and applied it to the restaurant industry. Which is kind of sensible, really, because, from a booking point of view, is there any difference? You’ve got X number of seats. If you don’t fill them tonight, you’re still going to be doing most of the work. And they’re gone, and you’ll never get them back. And that’s why the airlines work so hard to fill every single seat, and that last seat they’re going to sell for a fortune because it’s the last seat and someone will be desperate to come along on that flight. It should be very, very similar with bookings I would have thought.

Shaun Quade: Yeah, I totally agree. I think things are changing very rapidly, and I think the guest, you know without getting preachy or anything like that, I think people need to realize how much food actually costs, like good food. And it’s a real problem, because most people, I’d say 90 per cent of people just do their shopping at the supermarket. I can’t remember the last time I went to the supermarket. I would definitely not buy anything from the meat aisle, or the seafood aisle.

It’s not good food if it’s not sustainable, it’s not going to keep, they would have been factory farmed, they, you know, I could go on. There’s all sorts of horrible shit that happens to mass produced animals, but my point is that people need to realize how much it costs to run a restaurant. Especially a fine dining restaurant. Our average profit margin is 5 per cent. So, if we have a table of four not show up on any given night, it doesn’t matter what night it is, then that’s it we’re all working for free. We would have been better off just not opening for the day and giving everyone the day off, you know. So, there’s such a huge amount of money that goes into sourcing all these amazing products that we use. And even before you start talking about the restaurant, it’s like the farmers how much time they put into raising all these, you know, the animals and the vegetables sustainably and ethically. It cost more money than just growing things in greenhouses or whatever. And then getting it to the restaurant, so the truck drivers and, you know, the boats and whatever it all costs money.

And then when you actually get it to the restaurant, especially when you come to a fine dining restaurant, you’ve got professionals working there. You don’t have, you know, part time uni students serving you. You’ve got people that do this for a living, that’s their profession and they take it very seriously, and they train to do it. And, again, that should be reflective in the price that you pay for your experience, and I think, particularly in Australia, we just don’t have that culture where food is not as important as it is in many other cultures. You know, because we’re such a young country, we just don’t have that depth of culture. So, I think that’s a really good point that we always try and get across in our marketing towards people, is that, you know, we want to take them behind the scenes, we want them to know how much passion and dedication we have towards giving them a great experience. So, that, you know, when they jump on Tock to make a booking for the restaurant and they’re asked prepay for it, they have an idea in their head of what they’re in for and, you know, they’re happy to pay that because they know that they’re going to have a great experience.

James: And I think it’s when you start to actually look at what the problems are, like how can you create value out of your supply chain, that’s when things like virtual reality – like, let’s take them to the farm. Because I guess, you know, you’re really thinking about it, if these people went to the farm then they’d understand all of the work that the farmer does.

Shaun Quade: Yeah.

James: But we’re in the 21st century, you can take them to the farm. It only needs to be for a couple of minutes. You could introduce the farmer, he could tell everyone who comes into the restaurant, “The thing that makes me beef the best beef is this is what they’re eating, this is how well I look after them, and this is why we’re passionate about the beef that we produce.” Now, you can do that in two minutes, most people, if you’re lucky, it’ll be a single line in the menu. You know, grain fed beef from farmer Bob up the road. That doesn’t really tell any of that story, you don’t get any passion, you don’t get any, just a cute little menu engineering trick.

Shaun Quade: Yeah.

James: You’re building a much deeper relationship. And you’re using the technology to be able to do that. You know, I find it really, really interesting.

Shaun Quade: Yeah, it’s incredibly powerful because the guests want to know the story. You know, as humans we’re inquisitive by nature, like we want to know where things come from, what happened to them, what’s the story behind that. And I think in restaurants more and more, like people are so, so interested in what we do. That adage now of like ‘Chefs are the new rockstars’, well, it’s kind of true. Because shows like MasterChef have been hugely influential in taking people into the kitchen. And I think the more that people know about what goes on behind the scenes, and they can see, you know, how much work and dedication goes into producing this meal for the guest when they sit down, it’s going to give them.

Number one, they’ll enjoy it more because they can relate to it and they know the story, and stories are really powerful because people can relate to them. And it gives people insight into who’s produced it, where it was produced, why it was produced and all that, you know, the list goes on. If it helps, you know, you’re already on the front foot when people sit down, because they know the story. And, second of all, it will make the guest have more respect for what you do also, because it’s the service industry. We’re in the service industry but we’re not subserving it to people, we’re here to offer them an experience and we’re here to fulfil their needs. Like, they decided to come out to a restaurant, and they paid for it, and this is what they want, this is what they expect. But we’re not subserving it to people, I think that’s a very common mistake that people make, like ‘the customer’s always right’. Well, the customer’s not always right, you need to treat the customer like they are always right, but you need to be smart about it and, again, we use a lot of psychology in the restaurant, as well, like how we talk to people and what words we use. So, making people feel comfortable and relaxed and, you know, like they’re at home. So, we greet everyone by their first name when they come to the restaurant as much as we can. And, you know, we find out a little bit about them and, you know, we don’t do that to be creeps or anything, we do that for their own benefit. So, if we know that they like a particular wine, we’ll make sure we have it in the cellar. If we know that the last time they dined with us they had a particular dish that they really liked, well, we’ll offer it to them when they come in this time.

So, it’s just all these little things that add to the overall experience that, you know, that they’re almost easy wins. Because there’s technology now where you can use a CRM that makes a really easy to use database, so you can keep track of everyone that comes into your restaurant. And you can see where they’re from, how many times they’ve dined with you, what they ate last time, likes and dislikes, left-handed right-handed, the list goes on. So, again, getting back to technology, there’s so many things out there that you can use that are not specifically related to hospitality, but are hugely innovative in their own right and can be used in hospitality. You just need to have an open mind about it.

James: And you see, CRM is a really interesting point, because this is one of the technologies that’s out there. The work that we’re doing on restaurant CRMs, we’re actually moving away from calling it a CRM just because so many people in the restaurant industry don’t actually know what a CRM system is.

Shaun Quade: Exactly.

James: Other industries that live or die by the power of their CRM system, and yet the restaurant industry is sort of slow to sort of pick that up. But you’re not only implementing a good technique, like a CRM, you’re then applying like a psychological framework on top of that to really innovate in the – a lot of people want to innovate in the kitchen, but front of house is just as an important part of the experience but we don’t see a lot of innovation there.

Shaun Quade: Yeah, front of house is hugely important and something in Australia that we just don’t have. Again, we don’t have that strong food culture where ‘my parents owned this restaurant before my grandparents owned this restaurant and my great-grandparents’, we just don’t really have that.

And the service industry here is largely made up of people that are doing it part time, while they’re studying their chosen career, their real career. So, we need all the help we can get. When we’re trying to offer guests an experience, you can’t have a part time uni student kind of like half ass explain a dish, and the, you know, poor the wrong wine into their glass, and use, you know, bad grammar, and call them by the wrong name. You just can’t have that and there’s no excuse for it, either. So, again, just kind of thinking of new ways to approach staffing a restaurant and, when we actually do get the staff and when the guests come into the restaurant, how do we treat the guests? How do we talk to them?

So, we’ve used an acting coach before to basically work with the front of house staff in how to talk to the guests with confidence, and how to have presence, and how to portray that confidence that we all have during the day when we’re preparing and we’re training and we’re, you know, getting the restaurant set up. The last thing you want to do is kind of shrink when we’re standing in the middle of a restaurant with 50 people around you, you need to know what you’re talking about and you need to have that presence. So, that was a bit of a game changer for us as well as hiring an acting coach to talk to all our front of house staff and do a bit of training with them. And then, again, my partner Veronica trained as a psychologist also, so we use a lot of words and techniques to kind of make people feel quite comfortable when they come in. and, you know, a simple turn of phrase will make someone feel at home, it’s that easy.

But you need to have that knowledge to do it in the first place. So, again, I think not many people have really embraced that in the industry, I think, when I made that note that we do that sort of thing, it was kind of almost greeted with a little bit of tongue in cheek kind of mockery, where’s like, “Shaun’s off doing his weird shit over in south Melbourne.” But I don’t see it as weird shit, I see it as the way forward. I see it as dealing with problems that we have in the industry that are not specific to our restaurant, they’re industry wide, but we’ve decided to do something about it. And we’re looking at unique ways to, you know, combat these problems. We’re not just thinking about, “What did we used to do at this restaurant that I worked at?” It’s like, these are not problems that are unique to hospitality, they’re problems that people have in all these other industries, but what do they do about it? And can we bring that back to hospitality? Will it work for our business? And nine out of ten times it does work. So, why not use it?

Chef Shaun on his biggest restaurant influence

James: Do you want to talk about the work of Charles Spence? I know that you’ve read both his books, what sort of an impact has that had on the restaurant and the way that you sort of approached the dining experience?

Shaun Quade: Yeah, Charles Spence has been hugely influential to me and I think a lot of the things that he talks about in his books, when you actually hear it and you read it, it makes total sense. Because it’s either Economics 101, or it’s Psychology 101, it’s all quite simply things that he talks about. But it’s very rare to actually have a place that will take that knowledge and then put it into an industry that doesn’t necessarily embrace those techniques. So, again, it’s the same thing we’ve been talking about, it’s just looking outside for inspiration. Because a lot of the stuff that he talks about is actually quite simple, you know, and it makes total sense.

And you have the same outcome with everyone that comes in, you know, again, I talked about the Sea Corn Taco before as just a simple little trick of the first thing that we serve to people is something they eat with their hands. So, we can tell straightaway whether they’re left-handed or right-handed. And we never say anything to the guest, we never talk about it but when they go to eat their first course that has cutlery, it’ll be set accordingly. So, it’s just little tricks like that and, you know, just knowing this new information that has never really been embraced in hospitality before. It has to a certain extent in specific restaurants, but I think in general the industry could really pay attention to what Charles talks about in his books, because it would be hugely beneficial, hugely beneficial.

James: What sort of role in your restaurant innovation process? How do you handle failure? Do you fail often and what role does that have in the process?

Shaun Quade: Yeah. Creating something is very, very rarely something as simple as having an idea, writing it down on paper, and then just making it. Like, it never happens like that, it’s always an idea, you’ll try something out, and it’s horrible, and you’re like, “What was I thinking? That was really, really bad.” But without those failures you don’t have any sort of, kind of, perception of what you can achieve and what you can’t achieve. So, I’d say at least eight of ten times when I’m kind of working on a dish, that dish will never see the light of day. It will just be an idea in my notepad, that no one else will ever see except for myself and one of the unlucky chefs who has to taste it. But you can’t create something without, I guess, well you can’t innovate without kind of, you know, making a few mistakes or failures and taking a few risks.

Because, again, the virtual reality was a perfect example of that because no one else had done it before. You know, it’s a huge risk because people could think it’s totally stupid and not relate to it, and think it’s a waste of time and money, but it’s been the total opposite. So, you need to take risks and that’s not just specific to high end restaurants and specific to food. I think, again, it doesn’t matter what sort of venue that you have, whether it’s a café, or a bistro, or a, you know, a fine dining three hat restaurant. You need to be embracing change, and you need to be basically dealing with the problems that come up every single day in hospitality, many of which are not exclusive to one venue but exclusive to the whole industry. Like, we need to embrace the change, and figure out like, “What are we going to do about this?” You know, and if there’s no answers within the industry, it’s like, “Okay, well let’s look outside the industry. What are other industries doing about it?” That’s what I would like to see more of.

James: I think a lot of people are afraid of failure and don’t see it as part of the creative process.

Shaun Quade: Yeah.

James: Because it’s hard to create something that’s epic, and I think, you know, the trick is to fail and fail fast, rather than to fail and, you know, sort of spend a lot of time on introspection.

Shaun Quade: Yeah, exactly. I mean, if creating something epic was easy, everyone would do it. It’s basically, it’s up to you how far you want to go down the rabbit hole, how hard do you want to work for that, you know, to create something. Because it’s not easy. It’s, more often than not, it’s laborious kind of drawn out process where you’re testing and testing. And then you start questioning things, and you’re like, the same questions that I’m sure every creative person ever has asked themselves, it’s like, “Have I lost it? Am I still good enough? Have I got writer’s block? Have I lost perspective on what the guests want?” And all that sort of thing. You start questioning yourself, but then you battle through that and then all of a sudden, you’ve got this thing in front of you that you’ve created, and that you’re actually happy with. You serve it to, you know, your staff and your chefs and they’re like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” And then you decided to put it on the menu, and the next thing you know it’s become this signature dish, and, you know, that’s how it happens. But you have to work hard for it, you can’t just create something out of nothing.

What inspires restaurant creativity?

James: Is there anything that you do to stimulate creativity? You talked then just about writer’s block, do you ever feel – because there’s pressure for you to innovate if you’re going to be, you know, Australia’s most innovative restaurant then you can’t have the same menu for five years, so you need to be continually working on that. That creates quite a bit of pressure for you, particularly when you’ve got very, very successful dishes which, I guess really, you need to kill off sooner or later don’t you?

Shaun Quade: Yeah, you do. And it’s quite a hard thing to do, because everything that we’ve talked about it’s really hard running a restaurant, it’s a very risky business model. And when you find yourself on a good thing, it’s like why would you change that? You know, you must have rocks in your head to take something off the menu that everyone loves and it’s everyone’s favourite dish when they come in. Why would you change that? So, that’s what we ask ourselves and we’re kind of in that predicament at the moment, because we have several dishes on the menu that have been on for over a year now that, you know, to be honest the whole kitchen’s sick of making and sick of the sight of. Because we do the same thing every day, and they kind of, the dishes are at a stage where I don’t really want to tweak them anymore because I think they’re the best that they can be. But it’s like, you know, what sort of restaurant are we?

Are we going to be a place that just does that and keeps people happy? Or, are we going to stay true to what we originally set out to do and is to embrace change, and embrace creativity on all levels from all the staff? And keep pushing, because if you don’t keep pushing yourself, you know, you become irrelevant so very quickly. Because, you know, there’s restaurants opening every week, there’s, you know, new chefs, younger chefs coming along that are doing really cool stuff that didn’t even really occur to you. So, you need to keep changing and learning, because knowledge is power. If you stop learning things, you might as well give up because that’s the end.

And for me personally I, again, very much look outside the industry for inspiration and, you know, just to basically keep me sane. Because you don’t want to be thinking about cooking and the restaurant 24/7. You need to have some sort of break in perception where, you know, you’re inspired by something that is not immediately part of your industry. So, you know, going to an art gallery, or going to see a band, or reading different books and not cookbooks. I can’t remember the last time I actually bought a cookbook. You know, and just allowing yourself to be influenced by things other than food and things other than hospitality. Having said that, that’s also very inspiring is going to other restaurants and seeing what other people are doing and experiencing their restaurant. Because every single restaurant in the world, someone’s created that, they’re all very personal beasts they’re not just this kind of faceless thing.

I mean, there is a lot of faceless restaurants, but any of the good restaurants, they have an identity behind them, they have a style. And that’s all come from someone or a number of people. So, it’s important to keep inspired, and it’s really important to keep inspired in what works for you. If you’re not inspired by reading cookbooks or going to restaurants, well, you still like cooking you still like being a chef, totally fine. If that works for you, just do it. But if what inspires you is buying all the latest cookbooks that come out from all the world’s top chefs, well that works too. So, it’s just keeping an open mind, I think.

James: I think the creativity component of innovation is a very personal thing. But one of the things is that when you go to a new restaurant you then have to overlay what they’ve done there with your techniques, and or your inputs. You know, the kind of food that you want to cook with, or the techniques that you’ve got. Because that’s another way that you can innovate. And then, even then the end product may be unrecognizable from where you’ve got that creativity from, which was that going out to that other person’s restaurant.

Shaun Quade: Exactly. It’s as simple as just getting a single idea, and it doesn’t have to be fibrillated, it could be anything. So, I think even now it’s really quite hard to be truly original and innovative, because there’s not new species of cows being born or fish being created or anything like that.

We have a finite number of ingredients on the planet, and humans have been around for thousands and thousands of years. So, what makes what you do original? And more often than not, and this happened to me a lot of times, is that you’ll be working on something that you’ve been working on for ages, and you’ll be having a break and you’ll look at Instagram, and someone on the other side of the world has just put up a dish on Instagram that is exactly like the one that you’ve been working on for months and months. And it’s like, “Alright, fuck. That’s just a waste of time.” Because, yeah, you could keep working on that dish and put it up, but it’s like if you want to innovate, you can’t just do something someone else has done.

You can either put your spin on it or your perspective on it, but it’s quite funny that’s happened a lot of times and not just to me but a lot of people I know, as well, that are chefs, they’ve been working on something and they’ve seen that it’s something that someone else has been working on. And it’s exactly the same, but they’re on the other side of the world, or in a different country, or in a different city. So, yeah, it’s quite interesting. I actually tend not to read many food publications or cookbooks or anything, I don’t like being influenced by other people’s style or cuisine or anything. Because even though you purposefully go out of your way not to be influenced, if you read something it’s still going into your head. You still have that rolling around in there somewhere, and it will come out eventually. You might not remember where it’s come from, but it’ll be there. So, that’s why I look outside the industry a lot, as well.

Restaurant idols and influences of Chef Shaun Quade

James: What chefs would you look to as being innovative in the industry? Who is it that you admire their innovation?

Shaun Quade: There’s a few that I am particularly influenced by. I think someone like Dan Barber, who is in the states, he runs a restaurant called Blue Hill Stone Barn in upstate New York. So, they’ve got an amazing setup there. They actually have a full scale working sustainable farm and the restaurant is actually at the farm. And, you know, everyone talks about paddock to plate and how it important it is and all that sort of thing, but I guess, they’re actually really, truly doing it. And, you know, to the extend where they actually have their own strain of wheat that they grow on the farm that they make the bread from. I’m pretty sure it’s called Barber Wheat or something like that, but, I mean, that’s really innovative because they’ve actually taken out all these problems that we have you know the supply chain and carbon footprints and all that sort of thing. And just tackled it head on and actually just had the restaurant at the farm, where they get all the produce from. So, yeah, that’s pretty amazing.

James: Is there anyone else?

Shaun Quade: There’s another chef called Andoni Luis Honduras, his from Mugaritz in Spain. So, he’s been particularly influential for me because he is someone that questions, he just questions everything. You know, whether it’s the food, or the restaurant, or the service style, or how the restaurant looks when you’re walking up the path to the front door. Everything is considered, everything is questioned. It’s like, why do we do this? Why don’t we do it like this? So, just asking why, I mean, that’s been hugely influential in how I run Lume, because we do a lot of different things. Not just in food, not just in kitchen, but restaurant wide where, you know, we’ve questioned the status quo, we’ve questioned, “Why do restaurants do this? Does that work for us?” And if it does work for us, well that’s great, but if it doesn’t work for us then we figure out, “Okay, well what can we do about this problem? What can we do that’s going to work specifically for our restaurant?”

So, Andoni’s been quite influential to me because he serves amazing, very, very pure food. You know, they’re hugely influences by Japanese techniques, and Japanese cuisine which is very pure and has a very, very strong identity. But, at the same time, you know, just relating that back to where they are, they’re in a vast country just outside of San Sebastian. So, it’s taking those ideas and looking outwards, and bring, you know, techniques and ideas inwards. So, and just questioning things, that would be probably my number one point for anyone, you know, asking about how do you innovate and how do you create something. It’s just, it’s asking questions. Because, first of all, knowledge is power but then, if you want to do something truly innovative, you need to question what’s come before you. And when I say question, I don’t mean in a negative light, I mean in a very positive light. It’s like, “Okay, why was that so successful? Why did that work for them? What can we take from that and apply it to our business?” So, I think just asking why is hugely important.

James: I think that that’s one of the fundamental tools as a part of the creativity process, it’s just asking those questions and, like you’re doing, you know, not accepting the status quo as being necessary in any way, shape, or form. Because far too many say, “This is the way we do things.” And if you have that mindset, then you’re not open to, “Well, it could be better,” or, “It could be different.”

Shaun Quade: Yeah, exactly, exactly. It doesn’t have to be the way that it’s always been. I mean, you think of restaurants as they are today, I mean restaurants have only been around for a couple of hundred years really. So, 200 years out of the thousands of years that we’ve been around as humans, you have to question that. You have to question why, for example, did most restaurants in the 60s, and 70s, have a dancefloor? You know, if Lume came to be in the 1970s we’d probably have dancefloor out the back instead of tables. So, it’s just questioning, it’s like, “Why did they do that?” Well, because that’s part of the culture then and part of the era. But would we do that now? No, we wouldn’t because it doesn’t make sense. So, it’s questioning things and then just learning from those questions.

James: Excellent. Well, hopefully there’s lots of ideas there for people to get a better understanding of the restaurant innovation framework, and to be able to come up with some much more creative dishes, experiences that’s going to drive profitability for their restaurant.

Shaun Quade: Fantastic.

James: Excellent. Thanks, Shaun.

Shaun Quade: Thanks, James. Great to talk to you.

James: So, what an epic interview. There’s just so many things that are really innovative and creative. And this is why I’ve wanted to speak to Chef Quade about this for so long, because I think that they have really wrapped innovation at the heart of restaurant Lume. And it permeates everything that they do: the way they build their team, the way they prepare their meals, the actual menu itself, their business processes. All of these things, lots of innovation going in there. And I think this is what’s underpinning their success, which is really exciting.

Now, hopefully you will have got some ideas around restaurant innovation and creativity. Hopefully you’ll have a better idea of what it is. What is innovation? What is creativity? And we’ll probably do a follow up podcast around this, because I think what restaurants really need is a solid framework where they can look at how your restaurant operates, what the strengths and weaknesses are, and then how you can feed that into a restaurant innovation strategy. How do you create an innovation plan for a restaurant? So, that will be an upcoming topic. And I’m doing quite a bit of research at the moment, talking to a lot of people, because I find this area really fascinating. I think 98 % of restaurants are really struggling with the restaurant innovation piece. Whereas, there are some inherent strengths in there that you should be able to leverage. And I think that there is a very strong correlation between restaurant profitability and restaurant innovation. Anecdotally we see this, you know, you see restaurants who are doing the same thing as they were doing five years ago, and they’re really struggling.

Whereas, they were quite popular awhile ago. And we’re not talking about the restaurants who are following the fads and following the trends. We’re talking about a restaurant that’s been open, and everyone’s been, “Wow, this is really good.” But because they innovated at the start and they’ve stopped innovating, they’ve been successful and they’ve just wanted to capture that success and put it in a little jar, and keep on doing that every day. People get tired of it.

They’re looking for that journey across the years with a restaurant. And when you go back to a restaurant and it’s got the same thing, it’s like, “I probably don’t want to go here anymore, because it’s the same thing over, and over, and over again.” And a lot of people get tired of it. So, you know, leave some feedback on Facebook, or hit me up on LinkedIn. Really keen to hear what it is that you got out of this. You know, if you’ve got some innovative dishes, post photos of that, I’m keen to share those. I’m really excited to drive these questions around restaurant innovation and creativity.

Lastly, so check out the Marketing for Restaurants University, this is going live this week. Very excited about that, we’ve got our first course in there:  How to Create your First Facebook ad. This is something a lot of restaurants have been after, we’ve actually had people signing up for it before it’s even open. I’ve just been talking to them on the phone and they’ve said, “Yup, I’m in.” You’ll be able to watch me go through it and what I’m thinking is you would have the video going of me talking about, and you would go through and do it as it is. So, this is going to be your ability to run your first ad, your first targeted ad, the first ad that hopefully you’re going to actually generate some extra revenue from your Facebook marketing budget. And we talk about the whole series of it.

So, we talk about what kind of posts you can put up there, so you can get some ideas of posts. And we actually go through some posts from restaurants that we think are doing a good job on Facebook. We then look at how to create the content. So, how are you going to take a photo? What kind of videos are you going to use? How are you going to prepare them afterwards? So, you know, do you want to put text on them? Then we talk about actually putting the post up, running the ad tour, and finally we talk about budgeting and how to monitor it after that. So, I think this is going to make a fundamental difference in a lot of people’s restaurants, because we see so much response from Facebook marketing. It’s our number one go to when a restaurant’s really struggling, and yeah, I think this is going to be a tool that is going to make a big difference for a lot of people. So, keen to get your feedback on that, as well. So, apart from that, have a really busy day. Bye.

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