Julie-anne Sprague takes a look at the fine-dining experience and wonders whether we really appreciate the best of the best.

MOST people in the restaurant industry will tell you there are four or five classy restaurants in Perth. And when they say classy, they mean exceptional food and service in a nicely furnished restaurant.

Owners of these up-market establishments say that, if they were located in Melbourne or Sydney, they’d be full every night. But Perth is not Melbourne or Sydney and, while the restaurateurs of four of Perth’s most respected restaurants profess their love for this town, they admit the outdoors lifestyle we all enjoy stifles their business.

David Coomber of Star Anise says the increasing costs of running a restaurant, combined with Perth’s dollar-conscious market, makes it tough to run his restaurant.

“The GST has been tough. We should be charging a lot more, but then we would have to charge more than $30 for a main, and people just won’t accept that,” he says.

“There is a lack of understanding about the cost of food, and it’s the same with wine. People can look at my wine list and say ‘hey I can buy that for $10 not $20’. But they’re sitting in someone’s room, at someone’s table, drinking from someone’s glasses.”

Altos’ owner Steve Scaffidi agrees that Perth consumers are reluctant to pay more than $30 for a meal.

“It’s hard for places like Altos, Star Anise and Jackons. For the quality of service and food it should be worth much much more,” Mr Scaffidi says.

“Because of Perth’s lifestyle we can’t sustain the constant volume like Melbourne and Sydney. If we could then we’d be able to do stuff made to order comfortably.

“They (Perth people) do a lot of entertaining at home, but in places like Melbourne and Sydney they don’t like to stay at home. The reason we have survived and sustained the volume during the week is that we get a lot of eastern states business travellers come in here. Our reputation in Sydney and Melbourne is phenomenal.”

Mr Scaffidi says he is starting to see an increase in the number of international business visitors.

“We had three sets of people come in from New York because of a write up in the New York Times. A guy from Perth was with one of them and he’d never been here before,” he says.

Bruce Chapman says Perth can’t sustain more than four restaurants like his Star Bistro.

“I love Perth as a city but from a professional point of view its quite hard because there is such a smaller market,” he says.

“To dine out, people feel it has to be for a special occasion.”

Mr Chapman says Perth’s price-sensitive market misses out on the quality of establishments such as his.

“You can come here and have a pasta dish for $17 or $18 … it’s freshly made pasta and sauce. Or you can go and get a pasta for $11 or $12 that’s come straight out of a packet and sauce straight out of a tin. The guy selling that pasta is making much more money,” he says.

So why do these restaurateurs work, on average, 80 hours a week without high returns? The answer’s simple … passion.

“I do it because I love it. I love cooking good food. No-one’s expecting to make a million dollars, you’re just trying to make a comfortable living,” Mr Chapman says.

Mr Scaffidi says while love of the job is his main motivation, he cautions that, just because his place may be busy one night, it doesn’t mean he’s sitting on a gold mine.

“There’s a misconception in the marketplace that you are making money. A full restaurant doesn’t mean you are making money, it’s an urban myth,” he says.

“Not many great food restaurants make squillions. They make a reasonable return and provide a reasonable lifestyle.”

Neal Jackson of Jackson’s says there should be more places like his restaurant in Perth to help educate consumers about what quality food and service are.

“At the moment people are not prepared to pay for quality,” he says.

“I don’t think there are enough restaurants at this level. There needs to be a culling out of the middle market and people will get to try dining at places like mine. Places like Altos offer better value for money with respect to quality.”

Add your comment

BNIQ sponsored byECU School of Business and Law


6th-Australian Institute of Management WA20,000
7th-Murdoch University16,584
8th-South Regional TAFE10,549
9th-Central Regional TAFE10,000
10th-The University of Notre Dame Australia6,708
48 tertiary education & training providers ranked by total number of students in WA

Number of Employees

BNiQ Disclaimer