Lucinda Smollen is the co-owner, with partner Flavio Carnevale, of MARTA, a popular Roman-style osteria in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney. She describes herself as the ‘engine under the bonnet’ to Flavio’s ‘driver at the wheel’, and handles MARTA’s back office financial management, administration, reservations, events, social media, marketing and corporate relationships. Lucinda had worked in the corporate sector for 25 years before taking on the owner-operator role when she and Flavio opened Popolo (now MARTA) in mid 2012.
What does a ‘good day in the office’ look like to you?
A great night of happy customers enjoying our food, wine and service. But equally important, making sure we’re on top of our bills; having staff who genuinely like each other and look forward to coming to work; being fully booked; seeing our regulars coming back each week over many years.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I believe that dining out is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s a bonus that I can combine this love with an income-producing business. A busy restaurant that is buzzing with laughter, chatter and energy becomes quite addictive. Flavio and I go out to dinner every Monday night to restaurants new and old all over Sydney; the industry is like our extended family. I also dine in our restaurant regularly with friends and my children. This gives me great insight into what the customer is experiencing.
What are the challenges for women working in hospitality? What do you do to overcome them?
I feel the challenges in hospitality are consistent for male and female: long hours, being away from your family/partner/friends most evenings, no flexibility to skip out for an hour or two mid shift. However I have also experienced the benefits. We have two little girls, Luce and Perla. I work days, Flavio works nights. He has the days clear for school drop offs and pick ups, and is present in their lives when it matters most. Then nights are all about mum.
A decision we made when opening Popolo (now MARTA) with a toddler and a newborn was to try to find a home in the same street as the restaurant. We ended up finding our dream home in the same building as the restaurant! Whilst it was important we couldn’t physically ‘see’ the restaurant from our home, so that we can fully switch off when not working, the benefit is we are only ever one minute away from either place, so no wasted travel time is added onto long restaurant hours. Our children have also been exposed to the hospitality lifestyle since birth and they love it. MARTA is an extension of home to them.
What are your tips for aspiring female restaurant managers or chefs?
Immerse yourself in the business you’re working for. Treat it like your own – take pride, show initiative, offer suggestions and have a voice. A career in hospitality can be very different to just hopping from restaurant to restaurant in your 20s and 30s with a ‘clock-in clock-out’ mentality. I know it’s an overused word but it’s the ‘passion’ and relationship building that will set you up to progress your career.
There are incredible opportunities that emerge along the way, sometimes by surprise, from your industry peers, restaurant owners, even your customers, if they can sense your excitement and love for what you do.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self about forging a career in hospitality?
If your goal is to own a restaurant, try to study a business degree first or part-time whilst working if you can. The economics of hospitality are challenging and hard to navigate but so crucial.
Know your strengths. Some people are amazing chefs but they might not be great restaurant owners. Unless you’re balancing the books daily and managing your staff hiring and retention, you may not survive your first year.
Be mindful not to over-capitalise. Ask yourself ‘how many plates of food and glasses of wine over how many years do I need to sell to repay this million dollar fit-out’ before you get caught up in the design-dream.
If you’re not looking to own a restaurant, I think the best start is to work first in the hotel industry. There are many big companies out there providing excellent training. You then have the knowledge to hit the restaurant circuit and progress faster.
Personally speaking, it’s important to be strategic about life goals – for example, when to start a family. The hospitality industry will still be there every day opening new restaurants, hotels, bars, seeking staff, so maintain relationships and connections whilst you go about fulfilling your own life goals. This will make it easier to slot back into the industry when you’re ready to return to the workforce.
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