As a Creative Director, Melissa Gardner has produced engaging print and digital projects for a range of clients over the past 15 years. But it was her unshakable love of food culture that led to the creation of her first solo venture, The Eatery Group. She provides the culinary branding and digital direction for new clientele, whilst her partners, both hospitality experts, bring a consultancy dynamic to the business – from menu planning, operational strategy and advice, through to staffing solutions. Combined, they form a niche agency offering that sets businesses up for success.
What sort of design agencies were you working in before you founded The Eatery Group and what gave you the push to branch out on your own? It was always the goal to have my own agency. I’ve been working in small branding studios for over 15 years and had reached the point where I needed to start doing the work I was really passionate about — the food sector. I love eating out, fine dining, grower’s markets, food events, great interiors, glassware, ceramics… all these elements! I also wanted to help steer the food industry towards recognising its social and environmental responsibilities. Small producer sectors, animal welfare and food wastage initiatives are just some of the things I want to make people more aware of and improve.
You created The Eatery Group in January this year. As a niche agency servicing the food, beverage and hospitality industries, your approach is uniquely holistic. Most companies either focus on offering branding & digital, media and PR, architecture and interior design or restaurant consulting. Your company offers a mix of all these services. What made you decide to broaden your focus?
This is the very core of why I started The Eatery. Having worked in many design agencies focusing solely on brand and digital, I noticed there was often a missing link between the parties involved resulting in mixed messaging and a lack of continuity and consistency, let alone unnecessary costs to the client due to the engagement of multiple agencies on the same project — often each with their own creative agendas. Our business model hinges on the idea that we will thrive together with our clients, servicing them from beginning to end—not only visually—but also operationally, to help guide clients to form a successful team, strong service strategies and cost efficiencies across the menu, suppliers and the business. Our aim is to help clients get their ideas down on paper and to craft their hospitality spaces into something where all the touch points work in harmony. There are many restaurants in Sydney who are doing this really well, but there are also so many who invest all their energies into a single area such as the interior space alone, but don’t follow through with good branding, so their identity loses all of its impact. In addition to having excellent service and a great product, every single detail in a good restaurant should feel special and considered to the point where no single element looks out of place.
What sort of clients are you looking for? How can you help? True to our tagline, ‘Culinary Brands, Exceptional Experiences,’ we want to help shape the food, beverage and hospitality industry in as many ways as we can. We’re excited to be working with small business owners starting their own cafes and restaurants, through to more experienced owners looking to expand upon their offering and strengthen their brand or operations. In addition to cafes and restaurants, we’re also excited to work with food producers, food packaging, food and hospitality events, kitchen utensil/appliance/furnishing companies — we’re open to all aspects of food, hospitality and lifestyle in Sydney and beyond.
Tell us more about The Eatery Group’s hospitality consulting services provided by your partners Sunny Matharu and Kiehyon Yoo?
Good design is form following function. With our consultants, Kiehyon and Sunny, we can offer strategic, operational and financial consulting, enabling us to provide in-depth services unique to our agency. This builds on our holistic strategy of working collaboratively with our clients from beginning to end. Over the years, their experience has seen them working with such notable establishments as Tetsuyas, Toko, Aria, Jimmy Liks, and various Merivale Group restaurants.
These days, with the flooding of social media platforms and design programs, many businesses believe they can save on design and advertising fees by creating their own ‘advertising campaigns’ with self-generated posts, EDM’s etc. What are your thoughts on this and do you think businesses will re-calibrate in the near future to solicit professional advice to consolidate their message and reach to their target audiences more effectively?
We understand why clients try it themselves, particularly the new business owners and start-ups because cash flow can be, understandably, tight. But in this space, you will rarely get a second chance, so the decision not to invest in the right strategy and direction for your brand can sometimes cost you your whole business. The reason why a brand is so important is it’s often the first thing potential new customers see before actually being in the space. This may be through social media or your website, or print marketing. It’s crucial to have a clear brand message and tone of voice so that the end result matches the customers’ expectations once they do come into the space. It’s also important for your brand to continue through after the launch of your space or product through effective social media campaigns, website management and promotions. Yes, it can be expensive, but starting a business and promoting and representing it poorly can be even more expensive when the place folds for lack of interest. You may have a great chef and a great product, but if the dish doesn’t look good on the plate or is served cold due to poor service strategy, or if the décor isn’t welcoming, then you won’t attract that same clientele back. Because we offer a range of services in a range of capacities, we work with our clients to identify their budget and help them make the best use of it in an overall sense.
How are clients finding you and what have you found to be the most effective ways of promoting your business/services?
Never underestimate a good Google ad. We have had some clients come from word of mouth, and some have been existing contacts, but a lot of our new business enquiries have come through Google. We’ve also received a lot of positive feedback on our website. The concept for our hero image on the site (woman and octopus pictured) was to create a dish but to represent it in a unique way. Our ‘high fashion’ dish is a ‘deconstructed black linguine with octopus.’ It was a hugely exciting shoot to work on, and we’re looking forward to the moment when a client asks us to create something similar for them!
Lastly, it’s Friday evening and you’re leaving Paramount by The Office Space with drinks and dinner set in your sights. With Surry Hills on your doorstep, where would you head out to?
That’s like the ‘favourite child’ question! Firedoor is excellent. We can’t fault this place. The food, the dining room, the service – it’s all on point. We also love Tokyo Bird, a little hidden laneway gem that’s like a warm hug. You prolong leaving as long as possible. Try their chicken nuggets! Wherever you go, we always recommend sitting at the bar or overlooking the kitchen when you can. The better establishments will always take advantage of this close proximity to make the dinner feel special, and show off their skills. We’ve made many social friends across the bar counter – our business partner Sunny was one of them. Dining takes on a whole new realm when you become a ‘regular.’ eaterygroup.com.au