Matthew Dawson, executive chef at Encore St Kilda Beach, was ecstatic to pick up three gongs at the 2019 Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering Hostplus Awards for Excellence. By Kerryn Ramsey
What was your response when you won three R&C Awards for Excellence this year?
The Encore team were thrilled and there was a fair bit of yahooing! We’re really focused on growing our corporate market and this accolade will help us do that.
Weddings are our key market at Encore so winning Wedding Caterer of the Year showcases our venue and highlights how focused we are at ensuring the best possible experience for the bride, groom and their guests. We have won this award twice in the past three years.
As for winning Caterer of the Year—well, that was a bit of a shock and the icing on the cake.
Do awards validate what you are doing?
Yes, on many levels. It’s a fantastic marketing tool and a great reward for the staff. It really validates the hard work everyone puts in and is a real motivator for staff to continue to strive to be the best. There are many beautiful event venues in and around Melbourne, let alone the rest of the country, and the market is more competitive than ever. We are also competing with wineries and estates outside the CBD. Winning these awards both at the state level and the national level reminds people that St Kilda Beach is an iconic Melbourne location that’s perfect for corporate occasions and weddings—without the travel.
With so many different function event venues, what sets Encore St Kilda Beach apart?
Our longevity works in our favour. We have been operational since 2011 and have an exceptional crew of hospitality professionals who are dedicated to making every event one to remember.
Being able to retain our highly trained professional staff is critical to ensuring consistent service and quality. The majority of our chefs stay with us for three to five years, which is unusual in the industry. With this kind of experience in the kitchen, our guests can expect the food to be executed to the highest level.
A wedding function is a large investment and at the end of the night, I want our clients to think, ‘That was money well spent; I wish I could do it all over again.’
“It really validates the hard work everyone puts in and is a real motivator for staff to continue to strive to be the best.”
Matthew Dawson on the effect receiving awards has on his team.
Does Encore St Kilda Beach get good word of mouth?
Word of mouth is our most valuable form of marketing. We are firm believers that every event showcases our skills to future customers. Within the hospitality industry, there’s a whole range of social media websites where people review everything, but to receive feedback directly from guests saying how much they enjoyed the experience is wonderful. We use this feedback to better our approach on all levels and this is why we have so much repeat business.
What’s the one really outstanding element of Encore St Kilda Beach that clients love?
The venue is well lit and tastefully designed. The neutral interior allows clients to dress up the space or let the design elements speak for themselves. It is also a versatile space that can cater for small functions of 20 to 50 people, or up to 350 sit-down clients. The space can also hold up to 700 people, cocktail-style.
Our location is a huge drawcard. We are literally on St Kilda Beach and overlook Port Phillip Bay through floor-to-ceiling windows. Views stretch all the way from St Kilda Marina to St Kilda pier to Williamstown and the city.
As executive chef, are you always on the lookout for new dishes to add to the repertoire?
Of course! At the same time, most people want a choice between chicken and beef, but fish and lamb are becoming popular. We focus on the four elements we know people are going to choose and work hard at perfecting them. We liaise with suppliers to get the best produce available while aiming to produce top-end restaurant quality food for events. Just because it’s for 350 people doesn’t mean it needs to be boring. There’s much thought that goes into designing a dish that can be produced for high numbers. I’m an avid user of social media for inspiration and follow many international chefs.
Do the seasons affect your business?
While summer is our busiest time, our winter events are becoming very popular. Warm and sophisticated inside with a winter vista outside is a very nice option.
Now that the sun is shining, it’s very busy at Encore as well as our other St Kilda venues, Captain Baxter and Republica. Along with Mr McCracken at Essendon Fields, the summer vibe is fantastic.
To what do you attribute your success?
I think you need to be hands-on. We have four working partners in the business which means four sets of eyes and ears. Hospitality is a tough industry and you need to be on your toes all the time. Competitors are always opening up so there’s no room for complacency. Without a strong team to bring it all to life you just can’t deliver the very best.