The journey from managing restaurants to consulting on award winning venues

Martin O’Connor, Director of MOCO Restaurant Consultants has consulted on numerous Award winning projects. This is his story on the journey from a humble restaurant manager to consulting on award winning properties and venues. 

I finished my restaurant management career in June 2015 at Penfolds Magill Estate restaurant after a successful two years from its grand re-opening in 2013. I had no real clear idea of what was next; I only knew that I had a lot to offer the hospitality industry beyond being a restaurant manager.

I took some time for myself and during this period and decided to head interstate, break out of my comfort zone and experience what other people were doing in the very top end of Australian dining. While I failed at what I originally set out to do, it planted a seed for what would become my own business.


Upon my arrival back in Adelaide I was lucky enough to be offered a consultancy role at Botanic Gardens restaurant by Steve Blanco, Christopher Horner and head chef Paul Baker.

“I am currently involved in recruitment work for restaurants, as this is the area that I believe is the key to the future of the hospitality industry.”

I worked closely with Paul and the team to re-write the wine list to include more left of centre South Australian wines and also a small but considered international selection. I hired some new front of house staff and implemented service procedures that matched Paul’s approach to delivering an inclusive and polished dining experience. As a team we built this all up over a four-month period and Botanic Gardens restaurant was voted into the Gourmet Traveller Top 100 restaurants for the first time that year and the wine list I developed received two goblets in The Gourmet Traveller Guide.

This experience at Botanic Gardens Restaurant bolstered my confidence and I felt that with the right mentoring I could make my own consultancy business work. Luckily for me Jim Carreker, the owner of The Louise at The Barossa, approached me about consulting at Appellation restaurant. Jim is a very successful businessman and offered to guide me through the process of starting a company. He advised on company names, websites, logos, ABN registration, taxation logistics and all the nuts and bolts of running a business that I hadn’t even really thought about.

I remain in his debt for his time and patience in guiding me on towards the next steps of making a consultancy business a reality.

As my role at Appellation was coming to a close Jesse Kornoff, the new General Manager at Mount Lofty House, approached me. We met and he outlined the vision for the new fine dining room they wanted to develop, Hardy’s Verandah restaurant. I was given a brief but also a wide berth to make this vision a reality. I recruited the best front of house staff in all areas, sourced restaurant equipment and worked closely with interior designers to bring the restaurant to life. Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant is still a very young restaurant and has a long way to go in its development, but to be ranked as the number two South Australian regional restaurant in that years Gourmet Traveller awards is a testament to the talent and hard work put in by all involved.

I spent the next two months after HVR fine tuning all the facets of my business. I attended courses, I networked with recruitment companies and I attended as many trade events as possible to speak directly to those in the industry about what my company could offer their businesses.

“Three tips I’d recommend for those looking to take the leap into restaurant consulting are recruitment, training and public speaking. 

Getting licensed as an employment agent is something that can be done while working as a restaurant manager and dabbled in before taking the plunge. 

Doing a train the trainer course at TAFE would also be adviseable to be able to run training seminars and workshops. Saves a lot of headaches when you’re trying to run a business. 

Public speaking is a big one. Acting classes help a lot with this one. Builds confidence. Running seminars is important, so being able to speak confidently in front of large groups of people is paramount.”

Shortly after this Chester Osborn from d’Arenberg winery invited me up to have a personal tour of his new venue, The d’Arenberg Cube. The tour went on for several hours with Chester explaining in the minutest detail every facet of what would be offered inside The Cube. We finished with a tour of the kitchen and I spoke at length with newly appointed head chef, Brendan Wessels about his vision for the dining room. To say my mind was blown after all of this would be an understatement and I eagerly jumped aboard for what would become a thrilling four-month roller coaster ride. I set about sourcing all the materials for the dining room and recruiting a crack front of house team, headed by Restaurant Manager, Sarah Feehan and Head Sommelier, Josh Picken.

The d’Arenberg Cube will, in my humble opinion, be a restaurant that is set to reach some very dizzy heights.

At present I am currently involved in recruitment work for restaurants as this is the area that I believe is the key to the future of the hospitality industry. All industries face challenges as they evolve and adapt to face new markets and new customers and if I can help to give back to an industry that has given me so much then I will be content.

Martin O’Connor

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