How to do hospo: Camille Rope and Sophie Gilmour offer some hard-earned advice

by | Nov 23, 2022 | Opinion

Camille Rope and Sophie Gilmour are well known for their hospitality ventures, most famously the Bird on a Wire chain. Sophie is also the co-owner of Fatima’s Restaurants, and Camille is a chef and consultant and together they’re two-thirds of the advisory firm Delicious Business.

So far, so interesting. Earlier this year, they took the trouble to stop and think about what makes for a successful hospo venture. The result was AUT Co-Starters: the Hospo Edition, a 10-week programme that equips aspiring hospitality entrepreneurs with the insights and tools needed to take the next step in building a sustainable business. Vincent spoke to them about what they’re learned so far.


Or listen to the interview here on our podcast


Congratulations on Co-Starters. What’s the problem that you’re trying to solve with this programme?  

Sophie: In the time we’ve spent working with individual restaurants and cafes, it’s become clear that lots of owners don’t understand necessarily that they’re operating a business. They think there’s the business world and then the hospitality world. When we break down their business model and help them discover how to operate profitably, it’s really rewarding for them and super exciting for us.

So the idea of creating this program was to overlay their excitement about hospitality with specific industry knowledge about business to try and marry the two.

So many people enter the hospitality business because they have a passion for food or drink or entertainment but that doesn’t necessarily make them good at business.

Camille: Absolutely. It’s exciting for us to help people before they’ve actually launched their business, to negate some of the mistakes that we made ourselves. We have really in-depth conversations with individuals about their passion project and have loads of lightbulb moments like, ‘wow, I didn’t think of that, you know, and wow that, you know, that that’s really going to affect my bottom line’ and so on.

Sophie: We used to co-own Bird on a Wire together and that was a case of really making all the mistakes and learning all the lessons. We went through a real journey and ended up educating ourselves by paying a bunch of business consultants. We had a really successful exit in the end but I think we’re quite motivated trying to prevent other people from making those mistakes.



Thanks for making those mistakes for our benefit. Very generous!

Camille laughing: You’re welcome.

The course is supported by some quite high-profile people, Tony Astle and also Lindsay Neil, who’s been a longtime lecturer at AUT. It must be quite fun working with such figures in the industry.

Sophie: I had initially quite funny conversations with Lindsay about him spending time in my mother’s hospitality establishments back in the seventies [laughing]. And she actually co-owned a restaurant with Tony some time ago as well. So for me, it’s really cool to kind of see the shift in the way that things were done back then. Lindsay’s got an academic viewpoint – it’s a kind of more macro perspective on the industry and where it’s going, which I think is really valuable.

What are some of those differences that you’ve identified?

Sophie: The shift is mainly towards the margins being narrower now than ever before. And so because of that you basically have to manage and measure a lot more than you once did. That being said, I think there’s also a lot of benefits in terms technology for managing a kitchen, including costing recipes rather than doing it on the back of a napkin, really breaking it down and making sure everything’s being done accurately and applying specific pricing methods to understand your menu price.

It strikes me that hospitality is going through quite a journey of professionalisation. It’s becoming much more sophisticated, isn’t it?

Camille: That’s very true. And really that is driven by profitability because some businesses, if you walk away with five cents in the dollar, you’re doing really well. So you have to protect that five to 10 cents that you might make with all your life. So it’s had to become professional. I also think there’s a lot more compliance too, like alcohol licensing and food hygiene licensing.

Plus, historically, food businesses also didn’t do any marketing.


Camille and Sophie: do your numbers!


That sounds so much harder.

Camille: Yes but when it all falls into place the end experience for the customer is much better. And when you go to places, I mean only as far as Australia, hospitality staff are typically paid better. And you can tell because those people have chosen that job because they love it. And when you’re being served by them, hospitality is a feeling rather than just the food that’s on the plate. So the ultimate end goal – that everybody is treated fairly, working passionately, and then the customer gets the best result.

Sophie: And that’s why we hope it’s headed.  I’m so pleased that flat whites are not $4:50 anymore because we paid the same price for 20 years in New Zealand.

What’s the morale like out there at the moment in hospo, especially given all the dramas with Covid?

Camille: I think it’s pretty positive because we’ve come through Covid. Maybe a year ago the morale would’ve been pretty low. But if you’ve survived the last two years, I think your morale is pretty positive.

Sophie: I think it’s getting better month on month. So August and September we’re heading back towards pre-Covid levels now as a generalization and that’s actually the levels that people need to be at to operate profitably. The government was subsidising hospitality, which was a real lifeline. But when that stopped the sales didn’t go back immediately to where they needed to be. So that’s why more venues are closing in recent times rather than at the beginning of Covid. But in our observation, the sales are now returning to pre Covid levels

What are the two or three things, the common mistakes, that are made by early entrants into the hospitality scene?

Sophie: Not knowing how much their cost of goods are.

Camille: Yeah, [laughing], that’s number one!

Sophie: The second thing would be labor efficiency. How to effectively maintain a roster that feels comfortable for the people that are working on it, but matches the trade of the business. I think we’ve had to be more and more detailed about that now more than ever.

Camille: And maybe the third thing is how naive people are about how hard they have to work.

Sophie: It’s a hard slog. I was just speaking to someone before this call and I think unless you love it, it’s difficult to find joy on a bad day. But if you do love it, that joy you get on a good day kind of pushes you through. So it’s a little bit addictive in that sense. It’s completely miserable when you’re not making a profit.

Speaking of success – did the course succeed?

Sophie: Yes! We think that absolutely anybody that wants to start a hospitality business would benefit from this course. It’s the kind of advice that we paid $10,000 for. It was like a mini hospitality business boot camp that will pay for itself a hundred times.

Camille: And all the businesses really evolved and some of them pivoted quite a bit during the course. So to us, it was a real success because they were able to really dig deep into what their idea was and work out whether it was an actual business idea or just a bit of a passion.

Will it happen again?

Yes, absolutely. We’ve had a wrap-up call with the other facilitators and we are certainly keen to stay on. I think the ideal class size we’ve discussed is probably 10 or 12 students. so yes, I hope it runs again.


Click here to find out more about the Co-Starters programme.


About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

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