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10 questions with Fleur Caulton, co-founder of Go To Collection

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Fleur Caulton is an accomplished and successful restaurateur, with over 25 years experience in the hospitality industry. As co-founder of Go To Collection, Fleur has opened Rata in Queenstown, Madam Woo restaurants in Queenstown, Takapuna, Dunedin, Hamilton, and Christchurch and Hawker & Roll in Auckland, Queenstown, Tauranga and Christchurch. Fleur has the ability to take an idea and turn it into reality—creating genuine hospitality experiences where people want to dine time and time again.

Q1:  How did you get your start in hospitality?

It was just a progression of what I started doing at 15: I was having fun, and I loved the people and the great satisfaction hospitality brings to so many. And, of course I am incredibly passionate about food. I opened my first restaurant, Solera Vino, in Queenstown at the age of 21.

I knew nothing! But I learned everything I know from my own experience, and I’m really glad that I took the approach I did, in retrospect, as it’s given me grit and tenacity that’s absolutely required in the industry to succeed.

Q2:  What strategies do you use at Rata, Madam Woo and Hawker & Roll that are and have been major contributors to their success?

The biggest strategy really comes down to working with great people. Watching our teams challenge themselves, with a keen sense to grow and learn. Being able to facilitate that progression and seeing the results is such a great reward.  And of course our customers: nothing better than a happy, happy customer leaving after a great experience – it’s so immediate and rewarding.

Q3:  How does Rata, Madam Woo and Hawker & Roll set itself apart from its competition?

Being adventurous in our approach to hospitality and not being satisfied with the status quo. Go To Collection – the name of our broader business – is always evolving and reinventing our vision of what it means to be a hospitality operator in New Zealand.

Q4:  What are some of the major challenges Rata, Madam Woo and Hawker & Roll are currently experiencing and how have you been dealing with them?

When you are growing a business such as ours, the challenges present themselves everyday, I haven’t worked on this scale before so I am learning as we go – it’s challenging to know if you are doing the right thing and taking the right direction. A big challenge that we are facing – almost universally – is staff: it’s getting harder and harder to find and retain the staff we need, especially in the regions that are heavily dependent on migrant workers.

Q5:  What is the best piece of advice you have received to date in your career in hospitality?

I’ve got a few inspiring quotes up in my office but one that I really love to read over and over again is ‘innovation is playful’ – with the industry we’re in, we’re always trying to push the envelope and be creative in our approach to serving good food, but it’s important that we remember that playfulness is at the heart of hospitality, and if it’s not fun for us, it won’t be for our customers.

A big challenge that we are facing almost universally is staff: it’s getting harder and harder to find and retain the staff we need, especially in the regions that are heavily dependent on migrant workers.”

Q6:  What do you think makes New Zealand hospitality unique?

The New Zealand hospitality industry has changed immensely since I started out. I remember dining out as a young child and it was pretty basic. Whereas now, just the sheer vastness of ingredients available in our local supermarkets is mind blowing, let alone the variety of cuisines and the creativeness of talented industry professionals. We’re really lucky to have so many great dining experiences available to us in New Zealand now.

Q7:  What do you love about hospitality?

The industry is going through a massive period of growth right now: dining is going to be an even bigger part of daily life – even more so than it already is. No doubt people will demand more quality, freshness and variety along with convenience. This means there’s a huge opportunity for hospitality professionals to adapt to meet people’s needs. We’re well-positioned with our three brands: Rata is more squarely in that fine dining space, whereas Madam Woo and Hawker & Roll really compliment each other, which is something pretty special.

Q8: How can we attract young people to the industry?

It’s really important that we show the next generation that hospitality can be a career, not just a stepping stone along the way. At Go To Collection, we work with our staff to make sure they’re on a trajectory for career progression and constantly adding skills to their repertoire. We have lots of staff who have been with us since the word go, and it’s been really amazing and rewarding to watch them grow as professionals. As an employer, we need to do everything we can to focus on our employees at the forefront of our businesses since they are the heart and soul of our operation.

Q9: What is your best piece of advice for someone wanting to get started in a career in hospitality?

Get stuck in, you can only try, and remember to be a wicked problem solver.

Q10: What do you do to de-stress and unwind?

I’m lucky enough to live in Queenstown, which means my family and I are steps away from the best our country has to offer. In the summer, you’ll catch us water-skiing, hiking or mountain biking with our family. In the winter, we’re
up the mountain skiing, snowmobiling, and always out amongst nature.

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