February 21, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio

Corporate hospitality is on the way back at venues around the country, but staff shortages are pushing up costs and creating major operational challenges says Dwane Goodman, Chief Operating Officer of hospitality business, Gema Group.

Goodman took on the role just before the onset of COVID in 2020 and it’s been a rollercoaster for two years.

But the former head of food and beverage at Sydney Showgrounds, who also shaped the food and beverage offering and oversaw the culinary opening of the luxury Emirates One&Only property in Wolgan Valley in the Blue Mountains, says corporate hospitality at events is steadily increasing.

The company employs 86 full-time staff and up to 5,000 casuals – although that casual workforce vapourised without international students and short-term visa holders.

“Staffing is a struggle,” he said. “We’ve had to find new ways to meet our requirements.”

The company delivers food and beverage services at venues and stadia around the country as well as at major events like the recently summer festival ELEVATE Sydney and the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

He said the company has had to pay bonuses and cover travel time and accommodation in order to secure staff. For one event, the staffing costs were $85,000 higher than pre-COVID.

This is not a sustainable option, he said. “We cannot pass these costs onto the client.”

The biggest event serviced by Gema Group is the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, where the company provides food and beverage for 400,000 people over three days.

Its portfolio of clients includes Supercars, GIO Stadium Canberra, Manuka Oval, also in Canberra, and Tennis Australia.

Goodman says he currently has 85 commercial clients.

Clients are spread across four pillars of the business: aviation, hospitality venues, sport and leisure stadia and major events, with the final pillar representing around 40 percent of the business.

He said the company provided everything from burgers and beer to five-course degustation dinners to 3.1 million customers a year across the group.

These meals are delivered in corporate boxes and suites as well as “catering for the Prime Minister at the cricket in Canberra”.

The range is very diverse and Goodman loves it.

Prior to joining Gema Group, Goodman is credited with transforming the standard of food and beverage at Sydney Showground from ordinary to outstanding in his eight years there.

“Clients are expecting more and more diversity in menus and bespoke catering – and we can deliver those experience,” he said.

His goal is to take the business to the top of corporate catering in Australia.

The business has its headquarters in Silverwater, Sydney and satellite sites in Melbourne and will soon have an office on the Gold Coast.

He said with Australia coming through COVID, confidence is returning, especially in the national market. International companies are still reticent to do large scale entertaining, but local firms particularly in the regions are enjoying the opportunity to host guests again.

He says Gema Group can deliver what people want, where and when they want it. Quality catering and hospitality is in demand, he says.

The company has a big focus on sustainability. Clients expect it more and more, he says.