By Tessa Purdon, Head of Content: Food24 and Eat Out

Restaurants awards are ultimately about the empowerment and upliftment of an entire industry, says Eat Out’s Tessa Purdon. While they may seem frivolous in a world undergoing enormous challenges, they provide an important platform for chefs, their teams and restaurants to highlight and share their skills, talents and innovative ideas.

IN A WORLD CHALLENGED by the very act of living – by socio-economic fallout post-pandemic, climate change, political volatility and wars – restaurant awards can seem to be somewhat irrelevant. But human beings are not only resilient, we tend to rise to occasions, and awards can be both motivational and inspirational to those ‘silent heroes’ in the field.

In 2020, Eat Out made the difficult decision to pause restaurant reviews and postpone the annual Eat Out Restaurant Awards, which were due to take place in November 2020. Just a few days into the COVID-19 lockdown, it was clear that eating out would not be the same for a long time and it would not be fair to judge restaurants while they were going through their toughest period in living history.

The tourism and hospitality sectors were dramatically affected by the lockdown restrictions, with many industry giants closing their doors for good. The pandemic also changed eating out – both the public’s dining habits and what they want and expect from a restaurant. They’re seeking value for money and a memorable experience in a space where they feel safe to relax.

Tessa Purdon of the Eat Out Restaurant Awards

Tessa Purdon of the Eat Out Restaurant Awards

Supporting local suppliers also became more important and local guests are what helped the South African restaurant industry survive – especially in many tourism-driven towns and cities.

According to its Chief Judge, Abigail Donnelly, the 2022 Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards aim to acknowledge and celebrate this resilience, while also applauding excellence in the form of the Eat Out Stars and Special Award winners.

Already running for 24 years, the Awards have constantly adapted to be in line with industry changes. So in the planning phases of 2021, Eat Out undertook extensive research with both chefs and patrons and, as a result, this year’s Awards come with a new and revamped approach – including, for the first time, disclosure of the judges’ identities.

Eat Out’s move from a top 20 ranking system to a star-rating system means that the Awards now shine a brighter light on a wider selection of the excellent fine-dining and casual eateries that South Africa has to offer.

And the response from the industry? While there have been some questions on the specifics of the new system – on the whole, the restaurant industry has responded overwhelmingly positively to a rating that has all restaurants in South Africa scored in the same way. They’re thankful too that the Awards have acknowledged and recognised what the industry has endured and rebounded from.

So, are the Awards still appropriate post-pandemic? Absolutely! Restaurant awards recognise and celebrate excellence. They provide a platform for chefs, their teams and restaurants to highlight and share their skills, talents and innovative ideas.

They also serve as a good barometer of what’s currently happening in a particular field, with healthy competition stimulating growth and progress. They also create the opportunity to showcase the industry as a whole – shining a light on restaurants and chefs, and in turn attracting tourists to South Africa.

So, while they may be regarded by some as frivolous, awards such as these are multi-faceted. At Eat Out there is a rigorous judging process, no nominations possible, no paid-for entries, no free meals and an audited verification process. And its ultimate goal? The empowerment and upliftment of an entire industry.