Shaping SA’s restaurant landscape: The impact and influence of the Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards

As the 2023 Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards fast approach, we look back at the tangible impact that the awards have had on last year’s Eat Out Stars and Special Award winners and how these restaurants have gone on to influence SA’s dining scene by setting new standards of culinary excellence.

Held after a break of two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards held special significance for South Africa’s embattled restaurant industry and was a celebration of excellence and resilience against all odds.

Click here to see the full list of winners from 2022.

The change from a top 20 ranking system to a star-rating system was also widely applauded by the industry for recognising a wider selection of restaurants. The special awards shine a spotlight on the outstanding achievements of individual restaurants and chefs who are pushing the boundaries of innovation and creativity, and setting new standards of culinary supremacy. The revealing of the awards judging panel for the first time last year was another significant step towards greater transparency that was also welcomed by the restaurant industry.

With Eat Out now in its 25th year of operations, the annual awards play a crucial role in illuminating the country’s culinary prowess, encouraging healthy competition, uplifting and empowering the restaurant industry, and giving restaurateurs and chefs a platform to ideate, innovate and inspire each other. The awards also aim to create meaningful impact on the restaurant industry through the distinguished winners who raise the bar for talent, skills, quality, and originality, becoming inspirational industry icons who redefine the dining out experience and set the stage for South Africa to shine on the global culinary map.

In the words of Jess van Dyk, owner and chef of Post & Pepper in Stellenbosch and Eat Out one-star restaurant, “Eat Out has become such a big movement in our industry. It is the most sought-after accolade and recognition for anyone serious about good food and dining. It is a household name that instantly puts massive acclaim to an establishment affiliated with it.”

Impact of the Eat Out Stars and Special Awards

According to last year’s winners, the Eat Out Stars and Special Awards have been a welcome reward for their hard work, drive and passion, and recognition of them pushing the boundaries to make a difference. The awards have shone a spotlight on their credibility, brand promise, values and ethics, accountability and consistency, while boosting their team’s morale and providing validation that their restaurants are on the right path.

Johannes Richter, owner and head chef at The LivingRoom at Summerhill Guest Estate, 2022 Eat Out three-star restaurant and winner of Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant of the Year, avers, “The award has been a complete game-changer for us. Apart from the industry recognition, the award has been incredibly inspiring and given us the motivation to up our game even further, in the hopes of living up to the expectations of the people who come and visit us.”

Johannes believes that the awards also offer a more holistic idea of where the industry is going, while being well aligned with international systems. “The awards also help customers who don’t have the vast experience or big budgets to eat everywhere find an experience that works for them, while giving them a rating to compare their experiences against,” he adds.

The Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards have also resulted in more approachability, increased publicity and brand awareness for the winning restaurants, with a growing number of tourists as well as locals from across South Africa eager to dine at these establishments.

“Best destination award has been really big for us,” remarks Wesley Randles, owner and chef of Nevermind in Cape St Francis, winner of the Eat Out Stella Artois Best Destination Restaurant Award. “We are in the middle of nowhere and people have to make the voyage to us. It’s increased word of mouth that we are doing the right things.”


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Tangible changes

A year after winning the Eat Out award, what are some of the distinguishable changes that these restaurants have instituted?

At Nevermind, the staff count has increased from 20 to 50 employees, almost all whom are locals and have been upskilled. Wesley has also opened a new clubhouse bar next door called Pig & Rooster.

Darren Badenhorst, co-owner of Dusk, winner of the Eat Out Retail Capital Best New Restaurant Award, says, “We have more staff, did renovations, expanded the kitchen to allow more interaction within our experiences, constantly tweak décor and we regularly revamp the menu. Moreover, as a result of winning the award, we were able to open a new space linked to Dusk called Nocturne, a fully immersion mixology eatery.”

Similarly, Alex Windebank, owner and chef of Farro, Eat Out one-star restaurant, recently opened Lina by Farro, a Neapolitan pizza restaurant in Hermanus.

The LivingRoom – which has added eight additional staff members to its team since winning the award – has also increased service training to four hours a week. The wine list has grown and a non-alcoholic drinks pairing menu has also been added. Moreover, the restaurant has expanded to include a lounge area, wherein its preserves, its clay crockery range and other local products are displayed.

For Victor Okolo, sommelier at Salsify at The Roundhouse and winner of the Eat Out WCellar Wine Service Award, the accolade has provided a substantial boost to his career. “Since receiving the award I have gone on to achieve two internationally recognised qualifications from WSET and Court of Master Sommeliers. The award has also given me more confidence in interacting with guests. Salsify (Eat Out three-star restaurant) has also invested a lot of time in wine training since winning the award, ensuring the team have enough product knowledge. I conduct a weekly refresher wine training for the front-of-house team and we also take the team on educational trips to wineries and wine farms.”

Elevating the dining experience

Eat Out award-winning restaurants have reported a marked change in diners’ expectations after bagging the prestigious accolade. Patrons now do more research before visiting the restaurant and are more open to experimentation, given the additional trust associated with an Eat Out awarded restaurant. They are also looking for a more interactive dining experience, with expectations of a higher standard of food quality, service and ambience.

So how do these restaurants respond in terms of not just meeting, but rather surpassing expectations of sensory delight?

“A restaurant is a constant work in progress. With diners’ expectations being higher since winning the award, we try to improve on our offering every day to ensure that we deliver consistently. The award certainly motivates us to innovate and create but to also stay honest and grounded,” remarks Richard Carstens, owner and chef of Arkeste by Richard Carstens, Eat Out two-star restaurant.

Adds Wandile Mabaso, owner and chef of Les Créatifs in Sandton – Eat Out one-star restaurant, “Winning the award and the ensuing media coverage has brought in a diverse range of diners to Les Créatifs. These patrons expect a certain standard of quality, which we strive to uphold. We continue to perfect our technique and are blessed to be a very innovative, artistic and creative young team that is passionate about what we do.”

2022’s Woolworths Financial Services Chef of the Year, John Norris-Rogers of PIER, shares a similar sentiment. “As a chef, my goal for the future is to maintain the restaurant at the highest level possible and continue to offer a refined and unforgettable experience.”

On winning the award, he says, “One thing that stands out is the pride I feel. It took a while to sink in and being able to share that joy with the team was a huge highlight.”

The changemakers

Apart from being regarded as icons of culinary excellence, the award-winning restaurants can empower more entrepreneurs to dream big, open their own establishments, experiment, be innovative, take risks and above all, to push the boundaries of creativity.

“Post & Pepper received a star within its first nine months of operations – which is amazing for us. I always look to others for inspiration or guidance – and if I could be that to someone, a beacon of hope or inspiration, it would be a privilege,” says Jess of Post & Pepper.

According to Darren of Dusk, “We have always strived to be transparent in our morals and ethics, and the award has highlighted this. It has also enabled us to help grow the exposure for matters that need attention in the industry, like sustainability – not only of produce, but of staff wellbeing – which is of the utmost importance. This award was the first step for an international audience to see what we as a brand and as a country stand for in pushing the boundaries of the culinary landscape.”


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Training SA’s future chefs is another way award-winning restaurants can give back to the industry and society.

“Winning the star has meant that we are now able to work with a local catering college (Warwick’s Chef School in Hermanus) to help mould the future chefs coming into the industry by providing them with industry placement. This is a new relationship which will hopefully grow into more mentoring as well,” Alex of Farro explains.

For Nicolas Charalambous, owner and chef at Cape Town’s Ouzeri, Eat Out one-star restaurant, the award has motivated him and his team to keep innovating and delighting customers with exceptional food and service. “The award has also encouraged me to carry on pushing the boundaries of Cypriot Greek food in South Africa as well as looking for opportunities abroad,” he says.


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Award-winning restaurants also have the ability to shape the future of South Africa’s dining scene by creating awareness and educating diners about sustainable, locally harvested produce and indigenous ingredients, while simultaneously promoting South African hospitality on a global stage.

Johannes of The LivingRoom avers, “The awards have given the industry a nudge to draw inspiration from our cultural diversity and explore local ingredients. With sustainability being the cornerstone of our operations, we continue to champion the hyper-local concept by only using seasonal and local produce.”

Echoing his sentiments, Wandile of Les Créatifs says, “I have always worked hard to champion South African gastronomy and our indigenous ingredients, as this not only promotes sustainability and boosts our economy, but it is also what makes us unique as a nation. Through our ‘Afrique Moderne’ cuisine, we have been elevating South African food, ingredients and culture locally, as well as internationally at events such as the World Economic Forum 2023 in Davos and recently when we cooked for global leaders at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg.”


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A post shared by Wandile Mabaso (@chef_wandilemabaso)

As we reflect on the transformative journey of South Africa’s culinary landscape through the lens of the Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards, it becomes evident that the impact of these accolades extends far beyond the kitchen. The winners, now culinary beacons, not only push the boundaries but also inspire, mentor, and shape the future of the industry, making each award season an ode to excellence, innovation, and the vibrant diversity of South African cuisine.

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