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  • Writer's pictureIt's All Her

The Dinner Ladies share the secrets to their booming business

The Dinner Ladies went from initially delivering 20 meals a week, to 12,000 in 2017 and are now delivering over 90,000 dinners per week, with more than 100 staff.

We spent 5 minutes with founders, Sophie Gilliatt and Katherine Westwood finding out how they have built the business from the ground up.

the dinner ladies

1. Tell us how you started the business

It was a humble beginning! We met and became great friends when our oldest kids, now 24, started kindy together. A few years later, we were both ready to re-enter the workforce when a friend, knowing our love of food, had the brilliant idea that if we cooked her a couple of dinners, she'd pay us for them! We both went: ting! There's a thought. At the time - this is 2007 - there was very little around outside of takeaway pizzas and BBQ chooks. We bought a couple of camp stoves, set ourselves up in Katherine's backyard shed and away we went!

The Dinner Ladies
The early days: Sophie & Katherine in March 2008

2. What was the biggest hurdle getting the business off the ground?

Finding relevant information to a small business in an emerging industry. We wanted to do the right thing from the beginning, in terms of safety and compliance, even taxes, etc but man!

It was hard to get what we needed. We spent so much time in early days reinventing the wheel, painfully, because we couldn't tap into a source we could trust.

On the plus side, it meant we understood every part of the business ourselves, in an authentic way, because we had to do everything ourselves!

3. What are some of your must haves in terms of products when it comes to running a business?

Technology is a key part of our business now, it connects everything we do and when it works well, it makes us so much more efficient. When we started the business, we didn't even take credit cards - we collected cash and cheques in a bumbag! Katherine only bought her first mobile phone when we started the business! But now, we use Apple technology for everything from stock control, recipe management, warehousing and driver deliveries.

One of the most important aspects of our business is the temperature of our freezers across our site. Now our temperature checks are all automated with sensors linked to iPad - it's saved us from catastrophe so many times!!! In the early days, using an iPhone was so important in helping us to build our brand visually through food photography and social media. As a small business, we used what we had access to and shooting something that actually looked appetising on iPhone was game-changing. This is what we want to explore in our Today at Apple session - how small business owners have the ability to shoot expert content, with the phone they have in their pocket. 4. What’s been the biggest surprise running the business?

Our customers' insatiable appetite for lasagne!!! Jokes, but it is sort of surprising in that people want what's new in terms of technology, speed of delivery, all the stuff we expect in our modern tech world, yet they also want what is real, authentic, even nostalgic. I guess that comes down to connection in both senses.

5. We’re all about making life simpler & better for women. How can we do that as working mums?

So are we!!! It's what we set out to do and what drives us every day. Look, obviously, we'll say: use Dinner Ladies!!! Because outsourcing cooking to someone you trust takes off a huge part of the mental load. It's not just about getting food into bellies - we still all want that moment of sitting down at the end of the day to share our stories and reconnect.

Or to feel peaceful and cared for when you're flying solo. Anything we can outsource to someone who does it as well - or better! - than we would (in an ideal world, given endless time and resources), why would we even question that?


Hear more from Sophie & Katherine at Today at Apple:

In person: Wednesday 16th November 6.00PM at Apple Bondi: Photo Lab: Images You Could Eat with The Dinner Ladies

Virtual Studio: Wednesday 30 November 7.00pm: Virtual Studio: Images You Could Eat with The Dinner Ladies


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