The Specials is an ongoing series of interviews with the unsung heroes of hospitality — from managers, waiters and sommeliers to dishwashers, farmers and foragers.
Giulia Battistini is the manager at Trattoria da Lucio, a seafood restaurant in the Italian city of Rimini. She previously worked at restaurants in Sydney, including A Tavola, Flour Eggs Water, and BLACK Bar & Grill.
I grew up in a beautiful village in Emilia-Romagna. Its economy is based on tourism, so if you grew up there, even if you didn't work in hospitality, you breathed it.
I studied tourism communication and event planning. In October 2014, I decided to go to Australia. The plan was to go for nine months. I was there for five years.
My first job in Sydney was in an Italian restaurant. When you go to the opposite side of the world, you don't want to start from zero. You want to feel comfortable.
The most interesting thing about Australia is there isn’t Australian cuisine. That was why I stayed for so long. It was a never-ending discovery of new cuisines.
Before I left Sydney, I wanted to get experience at a fine-dining restaurant. I went to the Black Bar and Grill, which is famous for its dry-aged beef. I joined as a supervisor and there were 25 people in the front of house. I was used to creating a roster for just eight.
The idea of fine dining isn't the same in Italy as in Australia. At Trattoria du Lucio, our style of service is easygoing and informal and we wear blue jeans and white shirts. In Australia, to be a fine-dining restaurant, I would need to change into a black jacket and trousers and wear heels. That makes no difference in Italy. Guests see us in jeans but when they start eating, they say, “You should have a Michelin star”. The difference is made by the food, the ingredients, the story behind the dish.
Our role in the front of house is to teach customers something. At Trattoria da Lucio we do dry-aged fish. Italians don’t really understand it. As a kind of cuisine, it’s totally different from what everyone’s used to, so it’s a challenge. But guests are here to have an experience and need to leave the restaurant with something new. They need to tell other people not just how the food is but why we cook it that way.
Diners are different in Italy, too. In other countries, people order expensive steak but don't care why it’s expensive. Italians are usually ready to try something if it's more expensive but they want to know why it is — and that's a big difference.
I’m fighting hard for the role of women in hospitality. I don't want to leave the industry until the same respect is given to female maître d’s as to male maître d’s. Sometimes people say to me, “You know, you’re really good for a female maître d”. That makes me angry but it’s one more reason to stay in the industry — to help customers understand that when they go to a restaurant, they need to look at everyone in the same light and respect me as much as any male maître d or waiter.
I’ve even been asked if I’m the chef's wife. If you work on the floor and there’s a male chef in the kitchen, the assumption is that you must be his wife or fiancée or in a relationship. I always say, “No, I started as a waitress and got this role because I worked as hard as any guy who started as a waiter and ended up as maître d’.”
When you work at a hotel, you only have short conversations with guests. When you work in the front of house, you have a constant relationship with customers. From the moment they enter the restaurant to the moment they leave, I know what's going on — and if something goes wrong, I can immediately do something to fix it.
Front of house isn’t just about bringing plates to the table. It's about much more than that — and that’s why we do the job. We discover something new every day, even from guests. That's the beauty of having conversations with them. It means talking about amazing ingredients, offering advice about what to see and do, and sometimes even having a glass of wine with guests at the end of the night.
Customer happiness is our goal. A guest said to me, “When I came before, there was a pasta dish with dry-aged fish but it’s not on the menu.” So I asked the kitchen if they could do something and when they made the dish, the customer started crying because we’d done it just for him. Small things can have a huge impact on guests.
As told to Superb. The interview has been edited for clarity and concision.