Africola’s Nikki Friedli on babysitting 80 people at a time.

Africola’s Nikki Friedli knows exactly what you want from your dining experience the minute you walk in the door.

Head to Africola restaurant for dinner and the first thing you’ll notice – well, after the bold colour scheme, delicious smells and happily chaotic vibe – is the welcoming face of Nikki Friedli.

As restaurant manager, Nikki is an expert at making people feel just the right amount of cared for, from the moment they arrive to when they leave with bellies full and smiles on their faces.

“Within two minutes of someone walking in the door and sitting down, we should have them sussed. The first couple of things they say, like what they like to drink, should give us a larger picture of what they’ll be wanting as diners.”

If there’s a problem, she’s the one who makes it right, all the while keeping an eye on her team and making sure every cog in the well-oiled machine of the award-winning restaurant is turning as it should.

“It’s kind of like babysitting 80 people at a time,” she says with a laugh.

With a frequently changing menu of bold, African-inspired dishes by chef Duncan Welgemoed, and a focus on small-batch wines on the constantly updated wine list, helping diners embrace the full Africola experience is an art form Nikki and her team have perfected. Their approach to service is somewhat bespoke – personalised, polished and very fluid.

“I really like to focus on how things feel at the table,” Nikki says. “If they’re older and want a little bit more attention in a traditional way, then we’ll do it, but on the same night I’m also going to pour Bourbon in someone’s chicken fat and have shots with them at the table.”

This approach earnt her the Service Excellence Award at the 2017 National Good Food Guide Awards, though she is quick to attribute her success to the support of her team. She feels the value is in the visibility it gives to front of house work as a profession – especially for women.

“It shows that it’s a really valid career path, that it’s not just okay to be a waiter, it’s great to be a waiter.”

What does she love about it most? “No two people are the same, no two circumstances are the same. To be honest, no two days are the same, so I’m constantly running to keep pace. It takes two minutes for things to go pear shaped, so you have to be focused. I get bored if I’m not constantly challenged.”

It’s also the impact it can have on people’s lives, like when a group of women came in for a special night and Nikki made sure they had an exceptional time without knowing why the night was important to them.

“They got in contact with us a little while later to thank us. Their best friend had terminal cancer and it was their last dinner together. That’s something you remember for the rest of your life.”

Yet when Nikki started out in hospitality, it was just a way to support herself while studying. She began to take it seriously only four years ago, while working at Golden Boy in Adelaide. Meeting people who were in it for the love rather than just to survive opened her eyes to her own love of it. She decided to fully commit, picked up the job at Africola and has never looked back. In fact, she’s gotten even deeper recently, having become co-owner of Africola.

“It’s like watching dance,” she says of a night of service. “It’s surprisingly structured and very elegant in its own funny, manic, crazy way. Those nights where everything just flows are the reason you keep coming back to hospitality. When everything goes exactly right, it’s so perfect, so satisfying.”

“It’s kind of like babysitting 80 people at a time.”
“It’s kind of like babysitting 80 people at a time.”

What does she love about it most? “No two people are the same, no two circumstances are the same. To be honest, no two days are the same, so I’m constantly running to keep pace. It takes two minutes for things to go pear shaped, so you have to be focused. I get bored if I’m not constantly challenged.”

It’s also the impact it can have on people’s lives, like when a group of women came in for a special night and Nikki made sure they had an exceptional time without knowing why the night was important to them.

“They got in contact with us a little while later to thank us. Their best friend had terminal cancer and it was their last dinner together. That’s something you remember for the rest of your life.”

Yet when Nikki started out in hospitality, it was just a way to support herself while studying. She began to take it seriously only four years ago, while working at Golden Boy in Adelaide. Meeting people who were in it for the love rather than just to survive opened her eyes to her own love of it. She decided to fully commit, picked up the job at Africola and has never looked back. In fact, she’s gotten even deeper recently, having become co-owner of Africola.

“It’s like watching dance,” she says of a night of service. “It’s surprisingly structured and very elegant in its own funny, manic, crazy way. Those nights where everything just flows are the reason you keep coming back to hospitality. When everything goes exactly right, it’s so perfect, so satisfying.”