More than six months after being presented with the Gold Service Scholarship by The Queen, Jennifer Santner has been on quite a journey. Piers Zangana spoke to the Sky Garden restaurant manager to see where the scholarship has taken her.
Six months on from the final at Claridge's, how are you feeling?
It still hasn't quite sunk in. I remember the feeling of shock when I first heard my name called. It was such an honour to be presented my prize by The Queen and beyond my wildest dreams. It was such a fantastic evening and so much has happened for me since then that I haven't had a moment to stop.
So what have you been up to since the final?
Apart from being invited to many dinners and industry awards, I've also been fortunate enough to have worked at a garden party at Buckingham Palace, visited Kuala Lumpur to do a 10-day stage at the Mandarin Oriental and I've just returned from a five-day stint at the Waterside Inn in Bray where I worked with Diego Masciaga.
This whole experience has helped me to understand the hospitality industry on another level and has opened so many doors to me.
In which way?
If you just look at the trustees [trustees include Alastair Storey, Edward Griffiths, Silvano Giraldin, Willy Bauer and Thomas Kochs], they have so much knowledge between them and I've been able to call on them for advice and guidance whenever I've needed it. It's not only amazing to get to know them, but also to access so many years of experience.
What sort of reaction did you have from friends and family when you won?
To be honest, I don't think my parents quite understood the scale of this award until I was on the front page of Blick, a well-known Swiss newspaper. They actually sent a photographer to come and take shots of me at the restaurant; it was surreal!
You entered the year before but didn't make the final; what advice would you give to somebody thinking of entering the competition?
I was very nervous the first time around, but competition really helped me develop my confidence. The Gold Service Scholarship has taught me a lot about myself and proved that if you want something badly enough you can go out and get it. I practised and practised and I think this helped.
How has winning the scholarship helped you in your current role?
I've been incredibly lucky to have a very supportive team. After winning the scholarship, I've been offered so many opportunities within the company and this has really helped me progress. You also meet so many influential people who inspire you to continue to grow and get better.
What advice would you give people looking to enter the hospitality industry, particularly in a front-of-house role?
It really is a fantastic career choice and gives you the opportunity to explore so many different parts of your personality and ability. Whether its people, finance, or practical skills, you will never get bored of the variety.
Given how prestigious it is, I don't think it gets the respect it deserves as it is a little misunderstood. It can be one of the most rewarding careers out there.
What does the future hold?
Right now, I'm enjoying every minute of this experience. There are so many things that I have been offered to do as part of the prize that I am going to enjoy these, learn and hopefully work my way to the very top. I appreciate that I am in a very fortunate position so I just want to make the most of it.
Applications are now open for this year's Gold Service Scholarship; what advice would you give to somebody thinking of entering?
I'd really encourage all front-of-house staff to enter. The competition experience alone will teach you so much. Not only do you meet some amazing people, but you genuinely develop in your role.
If you are fortunate enough like me to actually win, you will have the most amazing experiences. It has only been six months, but I've already enjoyed and experienced so much.
Enter now at www.thegoldservicescholarship.co.ukThe deadline for entries is 7 October.
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