If you've got what it takes to be a manager, hospitality is the one industry that seems to fast-track talent. Whether you work in contract catering, hotels, pubs or restaurants, you could find yourself running a department, recruiting staff or even taking responsibility for a six- or seven-digit budget before you hit 30.
The good and the bad news is that the recession is forcing employers to recruit only those staff with exactly the same skills-set as their job descriptions. This means that it might be harder to find a job, but it also means that your employer will be coming up with incentives to retain you when you do get one.
Similarly, while on-the-job training has been an increasing trend in recent years, Emma Kelleher, managing director at recruitment consultant Caterek, says candidates with qualifications now have the edge and are securing the roles. In addition, she adds: "The candidates who have held each previous position for two to three years or more seem to be getting preference."
THE RESTAURANT AND BAR MANAGER
Who? Ben van Stellingwerff, 38
What? General manager
Where? The Old Brewery, Greenwich
Who owns it?The Meantime Brewing Company
You're in charge of a new opening - sounds exciting
It is. This is a totally new project because the building used to house the Old Royal Naval College. The Old Brewery incorporates a microbrewery, a bar and, during the day, there will be a café which will become a restaurant in the evening serving modern British cuisine.
Are you nervous?
Well, we expect the bar and café to be busy from the start, but the restaurant will be a challenge because we will have to grow the business. We've agreed budgets and so it is now a matter of achieving them.
Did you plan your management career?
No - I studied law at university in Australia and had no intention of working in this industry. But I came to the UK on what was supposed to be a short visit in 1997 - started waitering at Circus restaurant in London and loved it.
So how did you get from there to here?
I went to Nobu, Mayfair, as a supervisor, then went on to be a restaurant manager at China House [now the Wolseley] in Piccadilly. I helped to launch Wapping Food as general manager and then stepped away from fine dining to take on the bar manager role at the gastropub Duke of Cambridge in the Angel. Eventually, I moved back to restaurants as the maître d' at fine-dining fish restaurant J Sheekey in the West End. In between I had worked with Meantime Brewery on a project that didn't work out, but they remembered me and asked me to open the Old Brewery.
Looks like you trained on the job
Yes, although obviously I have done health & safety courses, and so on. But I always worked for top-quality places where everything is done to exacting standards, from cleaning and deliveries to service and food.
What makes you management material, though?
I guess I'm a people person. I see a way to do things and I'm able to get people to embrace that. I ensure that people know what their job is and that we are agreed on what they should be doing in order to maintain consistency. It's no good if staff don't work efficiently unless you're there to tell them what to do.
Do you act as a mentor, then?
I am definitely a mentor in this job. It's important to develop people and get them to apply their skills. They need to grow and learn, otherwise they don't stay. It's hard to get staff at footsoldier level to commit to your own standards, so as a manager you need to commit to training them.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
The fact that all the staff have come from different backgrounds is a challenge. Also, you can never be sure of the mood of the customer coming through the door. I remember that one of the most popular dishes at J Sheekey was also the dish that triggered the most violently negative reaction from one particular customer.
Have management trends changed during your career?
Certainly. In the past 15 years so many different types of restaurant have emerged, from funky fusion to old school, so today's managers need to be flexible. Also, nowadays there are so many large restaurant companies, such as D&D London, which have standardised methods to control budgets, train staff and so on.
Describe how you feel about your job
This is really exciting. I wouldn't have left my previous employer [J Sheekey] for any other job but this one. It's nice to join at the beginning and grow with a company - and Meantime Brewing Company plans to open more venues.
THE NITTY GRITTY ON THE OLD BREWERY
- Opened on 23 March
- Consists of a microbrewery, bar and a café that becomes a restaurant at night
- Restaurant menu offers beer-inspired dishes
- Owned by Meantime Brewing Company, which also owns the Greenwich Union pub
THE HOTEL MANAGER
Who? Debbie Allan, 26
What? Acting front-of-house manager
Where?Old Course Hotel, St Andrews
Who owns it? Kohler
Where did it all begin?
I studied for a degree in tourism management for four years and did a placement for six months at Alton Towers, but I realised I needed more hospitality experience so I got a job here in 2005 as a receptionist.
Haven't you thought of moving on?
Well, within a year I had been promoted to senior shift leader, a position that I held for two years, and I keep on being offered more opportunities.
So, presumably your managing director Debbie Taylor saw your potential?
She realised that I was passionate about my job and loved the hotel, so I was given the opportunity to become assistant reception manager. The manager was on maternity leave, so effectively I was left to oversee the department. I was then made front desk manager and, in October last year, I was approached for this role. It has been a whirlwind over the past five years.
Sounds as if they have a good training and development programme?
I went on the management development programme here and graduated from that last year. All managers have an external consultant whom they see once a month for a one-to-one session. The executive team are approachable, too. The consultant I see is helping me to develop a profile for my job and look at career progression. He helped me to move into this role.
Tell us about your duties
I look after the concierge and receptionists, the night team and switchboard - there are 23 people in total. I make sure the department functions smoothly and that the staff maintain service levels. For instance, if there is a return guest or guest arriving for a special event, I would make sure the doorman and receptionist know.
What sort of hours do you work?
I think we all work more than 40 hours a week. I don't work shifts, but it can be 8am to 8pm - the other day I had to stay until 10.45pm.
Describe your management style?
I'm very hands-on. In fact, I'm hardly in the office and am out here checking people in or doing whatever needs to be done. I think the fact that I started as a supervisor and have worked night shifts in the department has earned the respect of team members. You need to like people because you are not just dealing with the staff - you are also meeting guests every day.
What is your main challenge?
As a manager you need to tune into your team. I have a concierge who has worked here for 20 years and a 19-year-old receptionist in her first hospitality job, so everybody's experience and skills are different. It's the manager's job to identify their strengths and build on them and to help them eliminate any weak areas.
Give us some tips to the top
My advice would be to study for a degree as I think most hotel companies will look for that. However, it is also important to get practical experience, which you can do part-time while you are studying.
I see my future here for the time being. In the long term, I would want to move into a general manager role and I also would like to take my career international.
THE NITTY GRITTY ON THE OLD COURSE HOTEL
- The hotel has 144 bedrooms and 35 suites, plus a choice of restaurants and bars
- One of its main attractions is a championship golf course
THE CONTRACT CATERING MANAGER
Who? Simon Houston, 26
What? General manager
Where? State Street Bank, Canary Wharf, London
How did you get your break?
I graduated from Oxford Brookes with a degree in hotel and restaurant management in 2006. During the course I also acted as a chef trainer at the university and worked as an unpaid assistant chef at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saison. Earlier, I had worked at what was then BaxterSmith and they offered me a deputy catering manager position when I finished my course.
Tell us about your job
I oversee two accounts here - the hospitality and fine-dining side and the staff restaurant. My duties include managing 27 staff, including the executive chef and deputy manager, liaising with the client, producing monthly reports, implementing financial procedures, and so on.
How have you got so much responsibility in your twenties?
I get stuck in. I worked hard and made sure my name got around. I was also lucky because I moved into a relief project manager position where I worked with good people, met operations directors and kept my ear to the ground. Then, three years ago, I moved into my first general manager role at the BBC Scotland contract.
Isn't it daunting to manage experienced chefs?
I am comfortable with it because I worked in kitchens. You could say that I trained in hospitality from the back to the front of house. It can be intimidating to manage an executive chef who has lots of experience and is 40 years old, but I am confident that I know what I am talking about. Clients can be difficult because they see me as young - it's a matter of presenting yourself.
What attracted you to contract catering?
There is a good work-life balance. I work Monday to Friday and usually 7.30am to 5pm. What's more, this company has given me good opportunities. I have a clear career path here. I would like to move into an operations manager role in London, but potentially I could go into sales or a director's role.
THE NITTY GRITTY ON BAXTERSTOREY
- One of the largest independent contract caterers in the UK 65. Mainly business and industry orientated
- Strong green principles
- Last year became the first caterer to source only British meat