The secrets of service

08 May 2015
The secrets of service

To celebrate the third National Waiters Day on 21 May, co-ordinated by Springboard, The Caterer

How and when did you fall in love with a career front of house?

Sam Harrison, owner, Harrison's and Sam's Brasserie, London - When I was 16 and worked with my godmother, helping with her event catering business. I loved the excitement and buzz of working as a waiter at a wedding or big party. It was always mad and crazy, but somehow everything fell into place and the sense of teamwork and achievement had me hooked.

Alan Dooley, general manager, Pavilion, Kensington, London - When I left school at 16 I started working in a bank and I hated it - it was incredibly boring. I was working in a restaurant in the evenings to make a bit of extra money, and I just fell in love with the industry. The emotions and passion from individuals were something I had never seen before. So I left my job in the bank and went to work in the restaurant fulltime. My parents thought I was crazy. In those days a job in the bank used to mean you had a job for life, but I wasn't interested in that.

Paulo de Tarso, senior maÁ®tre d', Bar Boulud, London - When I was first promoted from a commis to waiter, it was simply the best feeling! I knew that it was my opportunity to shine. I loved that I was in charge of my section. In America, it's almost like being your own boss because of how the tips work. The better you are, the more money you make. Clients would come back time and again and ask to be seated in my section.

Cheryl Edwards, general manager, Busaba Eathai, Shoreditch, London - I started my very first job when I was 15 as a waitress in a hotel. It was hard work and long hours on the weekends, but I fell in love with the hospitality industry. It took me from somebody who was quite shy to somebody who loved to be social and around different people.

What has been your career highlight?

Fred Sirieix, general manager, Galvin at Windows, Mayfair, London - Winning the Catey [2013 Manager of the Year] is definitely up there. Also, launching the Art of Service website was very special.

Sam Harrison Opening my first restaurant in 2005. The sense of achievement when we closed the doors after the first night was an all-time high and the beer after tasted very good.

Thomas Sylvester, restaurant manager, Angelica and Crafthouse, Leeds - Recently winning Best Service for the second year running at the Yorkshire Oliver Awards was a fantastic achievement by all the team involved.

Will Smith, Co-owner, Arbutus and Wild Honey, London Realising my dream of opening my own restaurant, and then a second and a third.

What are two key skills essential to being a great waiter?

Sam Harrison First, multi-tasking. You have to be able to do many different things at the same time and a lot of people can't handle it. Second, an ability to stay calm: everything can be going pear-shaped and looking as if you have lost control, but somehow you have to keep your head above water.

Alan Dooley You need to genuinely care about the guest and have a good awareness of what is going on around you.

Cheryl Edwards One is actually physically being able to do the job, and the other is having the personality to connect with your customer in a way that makes them want to come back just to see you and experience your service. A genuine smile can get you a long way.

What does it take to go from the floor to a managerial position?

Sam Harrison You have to be a good leader so you can lead from the front and the team wants to work for you. You also have to have eyes in the back of your head so you can see everything. Ask a good floor manager what table 32 is doing and they should be able to reply: "They just got their coffees."

Alan Dooley Be humble and respectful to everybody. Be consistent as a person - no mood swings. There are a lot of emotional people in our industry, but your colleagues need to know who they are dealing with on a daily basis.

Paulo de Tarso Learn everything you can about the company you are working for, the philosophy and management style, the history and key players, and understand the client base. Being able to read situations before they develop is key to being successful. We are dealing with a lot of people every day - staff and clients - and that's a lot of personalities and potential for conflict.

What one piece of advice would you give to young waiters?

Sam Harrison Enjoy it and have fun with your role. Treat your section or your tables like your own little restaurant within a bigger restaurant. Take responsibility and ownership for everything that happens within your little world - then you know your guests will have the perfect evening.

Alan Dooley Always look in control, even when you're not. Learn as much as you can. Ask as many questions as you can and don't be embarrassed - no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Don't let mistakes affect you. Show continuity and don't move around too much - it catches up with you in the end.

Cheryl Edwards I've always tried to work by the motto, 'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail'. Always think ahead by exceeding customers' expectations and by leading your team, not just for the shift ahead, but also for their own future careers. Knowledge should be shared or else what is the point of learning?

Thomas Sylvester Eat out as much as possible! See things from the other side of the table and use those experiences to enhance what you do.

Will Smith Don't take anything personally.

Fred Sirieix Have faith and work hard, be true and brave. Success will come. Always.

National Waiters Day

National Waiters Day is designed to celebrate the estimated 600,000 waiting and bar staff in the UK and champion front of house service as a career choice.

It is the brainchild of Fred Sirieix, general manager at Galvin at Windows in Mayfair, London, and is co-ordinated by industry charity Springboard.
Now in its third year, the day - which takes place on 21 May - will feature events nationwide including a National Waiters Day race in Hyde Park, London, and the likes of a Big Hospitality Conversation at Derby County Football Club, organised by Delaware North and Visit Peak District & Derbyshire. Companies such as Prezzo are getting involved by tasking their senior staff with working the floor for one night and donating all tips to the National Waiters Day legacy programme.

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