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Brits Abroad – Jamie Unwin

16 December 2011 by
Brits Abroad – Jamie Unwin

Jamie Unwin is the food and beverage director at the Mark hotel in New York, USA, where he enjoys the tip-based culture, but not the long working hours. He speaks to Janet Harmer

Can you give me a broad outline of your current position? I am the food and beverage director at the Mark hotel, which is situated in a landmark 1927 building on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The food and beverage is operated by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a team of about 150 employees. We have a restaurant, private dining room, two bars, lounge, room service and on- and off-site event catering.

As well as taking an active role in managing staff, recruitment, overseeing profit and loss accounts, working within budgets and looking after a 500 bottle wine list, I'm also on the floor during service.

What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place? I love to travel and move around and have lived in London, Paris, Barcelona and the USA.

How did you get your current job as F&B director of the Mark and previous jobs abroad? It was through my association with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, having previously worked as general manager of another of his New York properties, the Mercer Kitchen at the Mercer hotel.

I've secured other jobs overseas through word of mouth. It definitely helps if you work for a group that has properties abroad as it increases the possibilities of transferring internationally within your organisation.

How easy/difficult was it to arrange a working visa for the USA? My first visa was arranged by my employer at the time, Conran Restaurants, who had restaurants in both London and New York so I was able to transfer internally. After I renewed my visa several times over the years, I remained in the USA and exhausted all my visa options. I then applied for a green card - which I now have - granting me dual nationality status.

What are the financial benefits of working abroad? Working abroad can definitely be rewarding financially. Salaries tend to be lower in the USA, but you can earn more through tips.

What do you like about working in the USA? The weather is far better. Service is generally better in the USA as it is tip based, so employees are motivated to work hard. With employees being paid less by the hour, companies can afford to have more waiting staff on the floor.

What do you dislike about working in the USA? Overall, Americans put in a longer working week than the British. Other downsides are the vacation restrictions - the average is two weeks - and not having a National Health Service, resulting in health insurance costs.

What are the key aspects of American hospitality that the British could learn from? Employees generally seem to be more willing to jump in and help each other as in most restaurants the tips are distributed equally among the service staff.

What advice would you give to anyone in the hospitality industry wishing to work abroad? Put in hard work, don't lose sight of the goal, and do your best. Work with a large operation that has sites internationally to increase travel possibilities. Try working abroad on a visa to test it out and, if you enjoy it, you can always reapply.

Where else in the world would you like to work and why? Asia, because there they have hospitality built into their make-up. The locals instinctively look to please and, therefore, require less training.

Q Do you plan to return to work in the UK? Currently I have no plans to return to the UK, Europe possibly, but not during a recession.

Do you liaise with other British expats working in hospitality in New York? I recommend immersing yourself as much as possible in the culture of the country you move to and spend as much time as you can with natives, rather than expats.

CV: jamie unwin
1995-97 Room services head waiter, Four Seasons London
â- 1998-99 MaÁ®tre d', Mezzo restaurant, London
â- 1999-00 Dining room manager, Palladin restaurant, New York
â- 2000-02 Manager, Guastavino's restaurant, New York
â- 2002- 11 General manager, JoJo restaurant & Mercer Kitchen, New York
â- 2011-present Food and beverage director, the Mark hotel, New York

TagsHotels and Careers
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