Iain Donald – My Life in Hospitality

30 July 2010 by
Iain Donald – My Life in Hospitality

Iain Donald is the commercial director of the Individual Restaurant Company.

Many people fall into the catering industry because they learnt to cook at their mother's or grandmother's apron strings. Iain Donald claims he joined the hospitality industry because his father was - how shall we put this - financially prudent.

"He was a typical Scottish farmer and didn't pay well, so I joined a local hotel to help out in the kitchen."

After leaving Aberdeen College of Education, Donald gained a position at Gleneagles hotel in Auchterarder, where he worked for an impressive eight years. This was followed by three years at the Dorchester, London, under Anton Mosimann - a period that Donald describes as his "finishing school", where he learnt the importance of taste, preparation and presentation - before spending some time overseas in Switzerland, South Africa and Jamaica.

While working as executive chef for Scandinavian Service Partner (SSP) at Manchester Airport, Donald saw the opportunity to move into operations management. After five years as operations manager at the airport he moved to newly formed restaurant group Est Est Est in 2000.

"I was asked by Est Est Est founders Derek and Edwina Lilley to join them as operations director, and over a seven-year period we grew the buisness to 25 restaurants before selling it to the Restaurant Group.

"This was an exciting period in my career, and they both gave me the freedom to cut my teeth in a sector that I have continued to have great pleasure being involved in."

As commercial director of the Individual Restaurant Company (IRC), Donald has created and rolled out two restaurant formats: an Italian restaurant and bar that trades as Piccolino, and a bar and grill trading under the names Restaurant Bar & Grill, Zinc Bar & Grill and Bank.

Uniquely placed to understand both front- and back-of-house workings intimately, Donald has become a leader of one of the most consistently well operated businesses in the UK. The Manchester-based IRC now has 34 restaurants across the UK.

The secret of his success, he says, is to take time to listen to everyone in the team, from the bottom to the top. However, he is also always keen to get advice and input from others in the industry. He says that he has also discovered, through his long and varied career, that "shouting doesn't always work!"


"The award, however, is for so many people besides myself: the people who have achieved so much with me along the way. It's also for my family, who have had to sacrifice a lot over the years."

LOWS… - Donald's early cheffing days in South Africa left a mark on him. Although he loved South Africa, he describes leaving it during one of its darkest periods as difficult. "I was in South Africa during the darkest days of apartheid and so it was not the place to put roots down. It's frustrating going back now and seeing how it has developed as a country with some wonderful food and beverage operations. It's a shame the country took so long to prosper."

Age 52
Family My lovely French wife and our two great sons
Holiday I'm waiting to find out my ideal destination in my gap year! But for now it's Vietnam, for its culture, people and food
Drives Jaguar
Motto If it was easy, someone else would be doing it

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