There's a restaurant for every type of diner, which means there's a workplace for every type of jobseeker. Rosalind Mullen reports
This year gives aspiring restaurant workers an unbeatable opportunity to further their careers or get their foot on the ladder with a blue-chip employer.
The business expected on the back of the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee have given many restaurant chains and independents the confidence to roll out new sites or brands - Zizzi and Wagamama are among those with expansion plans.
The other good news is that the sharpest employers will be looking to invest even more in the training and professional development of their staff. Whitbread, for instance, is creating 10,000 jobs and launching three F&B skills academies. New research from Market Force Europe suggests that service is twice as important as price when it comes to consumers recommending a restaurant. The survey of more than 5,000 UK consumers found that more than a third (35%) of customers rated service as the most important element in a restaurant, with just 18% citing price.
In short, there's no lack of jobs for eager young people and although initially your pay might seem lower than other industries, you'll find you can rise through the ranks faster and further (see Chloe Warner case study). It's also true that you may find yourself working long hours - 40 to 60 hours a week are not unusual - but you'll be working with a team of young, fun-loving people who will become your second family. And you may even get to hone your skills under some of the most inspirational people around.
Your main headache is choosing which sector you want to work in - from fast food to casual dining, from ethnic to Michelin-starred and from independent to national or international chain. While some of you will hunger for the career structure offered by the big players such as Whitbread or the Restaurant Group, others will prefer the individual approach taken by owner-run establishments, such as Galvin Restaurants in London or L'Enclume in Cumbria.
Remember, in order to progress your career, you need to be methodical and focused. Decide on your end goal and work out your route to get there.
The New Kid on the Block
Who? Sophia Brown, 25
What? General manager
Where? Meatliquor, London
First, tell us a bit about Meatliquor
Yianni Papoutsis and Scott Collins opened it last year. It's a classic American style - dark red upholstery, informal, burgers and cocktails, but with an edgy street-art twist. We operate a no-reservations policy so everyone has to queue - even if their friend is already inside. It evolved from Yianni's Meatwagon truck, which he drove around to sell burgers at food events last year. That led into a temporary bar-restaurant, Meateasy, above a pub in London's New Cross and now Meatliquor in Marylebone.
Now tell us about you
I've been working in hospitality since I was 18. I had a gap year after my A levels and worked for the Capital Pub Company, owned by Scott, co-proprietor of Meatliquor. I studied history at university and then did a masters in development studies. I spent six months in India doing charity work, but came back here and got back into hospitality - I'd always loved it.
So you've worked your way up in this growing company?
Yes, I worked in a supervisory role in the pubs. They know me personally and professionally, so I had massive support and picked stuff up along the way. They have seen me work and they know I know what it's about. There is trust on both sides.
What about training?
There is training on the job for myself and the staff. We've got 25 front of house and 25 in the kitchen so it's big. We're licensed for 90 people but there is a high turnover - we get hundreds of diners through. As the manager, I am here a lot so I work long hours.
But it's worth it?
I love a mix of things. It's exciting being involved in a venture that is being well-received. I am not an office person, so it's great that each day is different. I deal with challenges and that gives me satisfaction.
What sort of challenges?
Well, things like the gas cutting out before service or staffing crises. I just have to deal with them and keep calm.
What skills do you look for front of house?
It's demanding physically, but you also need a good personality and the ability to be a good team member. It's important that you do whatever is needed and that you do it well.
Are you in it for the long-haul?
I shall stick with this now, but who knows what I will be doing in 20 years' time. I can't say if they will roll Meatliquor out - but keep your ears and eyes open…
Meatliquor on a plate
â- Seats 90 on a no-booking basis and sees brisk turnover of covers
â- A hip, edgy US-style joint serving a range of burgers and cocktails
â- Burgers hover around £7 spend and include flavours such as chilli cheese and dead hippie
The Pub Restaurant
Who? Chloe Warner, 23
What? General manager
Where? Potters Arms, Harlow, Essex
Which brand? Brewers Fayre, Whitbread
Quite impressive to be in charge of a pub-restaurant at just 23
Yes, this site turns over £21,000 net a week. There are 25 staff altogether - nine are kitchen staff, plus a restaurant and bar team. All the teams report into the deputy manager, who reports in to me.
What ignited your interest in this career?
I started working as a part-time waitress for a Whitbread pub-restaurant when I was in the sixth form. Then I went on to study criminology at university, but carried on working for Whitbread. In my last year at uni, I was made team leader then, when I left, assistant manager. After a year I became deputy manager and one year after that, I was promoted to this post.
So hospitality beats criminology?
I really enjoy the practical side of health and safety and all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, and I find it a very varied industry.
Is working with people a challenge?
Actually, my favourite part is interacting with the guests and I love to train and develop new staff. My deputy has worked with me since being a team leader and my goal is to develop him to general manager within six months.
Tell us about your responsibilities
There's so much I can't think. Last week we served 1,375 covers in the restaurant and we have a busy bar, too. I talk to the guests, promote any offers, spend time one-to-one with the team, promote training and development, health and safety and so on. I manage front of house and go out with the team, make sure they are upselling and so on.
There is also a pub side to the business. Is that difficult to balance?
No. There is a high liquor trade at weekends and we mostly get regulars. Whitbread offers training in beers and serving drinks and there is the option to train for your liquor licence, which I have done.
Why do you think you have come so far so fast?
I was spotted because I never said no; I always wanted responsibility. The good thing is that Whitbread has development programmes in place, such as the Shooting Stars scheme. This trains candidates across five levels from team leader to general manager and from kitchen team member to kitchen management. I did four days fast-track in general management where you learn about management style and so on.
What have you achieved so far?
This site was underperforming on the health and safety audits and I have helped to turn it around through team training and giving them the right skills. I've been in this role for only four-and-a-half months, though, so there's plenty to do.
Are there any particular qualities you look for in staff?
We look for people who can interact with the guests and are bubbly and friendly. They need to have a guest focus and not shy away from talking. In this job you can make someone's day by stopping for a chat.
Brewers Fayre in a nutshell
â- One of Whitbread's brands, which serve more than 11 million customers every month in more than 2,000 outlets (Beefeater, Brewyers Fayre, Table Table, Taybarns, Premier Inn and Costa)
â- The company will create 10,000 jobs over the next three years, mostly through Premier Inn and Costa
â- Whitbread is spending £1m on launching three F&B skills academies across the UK. Comprehensive courses range from food product information, food preparation and cooking through to meal presentation and customer service, with all courses recognised and formally accredited by the British Institute of Innkeeping.
The casual dining chain
Who? Sara Jones, 22
What? Front of house trainer
Where? Zizzi, Manchester Triangle
When did you start working in hospitality and where else you have worked?
When I was 15 I started working at a family friend's restaurant during weekends. I helped in the restaurant and with the outside catering.
Do you have hospitality qualifications or any other types of qualification?
No, I don't have any hospitality qualifications, but I completed my Accounting Finance Honours degree last summer.
Have you trained on the job - and what do you think is best, on the job or college?
I have very much trained on the job and I think that for the hospitality industry it's far better to do that than to go to college. I have definitely learnt more by being practical and hands-on as opposed to being theory based.
What does the company offer in terms of training or development?
I started at Zizzi as a waitress in about November 2009 and they have developed me into the front of house trainer role I now hold. Recently, I was put on a six-week management training programme for a manager-on-duty position, so there is definitely a chance for development. As part of the programme, I was able to participate in wine and food tasting sessions and also benefit from training sessions on how I could become a better trainer.
Describe your job
I work about 30 hours a week. I'm responsible for training any new members of staff and for keeping existing members informed of menu changes and their flow training (e-learning modules) materials. I also keep members of staff updated on their weekly spend per head, empathica responses (online customer opinions) including our weekly scores. On top of this, I am also responsible for running my own section in the restaurant and making sure that my customers are kept happy.
Why do you like your work?
I enjoy the interaction with the customers and the buzz of the restaurant. It's also fun to work with people who, in a sense, become a family away from home.
What don't you like about it?
I actually don't like it when the restaurant is quiet.
Where will your career go?
I want be a general manager one day, but my overall goal is to own my own restaurant in the countryside.
What should someone take into account before following your footsteps?
There's a lot of hard work. You need to be prepared to work outside of your rota'd hours in order to progress and get to where you want to be. But, most of all, you need to have fun.
bird's-eye view of zizzi
â- Owned by the Gondola Group, which also operates Ask, PizzaExpress and Byron
â- A casual-dining Italian chain that serves mainly pizzas
â- Saw nine new openings across the UK last year - Harrogate has just opened and Falmouth, Shrewsbury and Greenwich are all opening in the next few weeks. Romford, two sites in Scotland and a few more are still in discussions. There is also investment in refurbishment to transform the older sites.