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Restaurant Manager of the Year 2015

30 December 2015 by
Restaurant Manager of the Year 2015

The Academy of Food & Wine Service competition to find the 2015 Restaurant Manager of the Year ended in a nerve-wracking, Dragons' Den-style battle between six contestants. Rosalind Mullen went along to London's Royal Garden hotel to watch the action

What the finals judges were looking for

Peter Avis, restaurant manager, Babylon at the Roof Gardens

"They need to have a 360-degree understanding of the business, but they also need the qualities to be an ambassador for the industry. I am looking for someone who takes the role of restaurant manager as a serious career choice."

Michael Gottlieb, restaurateur

"I looked at the business plan, but that was a bit dry. I waited until I met them. Some had a good business plan, but didn't present well. I looked for personality and then married that with the business plan."

Joycelyn Neve, managing director, Seafood Pub Company

"I am looking for someone who knows their concept inside and out, who is passionate and whose numbers add up. At the end of the day, we have to make money."

Michele Caggianese, partner, the Art of Service and Restaurant Manger of the Year 2011

"It comes down to personality and how they convey their ideas to the audience. They need to be a great ambassador."

Alper Zan, associate area manager, Café Rouge and Restaurant Manager of the Year 2014

"It's a life-changing opportunity. I was looking for a leader with outstanding personality, who was also mastering the latest knowledge and expertise, and trying to make a difference in their environment for their guest service, team and industry. It is their passion for developing people and their mission to give their every guest a memorable time that I'm looking for."

The finalists

  • Jack Cohn, general manager, Kensington Place, London (second place)
  • William Gomis, Quaglino's, London
  • Christopher Kidd, Lucknam Park, Colerne, Wiltshire
  • Giuseppe Longobardi, the Cross at Kenilworth, Warwickshire (third place)
  • Roberto Marziota, Fourteen Restaurant, London (Restaurant Associates)
  • Ian Sturrock, the Arts Club, London (the winner)

Ian Sturrock

A corner of the Royal Garden hotel in London is sizzling with nervous energy. It is the day of the finals of the Academy of Food & Wine Service (AFWS) Restaurant Manager of the Year competition and the tension is palpable. By the time Ian Sturrock from the Arts Club, London, is announced as the champion, however, the six contestants have become respectful friends rather than the foes you might expect.

Demonstrating what is so magical about hospitality, they helped each other through the tough day by sharing moral support outside the judging rooms.

Roberto Marziota

"Most of us only met this morning, but it's been great," said one contestant. Another added: "It's been a really good experience getting to know the guys. Some of us have been a bit tense waiting our turns to present, but we've all bonded."

Sturrock, who came third in the competition in 2014, wins a bursary to study at the Lausanne Business School in Switzerland next summer. But he was left in no doubt that this award is not to be worn lightly.

"It is a huge accolade and responsibility. You are not just winning an award, you are an ambassador for the industry," commented head judge Peter Avis, who was the first winner of the award when it started in 2009 and is now restaurant manager at Babylon at the Roof Gardens.

Christopher Kidd and Giuseppe Longobardi

It's the seventh year that the AFWS has run the competition, now in partnership with The Caterer

"It's been a bumper crop," AFWS chairman Nick Scade told the audience at the awards ceremony. "It was difficult, but after telephone interviews the judges whittled down the 10 semi-finalists into six finalists. They represent all operations, from fine-dining to contract catering, so we are getting across the industry."

William Gomis and Jack Cohn

As industry hotshots, supporters and contestants sipped Champagne before the results were announced, Julia Sibley, chief executive at the Savoy Educational Trust, gave a brief outline of how important the industry is. She reminded the audience that it contributes £47m to the UK GDP, and she added that the trust gave almost £900,000 in grants last year to purchase training equipment and provide bursaries for colleges and schools.

Michael Gottlieb, Alper Zan, Joycelyn Neve, Michele Caggianese, Peter Avis

The judges

Semi-finals, 29 October

The 10 shortlisted candidates were whittled down through telephone interviews

  • Rory Kelly Naughton, front of house recruitment consultant, Evolve Hospitality
  • Peter Avis, restaurant manager, Babylon at the Roof Gardens, London
  • Daniel Moriss-Jeffery, events & membership manager, Academy of Food & Wine Service

Finals, 23 November

Morning session: Three tasks were set to test the competitors on all areas of being a modern restaurant manager.

Allergen task: Janine Swales, general manager, catering and reception services, Tottenham Hotspur; and John Cousins, director, Food and Beverage Training Company

Customer service task: Peter Avis; Alper Zan, associate area manager, Café Rouge, Casual Dining Group; and Michele Caggianese, the Art of Service and 2011 UK Restaurant Manager of the Year winner

Marketing task: Joycelyn Neve, managing director, Seafood Pub Company; and Rory Kelly-Naughton

Afternoon session: the Dragons' Den

  • Head judge: Peter Avis
  • Michael Gottlieb, chairman, director, operator, various restaurants (formerly Smollensky's Restaurants)
  • Joycelyn Neve
  • Alper Zan
  • Michele Caggianese

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