The Arts Club brasserie general manager and current Restaurant Manager of the Year explains what it takes to claim the title, how to remember a face and why success is all about relationships. James Stagg reports
Where did your hospitality career begin?
I started in hospitality at the Brewery in Chiswell Street, London, in 1997. I was there for a couple of years, working in the cloakroom during the day and as a wine waiter in the evening. There was plenty of fun to be had there.
After that I moved to the Millennium on Grosvenor Square, looking after meetings and events, before moving to Home House. That got me involved in the world of members' clubs and I've been in the sector ever since.
What's different about clubs to other hospitality environments?
Is there pressure to know all members' names? Do you have tricks for recognition?
It's true. We do have member recognition training, given the amount of members we have. But at the same time we see people so often you don't see them as a customer as much as a friend. They take interest in you as you take interest in them, so it's quite easy to build up that relationship.
How has the Arts Club changed since you joined in 2014?
The food is ever-evolving. Although we have a French chef and it's French Mediterranean-led, there are influences from across the world. It's really whatever is seasonal. We'll change the menu every month, though there are certain dishes you can't remove, such as the black cod and veal chop.
The great thing about the relationships you build up with members is that they really trust you, so if you do have some specials to offer they will completely go with you; it encourages people to be more adventurous.
Arjun Waney took over the business in 2011. What kind of impact has he had on it with such a strong background in restaurants?
The Arts Club has been around since 1863 when Charles Dickens was one of the founders, so it's been through many different guises, but I think it was probably in need of some love and reinvention. The new impetus given to it by Arjun Waney and chairman and main shareholder Gary Landesburg really have given it a new lease of life. Some older members have seen it change dramatically, but they respect the reasons for its evolution. The majority are delighted.
Both Arjun and Gary are very hands-on. They like to be here, they know the members and all the staff, and take an active interest.
How would you describe the profile of the typical member?
We've always been arts-led, but it really is a melting pot of people. There are people completely unrelated in business that will find commonality in the club. There are many members' events where they all get together.
You won Restaurant Manager of the Year at the third attempt. What inspired you to enter the competition in the first place?
I love doing the job that I do but it's great to push yourself. I enjoyed it so much the first time that I thought, why not enter again? It was a steep learning curve for me, as you're doing things you wouldn't normally do on a day-to-day basis. Some things I had no idea about, so it gets you thinking. I had to source answers from various people - it was very healthy and challenging.
What encouraged you to return for a third attempt?
It's not so much about the result; it really was about the process and the people I met along the way. I particularly remember the day we had in the Gherkin on the first attempt. There was plenty of pressure, but I enjoyed it.
What was the biggest challenge on the day of the final?
You know that there's quite a lot riding on it because you'd had all the preparation beforehand. But there's only so much you can prepare. The second time, the 'Dragons' Den' presentation, was a difficult situation. It's not something that many people are confident about but it's important you do these things and face those fears. You come out stronger for it.
What was the main thing you got out of the competition?
The confidence element is really valuable. But on top of that it's meeting the other contestants. Many are from different walks of life and operations, but it's great to compare and contrast and talk about what you're all doing. Especially with the preparation; everyone is juggling work and family life too.
What does it take to be crowned Restaurant Manager of the Year?
I think you just have to stick at it. Regardless of how you feel it's going, you have to remember that everyone is in the same position. You have to have a certain amount of confidence in yourself. The overriding thing is that if you have a passion in something it will always assist you. Regardless of the outcome I was always going to enjoy the process.
Did you pick up anything in the competition that you brought back to the Arts Club?
One of the things that has been useful has been keeping in touch with the previous year's winner, Alper Zan, from Casual Dining Group. He has come in to see me a few times here and we've met up outside. We talk through what he's doing and what I'm doing and compare notes. If there is something that you're not sure about it's always good to have a sounding board to bounce ideas off who's not necessarily involved in the business.
You're also meeting great people in the industry, with the judges, the other contestants, and the phenomenal people that come to the drinks reception.
What are your future aspirations?
I'm very excited being at the Arts Club where it is at the moment because I can only see it growing from here. There are various different projects under way, including another Arts Club being developed in LA, as well as a site agreed in Canary Wharf, so there are plenty of opportunities to grow within the company.
The Arts Club
The Arts Club in London's Mayfair was founded in 1863 by Lord Frederic Leighton and Charles Dickens. It underwent a complete refurbishment in 2011 when restaurateur Arjun Waney took over the business, and on reopening included a brasserie, library bar, gallery and garden as well as a nightclub.
In 2013 the club opened Japanese restaurant Kyobi, and the following year 16 rooms were added to the business.
Chief operating officer is Remy Lyse, who spent seven years working with Chris Corbin and Jeremy King at Rex Restaurants before joining the Arts Club, while food is overseen by executive chef Jean-Luc Mongodin. Its advisory board includes actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Lord Sugar and Stella McCartney.
From breakfast through to late-night dinner, the Arts Club offers a global menu of food that pays homage to the best seasonal produce. The brasserie features a substantial oyster bar, while an in-house bakery fronted by executive pastry chef Claude La Marche offers a selection of pastries and cakes.
Restaurant Manager of the Year
The search is now on for the 2016 Restaurant Manager of the year. Run by the Academy of Food & Wine Service (AFWS) in partnership with The Caterer, the competition recognises restaurant managers and those who are responsible for business performance, managing people and staff training.
Talented front of house staff from across the restaurant sector are encouraged to enter, with tasks designed to test those from fine-dining to casual-dining businesses.
This year the award, sponsored by Bunzl and Virgin Limited Edition, will include a live element to test the finalists' communication, service skills and ability to deal with a modern hospitality environment. Competitors will also be tested on their all-round knowledge and general business acumen.
The winner will be decided at a reception on the finals day at the Courthouse hotel, London, on 14 November 2016.
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