by Dominic Rolfe
What does the word hospitality mean to you and how has it changed since you started?
Hospitality for me is basically looking after people. I’m a front of house person and it’s about ensuring people enjoy their experience. And the idea of service is to serve people and make them feel good.
I think it’s definitely become more professional over the time I’ve been doing it. But the first guys I worked for, three Greek guys, had the best sense of hospitality I’ve ever come across. They weren’t trying to be too cool or too anything, they just knew how to charm people, how to read people and to take every customer on their merit.
Did you have a mentor?
Apart from the three guys I worked with at the Greek restaurant, there’s [fellow Appetite for Excellence judge] Peter Sullivan. I worked for him a while back and probably at a time when my attitude was waning but he just re-inspired me with his sense of genuine hospitality and wanting to look after people and being passionate about it all the time. It was infectious. He was just on 100 percent of the time. He wasn’t telling me how to do stuff, he was showing me how it should be.
What was the goal when you opened and is it different now?
When I was younger, it was just being as good as I could at what I did. But then came the realisation that I wanted to take things as far as I could go. And my restaurants are very personal – they’re places that I’d want to go. The goal was just to open a restaurant but as with most young people, I wanted to do it too quickly. However, the extra time it took was a good thing because experience was very important.
I’ve got three restaurants now but I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just go back to one and keep it a bit more pure and get some more balance with family life. As you get older, that becomes more important. And part of what I enjoy is that interaction with customers and staff – with three restaurants, that becomes harder.
Do you have a piece of advice for current front of house professionals starting out? Did you have a piece of advice that you’ve carried through?
Don’t be robotic about what you do; you have to think about every customer. Social intelligence is the biggest thing. You can get highly skilled hospitality people but they don’t have social intelligence. I always tell my staff that I want them to be thinking all the time, don’t just go through the motions.
I think people also need to know you work hard and it doesn’t get easier. If you think it’s hard now, wait till later! But you have to enjoy what you’re doing. I look back and think I should have relaxed a little bit more. Make sure it’s something that you really want to do.