It’s that time of year again when we sit back and reflect on what’s passed. I’ve said before now, it has been a phenomenal year for me both personally and professionally and I feel very fortunate indeed. I have made no bones about the fact that my wife and kids are right there at the heart of this success but although I have made several references to the team around me I’ve not really gone into too much sentiment or detail about their part in it all. And Fiona (my wife) and I work with an amazing team. These are the people that day in and day out, keep me sane, rally round and work alongside me to deliver this amazing product that I am passionately proud of. Without them, there’s a good chance I’d be flipping burgers in MacDonalds!
We like a relaxed approach to a hierarchy here at 63. While it’s true that the buck stops at us and we are responsible for the decisions that will move our business forward, I truly believe that we are all equals. For me it’s very simple –if one of the cogs in the engine isn’t turning then the motor will stop or burn out. Marek, my kitchen porter is as important as Ralph, the manager and Ralph is as important as Brad, my other half in the kitchen. I cannot do my job without clean pans, a friendly waiting team and a person who loves the customers as much as I do.
I’m not saying it’s a free for all – there is some structure but I have worked in places where the owner’s opinion was final; no room for manoeuvre at all. There were no meetings, no opportunity for challenge and no chance whatsoever that anyone could pass on constructive criticism or negative comment. I don’t condone whiners… but you need to listen to people when they are trying to help you. I always found this environment suffocating and unproductive; morale was in tatters and on more than one occasion a member of staff just got up and left in the middle of a shift. Apart from what it did to us internally, the customer will inevitably suffer.
The difference at 63 is that I will actively encourage everyone to have a say and I am very keen to listen to what that opinion might be. We meet up every two weeks as an entire team and talk about what’s working, what need improved and what our customers are saying. This year coming we’re planning to get out of the restaurant as a team; agenda items include farm visits to our suppliers and climbing up the side of mountains!
This seems to work for us and it allows everyone to find their voice in a non-threatening environment. Brad, Marek and I are in a kitchen all night; we have to listen to Ralph, Nicole and Valentina as the vital link between us and the customer. I have tried very hard to ensure there is no “them and us” mentality in 63 Tay Street – for those of you not in the business “them and us” translates to “kitchen and front of house”. Having borne witness to the shambles that occurs when this type of negativity is allowed to breed I was determined that it would play no part in my own restaurant’s team.
I made reference to the owner that didn’t want to listen; I have also been fortunate enough to work with chef’s who led by example and showed me the self-discipline necessary to lead a team. My love of the kitchen blossomed under this leadership and I began to realise what my being part of a perfectly tuned engine could produce. I have therefore, had no desire to be the man that rips the face off of a young waitress, reduces a commis to tears or gets his head clear by bollocking the pot wash. I know that if I do this then I am setting a culture of blame and with this will come discord and a split right down the middle of the restaurant that is separated by the kitchen’s swing door – them and us.
Instead we have a mutual respect for one another. At the risk of sounding like some American HR sound bite, you have got to appreciate and understand what the person next to you does. We are still very behind the times in the UK when it comes to celebrating the role of the front of house team and a waiter or waitress building a career in this industry still needs thick skin and a determined mind. The rest of the world seems to appreciate the importance of a dynamic front of house – hell, in some countries the local restaurant manager is treated like a celeb. But here in the UK, it is the sole preserve of the chef and the kitchen staff to bask in the glow of the media’s praise and acclaim. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that this unbalanced attention has exacerbated the “them and us” / lowly waiter problem that continues to run through some parts of our industry.
This seems like an ideal opportunity for me to get something off my chest – the idea that waiting tables is easy needs to be quashed immediately. It takes a certain skill set and intelligence to do it well and not everyone has the right qualities. To be able to hold and change an atmosphere, understand guests moods before they have even spoken, to multi-task like a demon and all the while put up with a couple of stressed chefs… that’s talent my friends!
Our full time waitress, Nicole, or ‘Cole as she is known in service (two syllables, far too long a word on a Saturday night at 8pm), has taken a decision to follow us into this marvellous industry and I applaud her. Luckily for us, ‘Cole is with the rest of the world when it comes to what part she will play in a successful restaurant team – there are far bigger pictures going on in that girl’s head.
The fact that I know about ‘Cole’s hopes and dreams is I think, a great example of what happens when you work as a team. It’s the time we’ve spent sitting around tables chatting that has let us all see where this young girl is looking to go. It’s much easier for me bond with Brad as we chat all day long. He knows me better than I know myself sometimes – that’s what happens when you spend 16 hours a day in each other’s company! If I didn’t know what he hoped for, where he planned to go then I’d be a lousy friend as well as a terrible boss.
I was about to launch into how Brad and I spend more time with each other than we do with our families and friends. And although this is true to some extent, my wife Fiona works with us and Brad’s wife Valentina (who I have mentioned above) is our part time waitress of many years. So although we’re at close quarters in the kitchen, working right alongside one another, it’s safe to say we’re covering all of our bases and have just thrown our whole lives into one big 63 shaped pot! Some people would hate it, I love it. It makes us a proper family business and, I think, is why it is easy to welcome in others and make them feel like they are part of something very honest and very real.
I believe that it is up to us as chefs, leaders and business owners to unite our teams and shine a spotlight on the individuals that make it all possible. I work with bright, intelligent passionate people and yet somehow along the way, it has been decided that the job I do is the one to be revered. Well, I can tell you this now folks – I couldn’t do what my front of house team do. No way. So as the business owner I need to be mindful of that fact and encourage the team to shine in the roles that make my business tick.
I shall finish by saying this; the old saying that there is no “I” in team just doesn’t sit well with me… This “I” is very proud to be in our team. So let me ask you a small favour, when you next visit 63 Tay Street and you are enjoying your chocolate tart, please savour every mouthful safe in the knowledge that all seven of us have made it possible.
Have an amazing Christmas and wonderful New Year,
We’ll see you 2014!