From Waiter to Restaurant Manager to Operations Director featuring Steve Philips

Written by
Nick Clover - Director of Hospitality Jobs UK

24 Sep 2019

24 Sep 2019 • by Nick Clover - Director of Hospitality Jobs UK

As I sit in Busaba, St Christopher’s Place, slightly early and waiting for a long-term industry friend Steve Phillips, who I’ve known since his Restaurant Area Manager days at The Restaurant Group, shortly after I set up my first business, I contemplate the Opportunities that are realistic options for Restaurant Managers.

Let’s look at the point when you get that first waiting job and you realise that you can earn good cash in a fun environment. It doesn’t stop there of course. NO NO NO!  As a good waiter you’ll have a great product knowledge and a personable way with people and be tip top on your section before progressing to Restaurant Supervisor or Manager in Training.. There are clear and achievable career paths for those Front of House Orientated through the Restaurant Management channel and the opportunities are endless when thinking about climbing the professional ladder.

So let’s think about the case in point and how you can climb the management channel in Hospitality. Over to Steve Philips who started at the bottom working up to GM, To Area Management at TRG before progressing to Head of Ops at Levi Roots Restaurants before moving to his current role as Operations Manager at the amazing Thai Restaurant Group, Busaba.

So Steve, what advice would you give young people when deciding on a Restaurant Management Career and why should we encourage the Education system to promote Hospitality Careers based on your experience?

‘I think the industry is in such a better place than when I left school in terms of its profile. This has been driven in the last 20 years by a popularity in food and eating out and that has crossed over into mainstream television programmes about restaurants, chefs and even front of house focused programmes. The likes of Jamie Oliver, Fred Sirieix, Jason Atherton and others have definitely helped improve the industry outward appeal.

However something is still a miss in the education system. Maybe these guys are seen as the elite few to reach the top and not the norm. Of course those of us in the industry know you can earn a very good living working through the ranks without becoming a TV personality. You could liken the problem to sport I guess. We all see the multimillion pound footballers or athletes. But working below the well-known names, there are many people making a very good living in the lower leagues and maybe just out of the spotlight in their chosen field. Schools are starting to realise this and take sports, acting or singing careers a bit more seriously and understand you don’t have to reach the top to have a “proper job”. I would say the proverbial nut for our industry to crack is how do we help the education system to realise the same is true in hospitality? 

For as long as I can remember British people have “fallen into” this industry but those that stay tend to love it and can’t imagine doing anything else. Many work in restaurants whilst an Uni and end up staying after completing or dropping out of a course they no longer feel is the correct direction for them.

What I think is very unique in our industry is people from all walks of life, backgrounds and educations levels thrive. There doesn’t seem to be a rule based on any of that, as to who does and doesn’t succeed. A great example I have personally witnessed is of a Polish guy I hired as a Kitchen Porter without a word of English in circa 2003. This person is now an area manager, earning a great salary and at the top of his game. I could recall many more examples that are similar. I have also seen university educated people join at management level and fall flat on their face so it works both ways.

So what do I think makes for someone who can prosper in hospitality. They have to have Hospitality running through their bones. They have to understand what it is to  make someone feel good weather through cooking them a well-executed and tasty meal or making them feel welcome and at home with efficient and effective service but wrapped up in a blanket of personality and warm hospitality. They also have to be bright, intelligent with a good sense of basic morals and the ability to think logically. In my experience I have hired teams that are the warmest nicest people in the world but are simply not articulate or logical minded people. They just can’t keep up with the pace, or focus on many jobs simultaneously. I have also hired very intelligent logical people that plough through the various training modules with ease but just don’t have the empathetic approach to food or service and can’t cope when the wheels fall of the shift and things don’t go to the script. Danny Mayer (Shake Shack founder) put it perfectly when he said the perfect restaurant person is 51% hospitable and 49% logical and process minded.

So maybe the brief to the educational system is:

You can earn a living well above the national average income and the doors are open to anyone who wants to put in the hard graft and the ideal match is that 51% Hospitable/49% Logical & process driven person.’