You can have good food at a restaurant but service is the thing that's going to lift the dining experience to the next level. You can't have one without the other. We, as front-of-house, are talking to people, serving customers, and making their experience even better than it could be. You can't have a good restaurant without great front-of-house. It's the buzz created, the atmosphere, and the friendliness. You can add or take away so much from someone's meal. I think that's why front-of-house is so important and the people working in that industry should be more respected.
I've worked in hospitality since I was about 15-years-old. On my placement year at uni, I worked in a kitchen but realised after I graduated that I wanted to have that customer contact and the chat. I'm quite good at talking and love hearing people's stories. It's been a whirlwind from about 2011 when I was properly front-of-house, and not just waitressing, working up the ranks to restaurant manager.
Working front-of-house, you've got to be chatty, confident, fun, and relaxed. You've got a million things going on at once so you've got to be able to multitask.
I always found it quite amazing that throughout the course of the meal, you learn someone's story. In one restaurant you could have a million different people with a million different stories at one time. It's intriguing.
I think the front-of-house industry is a lot more respected as an industry now. It's been a long time coming. When I used to say to people that I was going to uni to study hospitality, I was laughed at and people said, "Just go and work in a restaurant." But it's not just about serving food and wine, it's quite intense and demanding. I think you have to be quite intellectual to go far. I would go back to a restaurant if the food was average but the service was amazing. I don't know if it's because I'm in the front-of-house industry but if you've got amazing food but you're made to feel like nothing or made to feel uncomfortable then I would never go back.
Chefs are dubbed as the new rock stars but I like that front-of-house are being more recognised now in awards and in the wider public eye. They're not cooking the food, but they do as much of a job as the chefs. There should more attention on the industry and it is getting there, but it'll take time. It took a long time for chefs to get the recognition they get now. Now it's time for front-of-house to come through the ranks.
Working front-of-house, you've got to be chatty, confident, fun, and relaxed. You've got a million things going on at once so you've got to be able to multitask but stay calm because you have to communicate with the chef, the customer, managers. A lot of people forget to smile. In the middle of service, it can be horrendous when everything's going wrong, you've got complaints, and the chef is struggling. It can be the worst time in the world but you've got to remember that you're serving people their lunch and their dinner.
I've never wanted to work somewhere where it's silver service because I like being a personality and being able to talk to people. I don't want to put down a plate and walk away. I love making people laugh and telling them stories, especially with the food we were doing at Paradise Garage [a modern British restaurant in East London]. There was such a story behind the dishes and the chefs put so much into it that to just put it down and somebody not really understand what's behind it, is such a shame.
A lot of people forget to smile.
But there are so many people who give too much information. It's really important to read a table. A lot of people are interested in the dish and a lot of people just want to eat. You can quite quickly realise if a table wants to chat or not. It's about taking the opportunity when they ask about a dish to explain it but not go into too much detail.
I'm lucky because I've never had any horror stories about rude customers. I've actually had the flip side of it where I've ended up making friends with regular customers. I've now moved up to Glasgow to start a catering business (where I luckily still get to spend a lot of time chatting to customers!) and when I left Paradise, I realised that, not only did I have to tell my friends, but I had to tell the regular customers as well. Some of them are planning to come up and visit me. It's an amazing thing when people appreciate that you're not just there to serve and you're not just a waitress in a restaurant. The most satisfying thing is making people happy. It's a gratifying business.
Former general manager of Paradise Garage in East London, Claire Wright now runs Glasgow-based catering company Spelt & Honey . She won the inaugural "Front-of-House" award at last year's Young British Foodie Awards— an annual celebration of the chefs, bakers, food writers, bartenders, and others advancing UK food and drink.
Entries for the 2017 YBFs are now open, with MUNCHIES' own Phoebe Hurst judging the new Food Sharing category. Head to The YBFs website to nominate someone you think deserves recognition for their contribution to British food—or go all out and enter yourself. Entries close on 30 July 2017.