Lessons learnt in life and at work, blog by Emma Underwood

The Staff Canteen

This week I met with an old colleague, Farokh, who I worked with seven years ago in the early days of Sticky Walnut.

He is now the head chef of St John Bread & Wine, and has achieved great success in his career, but he strongly attributes his work ethic to the lessons he learnt in the earlier days of his working life in that little bistro in Hoole.

We spent much of our evening reminiscing about our time there, as Farokh used to enjoy devoting much of his spare time to playing tricks on Gary (moulding cheese around his car keys was a particular favourite). We also discussed how similar our shared working values are now, which is clearly due to the impact of us having the same mentor.

We both realised we are lucky to have learnt such strong values and work ethics so early on in our career, it has proved invaluable, but not everyone has the start that we did. It made me think about the lessons that I found most important, and what advice I would give to others starting out in the restaurant industry now.

A key mindset that has guided me throughout my career in hospitality is to always learn. Whether good or bad, everything that happens while working is a lesson. And then everything that happens outside of work is a lesson. One of the best (and worst) things about working in this industry is that it changes the dining experience for you entirely.

Meals out are no longer enjoyed for their sheer pleasure, but dominated by conversations of guessing what the spend per head is, or who supplies the crockery. It means they also serve as wonderful inspiration, dining out becomes a way to refresh and revitalise ideas you have for your own restaurant, a tool to continue your drive and passion.

Inside working hours, learning isn’t just restricted to formal training sessions, but extends to every aspect of your time there, some of my most valuable lessons have been gained simply through talking to my colleagues about their perspective on the guest experience.

The other main lesson I learnt early on in my career is that ‘it’s nice to be nice’, a mantra I have firmly adopted through my working life. It is vital not only to take care of the guests, but to also treat colleagues with care and respect, to encourage their growth and learning just as much as your own.

It doesn’t even take much, just a simple ‘thank you’ at the end of the shift can mean the world, but this is so often missed. I haven’t always had positive experiences with colleagues, and have certainly seen my fair share of bullying and harassment as too many of us sadly have, but I’m glad to say that this definitely isn’t an issue for us here at Stem.

Creating a positive working environment was a very important priority for myself and the head chef, Sam, and we’re so proud to have achieved this. It’s such a shame that there are so many other restaurants that don’t follow the same ethos.

The industry is changing, rapidly, and this year looks set to be the toughest one yet. Now is the time to carry with us the lessons we have learnt in our career, and to maintain the drive and passion we all started with.

Blog by Emma Underwood, Restaurant Manager, Stem

Emma Underwood blog image
Emma Underwood

Emma Underwood is the restaurant manager of Stem, in Mayfair, having previously worked at Where the Light Gets In, based in Stockport and Burnt Truffle in Heswall, part of Gary Usher’s ever-expanding restaurant empire.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012 when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before moving to the sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle as the general manager.

Emma is also part of the TMRW Project along with food writer Anna Sulan Masing  which was set up in 2015.

The project acts as a platform for people starting out early in their career to help them grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, the front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

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The Staff Canteen

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Editor 9th February 2019

Lessons learnt in life and at work, blog by Emma Underwood