The ethos behind Front of House by Emma Underwood

The Staff Canteen

Restaurant manager Emma Underwood tells us what she looks for in a Front of House role.

Five months ago, I made a very big change in my life. I left a restaurant and colleagues that I loved and moved down to London. I had been running a truly incredible restaurant serving a no-choice tasting menu to 30 guests for four nights a week.

It provided the most amazing experiences, both for those working and for the guests dining there. Much of our training and focus was about the minute details of the guest experience: how will they eat this dish? How best to present and explain it?

restaurant body image
It's so much more than the food and drink

We spent hours practising body language and ways to move around the restaurant in order to enhance our guests’ time at their tables. This attention to detail proved invaluable to shaping my ethos of working Front of House: the most important space in a restaurant is the guests’ tables, their dining space that we can help to create and enhance but can never truly control.

With these lessons in mind, I began to think about what I wanted from my next place of work. To me, it was becoming more and more vital that I found a restaurant that was the combination of being both an incredible experience while maintaining a sense of accessibility.

I have always worked for chef-owned restaurants, and never really found the chance to properly understand and hone my own ethos and approach to dining. I began to think about not only what I wanted from the restaurant I would work in, but from restaurants that I enjoyed dining in.

A meal is not just about the food on the plate or the drink inside the glass, it is about the company you share it with. Think about how your decisions begin when planning to go for a meal: the initial thought is who to go with. For me, the most important thing in a restaurant is the person your guest is sat with, everything else is either an enhancement or a distraction.

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It's about the company you eat with

The best restaurants are the ones filled with the former, the ones that allow you to fully focus on your companions while you lose track of time over that extra bottle of wine. We all get so absorbed with chasing the latest trends in restaurants: the hottest chefs, the most sought-after wines, the perfect Instagram post when really, we should be looking at the people that are sat at our tables.

I approached my move to London with all this in mind: I was looking for somewhere that was accessible, hospitable, generous, with a dedicated focus on the guest. In building Stem, I’m happy to say that we have fully adopted this ethos, but it is not always easy. The intuition required when working Front of House is massive. You are a host to a multitude of different people, with a myriad of different needs. All the knowledge and training in the world cannot substitute a natural sense of service. Luckily, I am surrounded by a wonderful Front of House team and a hugely supportive kitchen, so we can only keep trying.

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

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th September 2018

The ethos behind Front of House by Emma Underwood