Why is Front of House not always considered a career in the UK? By Emma Underwood

The Staff Canteen

Restaurant manager and blogger Emma Underwood asks why Front of House is not always considered a serious career choice.

I am very lucky: I love my job. But I know, full well, that not everyone working front of house does. All too often we are plagued by implications that it is not seen as a ‘proper career’. Questions regularly fire out from guests such as ‘is this your full-time job?’, ‘What are you studying?’, or even, ‘What do you plan to do when you grow up?’ (something I happily take as a compliment now at the ripe old age of 31…..).

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Why is FOH not perceived as an actual career?

Their intonations are clear: working out front is not highly regarded. The view in this country is that is something that is servile, something you do to get through your studies before you go off into the real world and find a real job. It’s very difficult to take pride in what you do when you are constantly faced with the opinion that you shouldn’t be and finding inspiration and motivation on the floor is often far tougher than necessary.

It’s a strange and unfounded attitude that is strictly British. All over the world front of house are properly revered for the hard work and unique skill set it takes to pursue their careers. The same cannot be said for this country. The media is swamped by programmes and articles about food and restaurants, but they are dominated by the rock and roll stars of the industry: the chefs.

 While the likes of Fred Siriex are doing wonders for raising the profile of working front of house, we just don’t quite have the same amount of heroes that chefs do. It all leaves us a little overshadowed.

emma quote 2Moreover, the lack of tangibility of our work makes us difficult to market in the same way. Chefs build their networks and profiles through posts and photos about food, it is near impossible for those working front of house to do the same thing. It’s pretty difficult to post a well-cleared plate of food, or a beautifully explained glass of wine, or that perfect moment when a guest’s most minute needs are met with a smile.

The desire for that front of house network is definitely there. Since moving down to London three months ago my time has been filled with the most wonderful conversations with fellow managers and restaurateurs about the trials and tribulations of this industry. Hours have been spent with them discussing glassware, table decorations, menu layouts, but mostly they revolve back to the same topic: how to keep your front of house team motivated, inspired and encouraged. Especially when to so many they’re seen as inferior. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the day to day routine of restaurants, just ensuring that everything is running smoothly is a mammoth task in itself that sparing the time to take care of your team can be really difficult.

With all these issues and concerns I met with Anna Masing and Dan Doherty of the TMRW Project two years ago. They told me about an idea they had for a new initiative, The Switch, which would pair up two different restaurants and get them to swap members of front of house for a week. In this way those involved would partake in a coordinated stagiere, meaning that their restaurants would not lose out on a member of staff. We have since run the initiative for two years, for the first week of October, and it has proved to be a really great way to build networks, to learn, and to help motivate and inspire. We are currently taking submissions for applicants from all types of restaurants for this year’s Switch, so please get in touch if you would like to be part of it.

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 10th July 2018

Why is Front of House not always considered a career in the UK? By Emma Underwood