"You have to ask yourself, you have to be really honest, are you giving it all together?": how to weather the hospitality storm as a unit

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Can you be a good partner/spouse/parent and work in hospitality? Can your relationships be a driving force for your restaurant's success?

For most in the restaurant world, the 14th of February is nothing more than a logistical nightmare, tables for two held for customers unlikely to show up. 

Even with the changes rumbling in the industry and professionals pushing for a better work-life balance, we know it's not easy to be a great partner, spouse, or parent and lead a successful career in hospitality. 

Here at The Staff Canteen, we would like to celebrate those who've made it work, chefs and front of house workers who have stuck through thick and thin together, not just enduring the trials and tribulations of hospitality work, but showing that it is possible to build something great together.

Some accept that separating their personal lives and their professional lives isn't viable 

Simon and Debra Bonwick - along with their nine children - live the life of hospitality to the full. Most of those in the age of working work at The Crown at Burchetts Green - and even those who aren't help out at the weekends. 

"Even if it's for a little bit of pocket money at the end of the week at the lower age of the family, they're still here, smiling, laughing and doing it properly," Simon said.

The chef's advice to anyone wanting to run a restaurant with a family member is as follows: "Don't differentiate between a life of hospitality and work. Because they're one. It's just one of those rare jobs I think. You can't, otherwise it doesn't work." 

Instead of arguing about the daily hiccups of working in restaurants - such as, when we spoke, having to call a plumber first thing on a Monday morning because the decorators had poured glue down the toilet and blocked it - the Bonwicks face them head on. 

"On a Sunday night, over a nice cassoulet or a beef bourgignon - we all sit around the table, we argue, we laugh, we cry and we say what we want to say. And that's usually where we lay it all out and that's very healthy." 

"The following week, we move on and there's no hidden things, nobody is harnessing anything in their back pocket that they've got a little bit of aggro about."  

The Bonwicks

As heartbreaking as it is for couples and families to be broken apart by the realities of working in the industry, he said, "I know it sounds a bit pious, but I see a lot of people who say: 'ah, we're not together anymore, the restaurant's done this,  it split us up' and we think: 'well, I'm sorry for them but you have to ask yourself, you have to be really honest, are you giving it all together?' It can't be one giving it more than the other. It's got to be a balance of give. Chefs sacrifice, front of house sacrifice, you've got to give."

"I don't wish to sound like an old slipper - a comfy old slipper - but people don't want to do that, they don't want to be honest with themselves about how they really are approaching it when they wake up in the morning." 

"I said to you once before, when you wake up in the morning, you pull your socks on and you think: 'bloody hell, I'm tired' and then you think: 'yeah, it is tiring isn't it, it's what it's like, it's what it's like, it never will change.'"

Some rely on each other to make up for the things they aren't good at 

Sam Carter knows his partner Alexandra Olivier might have had her doubts when they first opened Restaurant 22, but she took it on the chin and went for it. 

"She doesn't know how good she is at it," he said. 

"We work really well together because she's a realist. I'm probably a bit unrealistic, she redirects me when I need to be reigned in and she keeps an eye on the finance which I don't think about some of the time."  

Switching off at the end of the day, he said, "is tough."

"But for us, the last two years has been about the restaurant. We've put everything else on hold. We got engaged before we bought the restaurant and that's still on the backburner. I don't know if she still wants to marry me... I hope she does!" 

Alexandra Olivier and Sam Carter are the proud owners of Restaurant 22 in Cambridge

Some appreciate having someone to vent to 

Ben Wilkinson and Monica Zurawska run the show at The Cottage in the Wood. Albeit a small operation, it is a Michelin-starred restaurant, meaning they have very high standards to hold themselves to. 

But at the end of the day, they both know that they have a compassionate shoulder to cry on - and someone to drive home with. 

"We take it in turns, sometimes get a kip in on the way home." 

"It's great as well because you can vent a little bit. You can really let it out and we drive - we've got quite a journey home, it's like forty minutes, so usually it's all out, it's all cleared up by the time we get home."

Ben Wilkinson and Monica Zurawska

All agree that they couldn't do it without their better half 

Richard and Lindsey Johns have been working together for the best part of two decades - really putting meaning into the expression 'through thick and thin.' 

Despite this, "there's nobody else I'd want to work with," Richard said. 

"It probably sounds a bit biased but I've never met anyone who's a better people person than what she is." 

"She makes people feel relaxed, she's just that sort of personality. She's the face and the eyes of our business but again - it's learning to wear all different sorts of hats, at the minute she's doing all the accounts and all that sort of stuff." 

"She's been instrumental in the business. Without her, it wouldn't have happened, simple as that." 

The Hovingham Inn's Richard and Lindsay Johns
have run their own restaurants together 
for almost two decades


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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th February 2020

"You have to ask yourself, you have to be really honest, are you giving it all together?": how to weather the hospitality storm as a unit