Nathan Evans, operations director, Smith and Wollensky

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th May 2017
Nathan Evans

Nathan Evans discusses his role as Operations director at Smith and Wollensky Europe and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Nathan John Evans

Place of work: Smith and Wollensky Europe

Role: Operations director

Chef Skills

Nathan Evans takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.

How long have you been in this role?

November 2014.

First UK site is opening in June – how difficult do you think it’s going to be to set yourself apart from other steakhouses in the city?

Quality runs through everything Smith & Wollensky does and that starts with the beef. All of the signature cuts are imported USDA and graded Prime.

This is crucial as Prime USDA beef accounts for less than 2% of all US beef produced and is known for its exceptional marbling and tender texture. The beef is dry-aged to intensify the flavour for a minimum of 28 days and then butchered on the premises by our master butcher. This is a significant step up from our London competitors. Some of whom are using USDA beef but not dry-aged and some are using unclassified beef from Nebraska or other non-USDA cuts.

I think the New York Times said it best when they wrote of Smith & Wollensky simply – “A steakhouse to end all arguments”

What does set Smith and Wollensky apart?

Smith & Wollensky London is so much more than just a steakhouse. Seafood, fish, poultry and vegetarian dishes are all represented and of course there are the unforgettable side orders – creamed spinach, hash browns and great chips all on the generous side.

The wine list will be blockbuster! Older vintages of Screaming Eagle and Opus One for fans of U.S. wines but plenty representations from the rest of the world. I particularly love the Poppy pinot noir from the Monterey Wine Company for £11.50 for a large glass and our own label wines produced by the Girard & Kund wineries for Smith & Wollensky are excellent quality and very affordable.

Cocktails will feature heavily on the S&W London drinks list.

We will have approximately 30 cocktails with updated & reworked versions of the classics. Even the ‘grasshopper’ has an airing.

I haven’t met many people that don’t like cocktails, but what many loathe is waiting too long for a drink. So the speed of service is crucial – to that end we will also be incorporating barrel-aged drinks, where the work is done in advance. In particular, our barrel-aged negronis will be fabulous.

From S&W in the U.S. we’ve brought the signature Martini, served as dry as you like, Gibson, twist or dirty but all very large!

The digestif selection will be remarkable, with Bourbon, Rye and American Whiskey dating back to the 20s and 30s. They are all served by great, professional bartenders that have both the ‘chat’ and the ‘chops’. Not pretentious mixologists, just good people who genuinely understand the meaning of hospitality and want you to have a good time.

What does your recruitment process involve?

The biggest challenge facing any new restaurant, particularly in London, is to recruit great people. All the operators in our section of the market are fundamentally competing for the same candidates.

We hope to overcome the challenges facing the business during the recruitment phase by offering wages, benefits and opportunities that are significantly better than our competitors.

Almost all of the management team are now recruited with the very important role of Private Dining & Events Manager still to fill. The recruitment open days begin on 4th May and will be advertised extensively through all avenues. Outside the restaurant, on job boards, through social media and in the press.

The management team will continue to strike up conversations with brilliant people we meet in the capital.

What are you looking out for on a CV and in a candidate when they come for an interview?

The basics are clearly important. Right to work in the UK, no unexplained gaps in employment or multiple jobs held for short periods of time.

For front of house we look for well-presented, engaging people with self-confidence. In the kitchen, experience in similar high-volume environments is enormously beneficial. Most importantly, be on time for your interview.

When it comes to experience if someone doesn’t have a vast amount but shows willingness and enthusiasm would you take them on?

Absolutely. Almost all skills in the restaurant can be taught but willingness and enthusiasm cannot.

In terms of restaurant/front of house teams do you think customer service can be taught or do you think someone has to have the drive to deliver great customer service?

Hospitality is not for everyone. I get irritated when people say ‘I fell into it’  because I think the business picks you or you pick it. While there are obviously idiosyncrasies when it comes to the style of service favoured by each operator and the ‘order of service’ needs to be understood and followed,  the desire to do your best and give the guest the most enjoyable experience possible cannot, in my opinion, be taught. It takes a special disposition and temperament to be a great waiter or bartender as well as the focus to acquire the knowledge required to excel.

In terms of the kitchen Team/Chefs – how much experience would you be looking for in the Head Chef?

I think the role of the Head Chef has become increasingly challenging. It is no longer acceptable just to be a great cook and people manager exercising control over margins. They now require an ever-increasing understanding of every aspect of hygiene, health, safety and allergens while being comfortable in the spotlight. At Smith & Wollensky London the 30-strong brigade and expected volume of sales will bring their own pressures. Success comes to those with significant levels of experience over many years at similar levels.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the hospitality sector – your top 5 tips?

  1. Try your hand in a few different areas of the business, both front and back of house at different ends of the market until you find something you enjoy.
  2. Apply for jobs with reputable employers who have training and development at their heart.
  3. Visit competitors as a customer to build your knowledge of the market. It will provide perspective on how you and work colleagues measure up – you’ll see ‘what not to do’ as well as be inspired by the superstars that you meet.
  4. Study to increase your product knowledge and practise in your spare time – it will pay dividends.
  5. Be on time for work, honest and committed and you will go far. 

If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing knowing what you know now, what would it be?

Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to take a chance. Life is no dress rehearsal and too short for you to be doing something you don’t love.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th May 2017

Nathan Evans, operations director, Smith and Wollensky