Emma Underwood, manager, Burnt Truffle

The Staff Canteen
Emma Underwood and Gary Usher

Emma Underwood discusses her role as Manager at Burnt Truffle and her own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Emma Underwood

Role: General Manager

Place of work: Burnt Truffle

Bio: Starting as a waitress at Gary Usher's Sticky Walnut in 2012, Emma is now general manager at sister restaurant Burnt Truffle. Originally studying history at university we ask her what drew her into the hospitality industry, what is most challenging about her role and if good customer service can be taught.

Twitter: @BuRntTruffle

Chef Skills

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

Starting at Sticky in 2012 as a waitress, how long after were you made Assistant Manager?

I was made the assistant manager a year later, in 2013. It was never my intention to pursue a career in the restaurant industry as I worked at Sticky part-time for the first year while studying my history PhD and teaching at Manchester University.

By some weird coincidence, the position of Assistant manager came up at almost exactly the same time that I decided to leave my course. I had been drifting around for about a week, researching TEFL courses with grand plans to move to Japan, when Gary offered me the managerial position.

I immediately accepted and have never looked back. Six months later Gary started looking for a second site and asked if I would be the general manager, we originally wanted to open in January 2014, which gives you an idea of how long we've been planning Burnt Truffle for!

Studying history initially what was it about the hospitality industry that drew you in?

I've been working in the industry for nearly 15 years, since I started waitressing at a little cafe when I was 14 years old. It started off as a way to earn pocket money, but I think it's the people involved that has made me stay. I love the feeling of camaraderie that you get with your colleagues within restaurants that you don't get anywhere else.

Strawberry dish Burnt Truffle

When I was teaching all my colleagues were very competitive with one another and barely knew each other personally, it made the job very lonely. At the restaurant, we all know each other so well, even down to what that weird long hair on Head Chef Wongo's neck is called (Robert). A  little creepy, but we've become like a family.

Is there an aspect of your role that you do find challenging and how do you overcome that?

 I worry obsessively that one day no one will like us anymore, or that Burnt  Truffle just won't do well. We've been so fortunate at Sticky Walnut with everything the restaurant has achieved, that I'm waiting for the inevitable decline. We all do. Everyone checks TripAdvisor constantly or gets really paranoid if we have a quiet night.

I'm not too good at overcoming it, but I do try and eat at Sticky as a customer as much as possible, to remind myself that it's actually quite a good restaurant. I suppose it's better to worry than to get complacent!

Do you think you can teach ‘good customer service’ or do you think it’s got to be instinctive?

I'd say it's a bit of both, the service at Sticky and hopefully at Truffle is so personal and informal that it's reliant on the front of house having decent personalities. We've always employed people based on their nature rather than their experience, although I've had some staff that have struggled to engage with their tables, despite being amazing at waiting on, as it's definitely something you need a lot of confidence for.

In these cases, I've found it important to help them see their tables as 'guests' rather than as 'customers', as Gary always told us we should treat Sticky as our home and make people feel that way when they dine with us.

burnt truffle

Make sure you really love the industry and no longer want a social life. Working in restaurants is not just a job but a lifestyle choice that your friends will find weird and your family find frustrating but it is the most rewarding career you can possibly choose. And make sure you get some decent shoes, the uglier the shoe the comfier it'll be.

If you could go back and change anything knowing what you know now what would it be and why?

I wouldn't have given up my Glastonbury ticket if I'd have known Burnt Truffle wouldn't be open by then.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th September 2016

Emma Underwood, manager, Burnt Truffle