Chris Donnachie, Restaurant Manager, Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th August 2017

Chris Donnachie has been working at Martin Wishart’s acclaimed one Michelin starred eponymous restaurant in Loch Lomond for six years and has been restaurant manager for just over two years.

Chris discovered his love for the kitchen at an early age working as a pot wash for a local golf club. It wasn’t long before the budding restaurant manager found himself pursuing the American Dream working for the California Grill in Disney World.

Having been restaurant manager for Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond for two years, Chris is responsible for the running of front of house and ensuring the guests receive the first class service they expect from this one Michelin star establishment.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Chris to find out why two days are never the same, why he’s more nervous when Martin isn’t around and his experience working at Disney World.

Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond
Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond

Did you always know you wanted to work in the industry?

No, not really. I always had an interest in food and always had an interest in cooking from a young age. I was always encouraged by my mother to cook dishes, in and around the house. I always had an adult palette, I never really wanted to be stuck with a kid’s menu.

Then the industry began to grow in Britain and obviously television programmes about food became more popular, which caught my eye. At 16 I started working at a local golf club as a kitchen porter. But when I went to university, I worked in a restaurant called Yatai, up in Aberdeen and that lit the spark. They really showed me how good food could be, I fed off their enthusiasm and positivity. I became obsessed with it.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Without wanting to sound too cliché, every day is completely different. Every day can have a lot of different aspects to it, something could go wrong with say the glass washer. But then you could have a fully booked restaurant and something could happen. You could have a fairly disruptive guest in the restaurant and then obviously you want to handle that with upmost professionalism and try to not escalate the situation. You’ve got to try and make sure the guest in question still has a good time, but also the guests in the restaurant around that table also don’t have their evening spoilt. Then, of course, you’ve got management issues, something could not be delivered on time, there’s all these different things. Every day is totally, different.

Chris Donnachie
Chris Donnachie

Is training important for you and your staff?

Massively. I think it’s of the upmost importance. Certainly in Scotland and outside of Edinburgh. Long gone are the days where people came in with a vast amount of previous 1, 2 and 3 star experience. When I started here, I was the only person with non-Michelin star experience in the team. I felt really out of my depth and everybody was French speaking and very classically trained. I was given an opportunity when I started, I was nurtured and given the right skills and for me it’s massively important. People come in here, they’re not just all treated with the same approach either, everybody learns differently, some people do things quicker than others. It’s a steep learning curve, regardless of your experience.

Something that we’ve come to be renowned for and something that you see in almost all of our feedback is that the staff are professional but personable. I feel that you can be good at your job, but not be a total robot.

What’s Martin Wishart like to work with? Does he have much involvement in the front of house?

He does but with us being away from Edinburgh there’s a certain amount of creative freedom that’s given to head chef Graeme Cheevers and I. There’s a great amount of trust placed in us. I always get asked by people, do you feel nervous when Martin’s about, truthfully, I’m more nervous when he’s not there because I’m representing him all the time. I’ve got his initials on my lapel, his name is above the door and it’s on the menu, it’s everywhere. He’s stern, but fair. He’s exactly how I would be if my name was above the door. I think Graeme and I feed off that fact that there is trust, that there is creative freedom.

We know what he would want and that’s the most important thing. We’re allowed to be ourselves and grow as professionals. We’re given the chance to make mistakes as well and I think that’s important, I think to a certain degree, we can’t learn unless we make mistakes. Sometimes we do make mistakes because we’re given that freedom, but we’re then given constructive criticism on how to handle it better and he’s worked in the industry longer than we have put together. So, I think it’s important that we’re respectful for the trust that he’s given us and that we do a good job and I’d like to say that we do that.

Info Bar

Kitchen Nightmares

There was one gentleman who was smoking an e-cigarette in the restaurant and I kindly asked him not to do it. I said he could go into the hall, but there are other guests to consider and he didn’t take it very well. He refused to pay for drinks and things. When people have alcohol in restaurants, their behaviour can change, it’s all part and parcel of dealing with people. I’ve also had somebody in the restaurant who was very rude to his wife and to me and I asked him to leave, because I wasn’t going to be spoken to like that. If somebody is rude to the point where they are rude to my staff, my loyalty is with my staff and to protect the restaurant that I work for.

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Do you think a chef’s name like Martin’s sometimes overshadows the front of house?

I think that maybe ten years ago, that might have been the case. But I think the industry has changed so much, especially since I started when I was 16 and I’m 30 in August. I think when I started working in the industry, people were particularly guilty of going somewhere just to be able to say that they ate there, doesn’t matter whether the food was good, it certainly didn’t matter if the service was good and it didn’t matter whether the wine was good either.

I think since then, the industry in Britain has grown massively. I think it certainly helps to work in a place like this, under a chef like Martin because you get to work with very similar, like-minded people, who are driven and career focused. That really helps you grow and encourages competitiveness between the staff, which is always good. I think as the industry has grown, so has people’s appreciation for where they have eaten and what they’re eating.

Do you think there’s more pressure working in a Michelin-starred environment as opposed to one without a star?

Yes and no. A lot of people are coming here first and foremost for the food. Nine times out of ten people are coming to a restaurant for the food, that other time people are coming here for a certain wine on the wine list. Good service creates repeat business and that’s what creates success in a business. There is pressure of course, because you can have a lot of people coming here and expecting that because it is a Michelin star restaurant, it’s got to have the best service, it’s got to be the best experience I’ve ever had. That’s obviously a lot of pressure. There’s also pressure from above, there’s pressure on us from chef Martin, to do our jobs to the highest standard.

There’s also the pressure that everyday challenges bring. With that, I would say that there probably is more pressure working in a Michelin star restaurant, but that’s good because we thrive on it. 

Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond
Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond

How does working somewhere with a Michelin star influence the way you conduct service?

You understand that the guests expect the absolute from what we do. Our restaurant has an identity, I think that identity changes over time ever so slightly, but the blue print remains the same. We are typically, a classic restaurant, but we’ve been open almost ten years now and the restaurant has changed a bit. In the approach to food, in the approach to service, a lot of the chefs are now serving their dishes as well. So there is a certain way that influences the way you conduct service because there are certain things that you are expected to do, ways that you are expected to serve things.

Generally, the guests that come to a restaurant like this, know a lot more about food and wine, so that obviously means that you have to work service in a different way as well. You have to make sure that everything is in place and that your knowledge is there and that you can interact with guests, without being overbearing or condescending.

What are your future plans?

I would love to own a restaurant one day or my own establishment. Whether it’s a pub or a small restaurant. But for the immediate future, I have no plans as such. Yet at the same time, I would be totally lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind. I would say that there are two paths that I can go down. One would be a hotel, food and beverage manager role, with a view into GM work. Or there are then the larger restaurant groups, with ops managers and general manager roles as well.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th August 2017

Chris Donnachie, Restaurant Manager, Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond