Stephanie Little, Restaurant Manager, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th October 2014

Stephanie Little is Restaurant Manager at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw which holds two stars in the Michelin Guide UK.

Stephanie was born and grew up in Germany where she studied Hotel Management before taking her first job in Restaurant Bareiss in the Black Forest which currently holds 3 stars in the Michelin Guide.

She then moved to Africa to help to establish Namibia’s first Relais & Chateaux hotel and went on to work in various safari lodges in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. It was in Africa that she met her husband, Damon Little. Together they came to live in Cornwall where they now work at two Michelin-starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Stephanie as Restaurant Manager and Damon as Beverage Manager.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Stephanie to talk about her experiences in front of house.

Stephanie Little
Stephanie Little

How would you sum up the philosophy towards service at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw?

We try to create an unpretentious and happy environment where people can forget anything happening outside and create their own little bubble while they’re at the restaurant. It’s all about being relaxed and having an amazing experience, taking the stuffiness away but keeping the professionalism. For me, this is almost a step up from the traditional way it used to be in Michelin star restaurants.

What do you love about the job and what do you find more challenging?

I love it when guests come in and you can put them at ease, see them let their guards down and have a look of sheer delight; it gives me goose bumps. It’s about making a warm and welcoming atmosphere which you can feel all around, to be able to create that is just wonderful. There are challenges as well in that some guests enjoy touring around restaurants, collecting them like trophies and comparing them. I think every restaurant is so unique that they shouldn’t be compared; we are what we are. Every restaurant should have the chance to create their own little niche.

>>> Read more of Are You Being Served here

You spent a lot of time working in hotels and safari lodges in Africa; what is the story behind that?

Front of House Team
Front of House Team

In Hotel Bareiss where I was working in Germany, we had a regular guest who owned a hotel in Namibia. After we won an award for the best service team in Germany, they asked me to come across and help them to establish new standards in order to become a Relais & Chateaux hotel. So I packed my bags and went!

And you met your husband Damon there?

Yes I met him in Namibia. I stayed in the hotel for a year but I also worked occasionally with Damon’s company, Wilderness Safaris. Whenever they wanted a particular guest looking after, they would call and ask me to really take care of them. When they heard that my year at the hotel was over, they asked me if I wanted to stay in Africa. I’d fallen in love with Africa but hadn’t seen much of it so they offered to take me on a big safari in the hope that I would think about working for them afterwards. They offered me the position of lodge tester where you visit the lodges, train the staff and see what can be done better. One day I flew in to a Skeleton Coast lodge where Damon was the manager. I had never seen someone who was so passionate about what he was doing, and that was it!

You must have learned so much during your time in Africa; is it possible to sum it all up?

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
Restaurant Nathan Outlaw

I learnt to appreciate every day; carpe diem! Things can change so fast so love what you do, be honest and give your guests the best experience you can.

How did you get from safari lodges in Africa to working for Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall?

We were thinking of settling down more permanently in Europe and Damon’s grandparents were still living in England so it was a natural choice to come here. We weren’t sure where to settle at first, but our friends recommended Cornwall so that they could come and visit us on holiday. Nathan was looking for an Assistant Restaurant Manager and Bar Manager for his restaurant in Fowey. I was unsure about going back into Michelin star restaurants because I had found them very formal in the past so I said to Damon, you go work for Nathan and I’m going to try doing a design course. Then one day, Nathan needed someone else to help out…that was seven years ago, I got addicted again!

What was it about working for Nathan that got you addicted again?

Top service experiences

Tetsuya’s, Australia (absolutely amazing – we found a great wine there we now list) The Kitchin, Edinburgh (Tom even brought the food out to us which made it really special) Sailors Thai, Sydney (it had a lovely homely atmosphere and was so good that we went back the next day!) The French Laundry (the pinnacle of faultless service) The Round House, Cape Town (a training school with incredible views. You might be served by someone who doesn’t know how to open a bottle of wine and you teach them right there)

Restaurant Nightmares

At a lodge in Botswana one guest came to me really upset because there was no hot water. We investigated and saw that an elephant had used one of the solar panels as his sunbed! Another time, in Namibia the supply plane forgot the food delivery. We had guests flying in paying £3,000 a night who were expecting a wonderful dinner so we had to travel to a village 100 kilometres away to get food and the only meat we could get was a live goat. We didn’t get any complaints, which is testimony to the chefs.

I think it was Nathan being so relaxed, friendly and supportive but also because of our lovely guests. It was so different to other restaurants I had worked in and everyone welcomed us so warmly, I didn’t want to leave. The main thing for us is to work together to create the best experience possible. We always keep developing, moving and support Nathan and the kitchen.

What are your goals for the restaurant?

Alongside this, we like to help people improve in the industry. Last week we had a young lady who has been coming for dinner for the last few years who wanted to just observe the restaurant; it was so fulfilling to see her learning about the restaurant from the other side. Now that she has had a positive insight in to the industry, once she’s finished her A-Levels she might consider it as a career.

Do you ever feel the urge to go back to Africa?

Stephanie Little
Stephanie Little

The wonderful thing is that because we are closed for six weeks in Cornwall’s low-season, we have the chance to travel. At the end of this year we are going back to catch up with family and friends, as well as have adventures of our own that we will bring back and share with our guests. Africa stays in your blood so once you’ve lived there you can get quite homesick for it: the sunsets, the animals and the people. But I don’t see it as somewhere I would go back to settle as Cornwall is our home now. We also have an arrangement with Nathan that we will be with him until we’re all in Zimmer frames!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th October 2014

Stephanie Little, Restaurant Manager, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock