How I got to where I am now:
I went into the film industry when I left university. I went freelance after a while and used restaurant work as a fall-back when work was quiet. As the film work dried up I ended up doing more restaurant work and I thought if I'm going to take this path I need to get a permanent job, so in January 2000 I joined The Ivy as assistant maitre d'. The general manager there was a great film buff and because I'd come from that background he had taken a shine to me and taken me on.
In its heyday the demand for tables at The Ivy was quite unbelievable - only 8 per cent of callers got through. At the time it didn't have much competition - you would know every guest in there. It was tough at the start, but after a few years it came right, things became simpler the longer I did the job.
I was there for three-and-a-half years when Chris (King) and Jeremy (Corbin), who were non-executive directors of the business when I started and then sold it, came back into the industry to open The Wolseley.
I'd never worked with them directly, but I wanted to, so that's when the opportunity came up to open The Wolseley and I stayed there for more than three years. It's a monster of a restaurant and is open all day, from breakfast to brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, so, from a maitre d' perspective, it could be a nightmare. You had to allocate tables for lunch, but there would still be people there from earlier - it was quite a jigsaw.
They (Corbin and King) went on to open St Alban and I did three years there before they made the decision to close, which was a shame, but it hadn't turned out how they'd hoped. I was asked if I wanted to go back to my old job, but I always find it funny going back somewhere and I'd worked with them for 10 years so I went away to New Zealand for a few months and came back to lots of offers.
That was when Stuart Gillies approached me about the Savoy Grill. It had always had a maitre d' and service had always been such an important part of the restaurant and was excited about the re-opening. Also, working with Andy Cook, who's an amazing man - he's young and dynamic as well as being a great chef - was a great opportunity. We work well together. Actually, there are three of us managing things. We don't have a GM, we have a restaurant manager, who looks after staff while I look after the customers.
My biggest challenge:
Learning my job at The Ivy was a big challenge. I don't think people realise the amount of work you have to do to make it look so easy, there's all the preparation you have to do, such as reading up about the guests, as well as the hard work on the floor.
In this industry you can't be scared of hard work and long hours. As soon as people stomach that and work out where they fit, it all comes together. I think it's important you work somewhere that makes you happy, I couldn't do these hours if I wasn't happy.
My biggest achievement:
Opening the Wolseley and St Alban were major achievements, but I would say I'm more excited about the fact that there are people I trained as maitre d's along the way who are now head maitre d's. Nurturing talent and passing on knowledge is so rewarding and in this industry you're so focused on what you're doing you can sometimes forget that.
My thoughts on raising the profile of jobs front-of-house:
The business I'm in now is a chef-led one, but I have also worked for a front-of-house company where the menus were led by Chris and Jeremy (King and Corbin) who are restaurateurs. I've therefore worked in both extremes and there are pros and cons to both. Ideally where you want to be is right in the middle.
Front-of-house would maybe be more appealing if people's thoughts about it were different. There are some very creative parts of our job but people don't realise that. People forget that there's as much creativity in the front as the back.
If I wasn't a maitre d' I'd be.....
...still working in the film industry. I started in post production, it wasn't a terribly glamorous job, but in a way it is similar to what we do here. There, you would work with the same people on set every day for long days, so your colleagues become your extended family. That's what I love, everyone in it together making something together.