Emma Underwood: "Front of house staff have to be charming - most people are terrible at it"

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Emma Underwood: "Front of house staff have to be charming - most people are terrible at it"
The Stem restaurant manager and partner in the TMRW Project on why front of house need stages too

Emma Underwood was speaking at Restaurant magazine's Restaurant Congress last month

I’m extremely lucky to love my job, and working front of house is something you can be really passionate about. Unfortunately the profile of front of house in this country doesn’t always match that. We are in a time when the restaurant industry in the media is massive, with every week a new TV programme about it, but representation of front of house is somewhat disproportionate. Fred [Sirieix] is doing a great job of promoting front of house, but it is mostly chefs, who are seen as rocks stars.

The tangibility of working front of house is much harder – how do you market good service? You can’t Instagram a picture of a well cleared table. Chefs have a wonderful network that they can perpetuate on social media, sharing techniques and food. Front of house don’t have these same kinds of products or networks.

As front of house we spend time representing the businesses we work for, the wine and food we serve, so trying to consider our own platform and represent ourselves is a bit difficult. It was with this in mind that I started speaking to Anna Sulan Masing [co-founder of the TMRW project] to coordinate front of house stages.

To work front of house you have to be intelligent, charming, be able to multi task, be reactive and quick witted, all while maintaining a sense of hospitality. Most people are terrible at it. It is not something you can fall into. It is difficult to know how to convey this to our teams and say you can be proud of this and do something amazing with your career – how do you instil this in them when they are always being told their job is not highly regarded?

A wonderful way to learn to grow is through stages, which are really popular in the chef world. So, as part of the TMRW Project, in spring 2016 we launched The Switch, and every second week in October we get a group of front of house people together to switch restaurants. It’s a really lovely way for them to gain confidence. If you’re saying to someone that their job is so important someone else wants to come and do it for a week then people think what they are doing is great. You learn from every single restaurant.

The Switch is a wonderful way to develop a network and build ideas among front of house members. The next one is in the second week in October, and we are looking for applicants now.

For more information on The Switch, click here.

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