I never really thought I would be working in restaurants long-term. I had a part-time job washing pots and pans during my last few years at school, but once given the chance to be part of the front of house team and work ‘tableside’, I realised the beauty and fun of looking after people over something as simple as eating and drinking, and I’ve never looked back.
Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
Just enjoy the ride. There will definitely be highs and lows, but every bit of experience will only benefit you in the long run.
What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
It has to be Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. Each one of his restaurants has such individuality and they all play a big part in their respective communities. Expect amazing food, beautiful rooms and hospitality that is second to none.
What motivates you?
Blowing minds and making memories! It’s a saying I came up with a few years ago. As a team we have the opportunity every day to create an unforgettable experience for every single guest, and that’s something I always want to instil in our team.
What keeps you up at night?
Lots of things – I really struggle to wind down properly after a long day.
What time do you wake up?
As late as possible without being late.
How often do you check your email?
My phone does ‘ping’ whenever I get an email. In truth I struggle to switch myself off from emails when I should.
Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
A night on the tiles, followed by a day on the sofa!
A long lie-in, a few beers in the pub, then a massive roast before I crash on the sofa - that’s if I’m not working, of course.
Favourite holiday destination?
Fiji - 100%! It’s the most beautiful place with the most beautiful people, and a nation that lives for its rugby.
What was your dream job growing up?
A professional rugby player.
Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
I have been so fortunate to work under some amazing leaders, but Simon King (who I followed from Dinner to join The Modern in New York), Paul Downie (while I was at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal), and Tony Carson (also at The Modern) are the three people who guided and mentored me on my journey. They really brought out the best in me.
Worst business decision?
Continuing to stay in a role when I was miserably unhappy.
Best business decision?
Moving to New York to join The Modern at MOMA. It’s the experience led me back to London, and to my role working with Tom Kerridge and the team.
What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Try to experience a diverse range of restaurants, and make sure you travel as much as possible. Give yourself a broad understanding of different businesses and operations – it will ultimately help you choose the role or business that best suits you.
If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
I would love to see more emphasis on the importance of the hospitality in schools, to encourage more young talent into the industry.
O'Connor's career in hospitality has spanned many roles across a number of highly regarded businesses. Having started out as a pot washer and waiter at a local pub, he went on to become a front-of-house trainer and supervisor for PizzaExpress, and subsequently assistant restaurant manager for Brasserie Blanc Winchester. In 2012 he joined Dinner By Heston Blumenthal at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, London, first as a commis and then chef de rang, before becoming head waiter and later the Maître d’. In 2016 he moved to New York and became Maître d’ for The Modern restaurant at the at the Museum of Modern Art. In 2017 he returned to London and joined The Savoy Grill as junior restaurant manager, before taking on the role first of deputy restaurant director, and later restaurant director, at Kerridge’s Bar & Grill in the Corinthia Hotel in 2018.