At the age of 21, I was still not sure what to do with my life. I tried a few jobs, but nothing had inspired me. I was confident and outgoing, the kind of guy that was always the first to start a conversation. Always cracking a joke and trying to make others laugh. I’ve often thought that it was my purpose in life, to make others happier, whether I knew them or not.
I began waiting tables in the early 90’s. I had to wear a pretty awful stripy uniform, some ridiculous braces, told to buy at least 10 badges and wear a hat of my choice! You may think I’d joined the circus, but I had just joined the restaurant business. Little did I know, but I’d joined the unofficial University of Hospitality, called TGI Friday's. What followed was to change my life forever.
We were assigned an IST (in store trainer) who was so friendly, really positive, encouraging and really knew his stuff. He told us all just how much money we could earn serving ‘guests’, if we could learn the menu, follow some simple yet effective steps of service and give every guest a great time. I was captivated. This was proving to be more interesting and fun than any job I’d had previously.
I was introduced to the '10 steps of service', numerous theories and philosophies, I was taught the menu inside out and back to front (it was more like a book than a menu to be honest). We were tested on everything and had to pass or we were out! It was an awful lot like school, but strangely enjoyable. I finally found a place I fit in, where I could be myself, talk all day, laugh, joke and make people happy. Not to mention get paid quite handsomely for it. I was a ‘dub/dub’ (waiter) and I was bloody good!
The months flew passed, I moved around departments; I was a waiter, a bartender, a host, a line cook and a shift leader (like a manager without a tie!). The more I learnt, the more confident I became and more ambitious I was. Eventually I fancied myself as a manager. Management for me started at Pizza Express before a move to ASK back in the day when they were just starting out, before their casual dining domination.
I’ve always felt you needed 3 things to be successful in this business: hard work, talent and luck. I’ve always been a grafter, it’s clear I’ve found my vocation in life and I’ve certainly had some good luck along the way.
I’ve had the good fortune to work for some of the most successful and inspirational restaurant entrepreneurs in the UK, many of whom are now in the who’s who of the hospitality aficionados… Osmond, Johnson, Kaye’s and Joffe.
In the summer of ’98 I was approached by Russel Joffe, a seasoned restauranteur, to become the manager of a new concept in London called giraffe, that would change the landscape of all-day casual dining scene as we knew it. What followed was to change my life forever and 16 years and 65 restaurants later, I had helped establish one of the most admired people and service cultures in the industry.
It was the late (great) Russel Joffe that encouraged me to share my insatiable passion and experience with other brands and start my own hospitality consultancy and specialise in service, training, culture and motivation. Before I knew it 10 Hospitality was born.
I was writing customer journeys, brand and training material, helping launch new concepts, training large teams, delivering management workshops, coaching Operations mangers and mentoring restaurant owners. One contract, led to another, that led to another. It was official I had the best job in the world.
By the end of 2019 I’d established healthy, productive relationships with impressive start-ups such as Bird, Over Under Coffee and Doughnut Time and supported industry leading brands such Loungers, Jamie’s, The Restaurant Group and Davy’s to name a few. I was providing training for teams on everything from recruitment to training, team engagement to leadership and of course hospitality. Amazing clients that recognized the importance of training and culture in their business.
What followed was to change my life forever... On Tuesday 17th March 2020, everything stopped. The nation had been overcome by a deadly virus, that was to decimate the hospitality industry over night. National brands, start-ups, independents, chains, food markets, coffee shops and hotels, the casualty list was endless. Naturally, my business,10 Hospitality became No Hospitality and everything I had built seemed all but lost, the dream I was living was in tatters.
But as I look back over a successful career of more than 25 years, there is no doubt that the most significant point in my journey was the training I received in my first week in the industry, which was amazing, the best training one could ever ask for and it set me up for life.
Almost 100 restaurant openings have served me well and I know what it takes to get a team ship shape and ready to serve on opening night. I know how to inspire, motivate and educate.
I’m going to come back better and stronger than ever before. I’m going to help businesses get back to winning ways by offering the best g-d damn hospitality and service training they’ve ever seen. Taking teams that will need an injection of self-belief, courage and determination. Just as that first restaurant trainer did for me.
Despair and uncertainty must be replaced by belief and purpose. Maybe now is the time to start thinking about recovery. When you’re ready, let 10 Hospitality inspire, rejuvenate and re-energise your teams, and put your brand back on the map and in the game. What follows may change your life forever. AK