Welcome to the latest edition of the ‘Meet the Masters’ series, where we interview experts across the hospitality industry. In this edition, we interview the head waiter and bartender of the Village Vanguard in Stratford, Austin Ventour. Austin gives us his perspective on why he is passionate about working as a waiter, as well as his thoughts on the industry today.
Introducing Austin Ventour
What made you want to become a waiter?
I used to visit my dad when he worked in an office and I just thought of having to sit down all day, and having to wear a suit wasn’t for me. Especially the suit part, although I found out later in my career that some high-end restaurants require you to wear them. My first waiter job was at Jamie’s Italian, the thought of interacting and serving people just suited who I was. I can normally tell what people need at the same time they realise they need it and that’s what makes a good waiter. Working in retail can be a bit monotonous and an office can be repetitive, but when people come to a restaurant they come to have quality time with each other and you have the chance to get to know them, and I like that aspect of working in a restaurant.
“I can normally tell what people need at the time they realise they need it and that’s what makes a good waiter.”
How did you get your break in the industry?
I started my career in waiting when I was 20 at Jamie’s Italian and worked there for two years. I left that job but the old General Manager, Jason who is one of my biggest saviours in life, put me in touch with The Breakfast Club. I got an interview and then secured a job there and then after that, I got scouted for First Dates. So, if I look back, I owe big thanks to Jason.
What are your views on the attitudes and quality of waiters in the industry today?
Sometimes I see people who are really good, but I would put it out there that I could easily be one of the best waiters that I’ve ever known. For the ones that are good I can see they are more enthusiastic and passionate about delivering a good service and I found that a lot of foreign people are more like that.
I believe some people are born with the gift of being able to please people and then some people just don’t have it. As I said, to make a good waiter you need to be able to sense what people need to deliver a seamless service for your diners; however, when I am having an off-day I’m the first to make mistakes.
What is the best way for a waiter to climb the career ladder?
Find somewhere where you love to work and find somewhere you believe has good prospects and just stick it out. Make friends with everyone and don’t be a teacher’s pet because I think in 2018 no one really likes that any more. When you get a job, you have to stick at it and wait for the break. I think if you have waited two years and you haven’t been promoted, maybe try somewhere else or at least tell your manager you want an opportunity. There’s no point ever leaving without saying something.
“You have to stick at it and wait for the break.”
It’s also important for waiters to have work flexibility. Without a doubt, that is the main reason I am in this industry. People have different needs though; some people may want to work on the weekends and some people may only want to work during the week. Typically, not many people want to work weekends, but restaurants are at their busiest on weekends, so you’ll need to be able to alternate to give the restaurant the flexibility to then be able to give you flexibility.
Where is the best place to work as a waiter?
The best place I believe is Sweden, just for the fact that they get an hour every day to drink tea and eat cakes. Who wouldn’t love that? You could also say America, but I think you have to work harder to earn the same amount of pay. The majority of the pay is based on tips, so you have to work really hard, but if I was to work really hard in the UK I may not necessarily get many tips, so it works both ways. In Britain, I think it is just hard to find staff, so it affects the quality because there is not much competition for jobs, which is great for job seekers.
Do you think there is enough recognition for careers as a waiter?
The only reason I got a job as a waiter at Jamie’s Italian was down to the fact that my friend worked there; otherwise, I would never have thought of getting a job in a restaurant. You can see restaurants are looking for staff, but a lot of people don’t know what the job entails, and they apply to just have a job. Also, if you wanted to become a waiter no one knows what path to take to be able to become one. If I wanted to work in an office, I think it is quite logical to seek a degree to be able to do that. At the end of the day, the only way to know what it takes is to just get a job and experience it for yourself.
“The only way to know what it takes is to just get a job and experience it for yourself.”
What is your number one tip for an aspiring waiter?
You need to enjoy where you work. Pick somewhere which makes you happy and with some hard work you will prosper and build great experience. There are so many opportunities in London and with some good experience you could be working at a top end restaurant like Galvin at Windows, or you can even take your skills to another country.