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July 5, 2022

8 things I’ve learned about running restaurants

Garrey Dylan Dawson shares some of the lessons he’s learned through the years on how to run a restaurant.
July 5, 2022

Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know

In 1996, Garrey interviewed with two chefs — Raymond Blanc and Heston Blumenthal. While he was impressed with Blanc, he spotted at least 20 people working in the kitchen at Blanc’s acclaimed restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. “I thought, what am I going to learn here?” The alternative was to work at The Fat Duck with a guy named Heston — “where I’m going to be working right next to this guy and can take everything he's got.” Or, as Garrey told his girlfriend after a head-spinning interview with Blumenthal: “I have to work for this guy because I have no clue what he's on about. I need to know what he knows.”

Everything matters in a restaurant

It was at The Fat Duck that Garrey realised the “whole dynamic” is important. “It's not just about food,” he says. “It's about the chair you’re sitting on, it's the table, it's the curtains, it's what's in your eye line, it's what's behind you, it's what your wife's going to be looking at, what's going to be distracting her when you talk. Working with Heston, we learnt about music in the room. What kind of music you should have, you know?” 

As a chef, your CV matters — but don’t let it be the only thing people see

When Garrey moved to Denmark, he had a few interviews but it became apparent that prospective employers wanted ‘Garrey from The Fat Duck’. “They didn't want me,” he says. “They wanted to know what I knew. If I was a mechanic for Ferrari, and this geezer came in and said he'd been working for McLaren and was winning the championship, I'd probably want to know why and how. So it's probably normal, but I was like, “I'm not sure if that's right.” And in the end, he turned down the job offers.

Good chefs are consistent — but great chefs adapt

For Garrey, being able to pick up on subtle differences — in the quality of an ingredient, say, or the air temperature — and understanding how it might affect the preparation of a dish is a “beautiful thing” that few chefs consider. For example, on his morning walk to the kitchen at Henne, Paul Cunningham tries to pick up changes in the weather and in the produce growing in the restaurant’s garden, orchard, and fields. “In those moments, he's absorbing the temperature, he's absorbing nature,” Garrey says. “And when he walks into the kitchen that day, he might turn around to the boys and say, ‘We’re going to lighten the sauce a bit today’ or ‘It's a bit cold outside. We need a little extra butter’. On a summer's day, he might say: ‘We're going to lighten it a bit. Add a little bit more lemon juice or apple cider.’ And it’s the daily adjustment that makes the difference.

Guest interaction is everything

Garrey got a lesson on the supremacy of the guest experience during his interview with Blanc. While walking through the gardens at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, they passed some ladies having afternoon tea. Blanc noticed that their umbrella was skewed, Garrey recalls, and “without missing a beat, he grabbed the umbrella and was like, ‘Oh no, ladies. This is a mistake, non.’ He's pulling this umbrella and it's getting worse and he leaves it completely wonky, upside down, with spilt tea. But the ladies are like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Raymond Blanc.’ We walked away and he was like, ‘That was it. That was the thing.’ At that moment, I realised that guest interaction is critical. Guests want to feel the passion from the guy. It doesn't matter if it's the best interaction, but it's the interaction.”

Restaurant staff have to be able to “read the room”

“A guest has to be happy,” Garrey explains. “The food can be the best in the world, but the most important thing is we have to read the situation because we've got to make sure the food gets to the table and makes the guests happy. When I go to a table, I’ll look at the situation. Do they want to hear more? Do they want to see more? What kind of people are they? When I walk to the table, do they look at me, wondering: “What's he going to say?” In which case, I’ll give a bit more information. If they're still holding hands and talking to each other when I lean in, they don't want to hear what I've got to say. So I put the plate down, say “Chicken” and walk away. And if they want to hear more in the next course, then we'll explain more. But we’ve got to read the situation.”

The front and back of house have to communicate well

Everyone knows the archetypal relationship between the two teams, Garrey says: “The kitchen’s always right, the front house are always idiots.” That’s usually meant in jest, but when he joined Henne, he soon saw the need to change the dynamic. For one thing, the waiters kept dropping a particular dish but were too afraid to speak up. Garrey had stern words for the kitchen: “I said: ‘This just doesn't work. I mean, who's suffering? You're going to have to replate the dish. They're going to have to carry it out again. So think differently about this.’” But he also spoke to the front of house team. “I said: ‘You cannot be afraid of the kitchen. We're in this together. If one of them is not working, then it's not going to work for everyone.’ Slowly but surely, they started to understand that there's one goal here and that's to give the customer at the table the best experience.”

Great restaurants are not about one person

“Henne isn’t about Paul. It's not about me. It's not about the family that owns it. It's about everybody. Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has a feeling. Everybody has an eye. And everybody should be a part of that. And it's because everybody has this, that we can create something that's a little bit different,” Garrey says. “And we try to give everybody at Henne — the restaurant staff, the kitchen, the gardener, the lady who does the flowers — the tools to make a decision for themselves, knowing that no one's going to go, ‘Well, that's not like it was yesterday.’ Unfortunately, I think we're losing that a little bit in the industry.”

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