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June 5, 2022

The Specials | Sam Lawson-King from The Scenic Supper

Sam Lawson-King is one of the co-owners of The Scenic Supper — a fine-dining restaurant deep in the Cotswold Hills.
June 5, 2022

The Specials is an ongoing series of interviews with the unsung heroes of hospitality — from managers, waiters and sommeliers to dishwashers, farmers and foragers.

Sam Lawson-King is one of the co-owners of The Scenic Supper — a fine-dining restaurant deep in the Cotswold Hills offering “a uniquely intimate dining experience with breathtaking views”.

I began my front-of-house career in the kitchen.

My first job was washing up at my local pub when I was 14. I eventually moved up to a front of house job, just taking orders, and very gradually progressed on to the bar, where I realised I had a knack for selling. We sold cask ale and I loved tasting it, figuring out the USP, and selling it to customers. So that was the starting point.

The Scenic Supper wouldn’t exist but for a crazy French dude

After spending a few years working in wineries around the world, I returned to England in 2017 and went to work at The Fox at Oddington. It was a tiny pub in the Cotswolds run by Thomas Chiche, who schooled me in the art and craft of hospitality. What did I learn? What didn’t I learn?

I learned that you should never resent a customer

I’ve worked in so many restaurants where the staff were like, “That guy on table six is a…whatever.” Never bring yourself to that level where you resent the people you’re there to look after. As soon as you do, you might as well go home. They're there for an experience and whether it's a pint of ale or a six-course set menu with a wine flight, you should always take exactly the same level of care.

I learned that the customer isn’t always right

You’ve got to be careful. I’ve seen people go off at customers — but I think you have to just smile, take it and listen intently to everything they say. If there's something really obvious that you can say to defend yourself slightly, then fantastic. But there’s no point trying to make a customer feel stupid.

You have to be super on it about where every customer is at

Diners often have really intimate moments. I recently had a couple who were crying into each other's arms and it wasn’t anything sad — it was just the first time they'd been out together in years and they were just crying with love. It’s important to know in those specific moments not to go and interrupt a really important conversation. Keep it short and sweet. Know how long you need to hang around.

Communication between the front of house is key

When a server goes to a table and says, “Can we get you something else to drink?” when they've just ordered from a colleague is one of the biggest faux pas in this industry. So is leaving ketchup on the table when people are eating dessert. The last thing I want is to be eating chocolate ice cream and smelling horseradish.

Knowledge is power — and the foundation of any good team

Everybody who works front of house needs to know their products. They need to know their menu. We always do our team meeting before we kick off service. We go through any dietary requirements on the night, as well as any changes that our chef Sam’s made because something delicious has come in.

Managers should lead from the front

If you’re not the hardest worker in the room, what have your colleagues got to chase? I work my arse off and that filters down to the team, so they see the passion that I put in to make this happen.

You have to be able to read situations

The restaurant industry has become a little more relaxed, as we've grown more confident and knowledgeable about our products. But there’s a fine line between jousting and having a bit of fun with customers and ripping on them — which good front of house staff have an absolute knack for that. You have to be able to build a bridge with a customer in a second, find an in-joke, and make them feel comfortable.

Restaurants are like theatre

I love drama which fits nicely with this industry. The floor is my stage. It’s why I love my job. It’s all in the tone of voice. I’ll go to a table of two who are having a nice time and I’ll just whisper and keep it calm and lovely. Then you get to that table of eight and they’re a bit raucous and you need to speak up and you can have the craic.

Social media allows us to learn more about guests than ever before

Thanks to what’s on Instagram, I can pick out a Londoner in a second now. I can just look at an American and tell they’re American. Or you know if you can maybe take someone from a glass of wine up to a bottle. And it’s great when you can start predicting cocktails for customers. I’m, like, “Brilliant, you’re going to like this” or “Your local pub’s probably that, so we can do this."

The guest experience has to be exceptional

Customers have got to be blown away a bit. Our chef is all about pouring things at the table. We did a Cotswold chicken ravioli which came with an amazing consommé in a clear teapot stuffed with herbs. We’d get to the table and announce it. We’d announce it to our guests and then pour the consommé over the dish and just listen to the “oohs” and “aaahs".

As told to Superb. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.

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