'It is easy to see how divides between front and back of house can develop in large restaurants' blog by Emma Underwood

The Staff Canteen

Emma Underwood discusses how important it is to take the time to get to know all members of your team and why 'staff dinner' is key to team bonding.

I have just finished my second month as General Manager at Darby’s, the new restaurant opened in Nine Elms from the same team behind The Dairy, Sorella and Counter Culture.

It is a large, 120 cover space, with a bakery, butchery, oyster bar, outside terrace and an open kitchen with barbecue grill. As someone who has only ever run small restaurants with a maximum of 55 covers this has been a big but wonderful challenge. While the last 8 weeks have seen their fair share of issues, we’re so pleased with the way the restaurant is developing.

The largest challenge for me has been the huge increase in the size of our team. Previously the biggest team I have worked with has had 15 members, whereas Darby’s currently has 35 on its payroll. Coming from small restaurants has meant I’m very used to everyone working together in an almost familial manner, with teams that spend an inordinate but glorious amount of time with one another. In small restaurants it is comparatively easy for everyone to know and get along with one another, just by taking staff dinner together every day is a great time for bonding. In a restaurant of Darby’s size, that serves from 8am until 10pm, a communal staff dinner is near impossible. Instead people take their meals in small separate groups, or even alone. It is easy to see how divides between front and back of house can develop in large restaurants in this way.

Luckily at Darby’s we have a kitchen that is headed by a chef that also comes from small, familial restaurants, Dean Parker, who worked at The Dairy, The Manor and Sorella. He has a great understanding of staff welfare, and we regularly discuss any concerns within our team, working together to solve any issues that may be arising. We both take the time to get to know all members of our team well, in the kitchen, bakery and front of house. In fact, the first thing I do when I arrive at the restaurant is say hello to every member of the team, starting with the kitchen. In a restaurant the size of Darby’s this is very time-consuming, but definitely essential. The main pass is run by a member of both the kitchen and the front of house, so both sides can be understanding of both sections at once. All new starters at Darby’s spend their first shifts as a runner at the pass, learning the rhythms of the kitchen.

We also strongly encourage all of the team to eat in and enjoy the restaurant, with special discounts for their first meals. No matter how many critics, celebrities, and industry legends pass through the doors at Darby’s, the biggest VIPs are our team, their friends and their families. This is our chance to say thank you for all their hard work, and to help their loved ones understand the reasoning behind all the times that our chefs and front of house have missed those special occasions, in order to dedicate themselves to helping create such a beautiful restaurant. My proudest moment throughout opening Darby’s was not the glowing review in The Guardian (although it comes a very close second), but the day a chef’s dad came in with a bunch of flowers to say thank you for his meal with us, and for looking after his son who is newly moved over from Ireland.

Darby’s is still in its youth, but I can’t wait to see how it will develop, and how our team will grow with it.

Emma Underwood blog image

Emma Underwood

About Emma Underwood

Emma Underwood is the General Manager of Robin Gill's latest venture, Darby's restaurant. The former restaurant manager of Stem in Mayfair previously worked at Where the Light Gets In in Stockport and at Gary Usher's Burnt Truffle in Heswall.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012, when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before becoming the general manager at sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle. 

Emma is also part of the TMRW project, alongside food writer Anna Sulan Masing.

TMRW is a platform to help  people starting out in their career to grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th July 2019

'It is easy to see how divides between front and back of house can develop in large restaurants' blog by Emma Underwood