Dale Dewsbury, restaurant manager, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie

The Staff Canteen

Dale Dewsbury is the restaurant manager at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles in Scotland which currently holds two stars in the Michelin Guide UK and 4 AA Rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide.

He started out wanting to be a chef but soon fell under the spell of front of house during his time studying hospitality management at college. His long career has seen him work at many top hotels and restaurants including Sir Bernard Ashley’s Llangoed Hall in Wales where he was part of the team that won it a Michelin star and the Hotel of the Year award. He first joined forces with Andrew Fairlie at One Devonshire Gardens before moving with him to set up the restaurant at Gleneagles, where he has been ever since. How would you sum up the philosophy to service at Andrew Fairlie; is what you call ‘starch-free’ central to it? 

It’s an incredibly fine balance. It’s an incredibly fine product that we’re working with. We’re not just flipping burgers; the chefs in the kitchen work incredibly long hours and to an incredibly high standard and that has got to be translated through to the service. Reverence is a word I use frequently – being reverential to each other’s efforts. But then again, some of the worst dining experiences I’ve had are where people have taken that reverence too far and it becomes stuffy and you’re meant to feel, as a diner, that you should be reverential, and that isn’t the point.

How do you stop yourselves from overstepping that line into starchiness?

I think it comes from the key personalities involved. At my best I’m a fairly dour Yorkshireman, then there’s Stevie [McLaughlin] our head chef and Andrew – I don’t think we’re ever going to get carried away by fluff and nonsense. None of us come from privileged backgrounds. We all appreciate the quality of what we do but none of us come with a silver spoon so we have that balance without ever getting carried away on the haughty side of things. Wine is a very easy one to use as an example. If you are a sommelier who has spent a lifetime bettering yourself, working long hours in service and then going home and getting your nose in books and getting out to tastings – it’s so easy to get completely lost in the world of wine and lose complete sight of the reason why you’re doing it, which is to advance people’s enjoyment. It’s very easy to slip into the trap of insisting that somebody drinks something that you think is right. It’s a case of remembering why you’re studying, why you’re putting all those hours in – you’re doing it for the betterance of the experience of the diner. A restaurant isn’t a lab; it isn’t an analytical environment; it’s a place set up for people to have a great time and enjoy company and food and wine; you’re a conduit for that; you’re not there to berate them if they don’t want your recommendation.

You were at Gleneagles with Andrew from day one; how was that journey from setting up the restaurant through to the first then second star?

As a target we had talked about maybe eight years to try and get to two stars and that was our goal. As it was Michelin looked on it very favourably. We opened in May and were awarded our first star in January of the following year which was way ahead of our anticipated schedule. From there it was a case of working towards the goal. The first star made life financially bearable for Andrew and we were able to stick to our guns because we were getting lots of people through the front door and we’d given Gleneagles something they’d never had before, which was a Michelin-starred restaurant.  In 2005 we were carrying on business as usual but Andrew was very seriously unwell so there was a bit of change to approach that year, and it was more a case of let’s keep this in good shape for him coming back. We weren’t thinking, push on, push on; it was more, let’s not get this wrong while Andrew’s away. Having gone through a large part of 2005 with that approach, then in January ‘06 when the Michelin guide came out, to see we’d been promoted to two stars was a real shock and certainly one of the highlights of my working life to that point.

You took a year out of the service sector a couple of years ago; what drove that and how did it affect you?

I hit 40 and ten years’ service in the same year and I did what a lot of men do and had a bit of a wobble. I was absolutely terrified at the speed that the ten years had passed. It was a brilliant time but I thought, if the next ten years do the same, I’ll be 50 and never done anything but work in a restaurant. So I thought, I’m going to have A: a good break and B: think about the next phase of my life. I took six months off, rediscovered the fact that I had a kitchen in my own home, took a couple of nice holidays and then did a nine-to-five job with every weekend off, which I’d never done in my life. Although I did enjoy the break from the routine of working weekends and nights, I did use to wake up every morning thinking, what am I doing? Why am I not going in to do what I love? I should be managing a restaurant. So I went to work with Jeff and Chris Galvin at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh, which I thoroughly loved but I thought, this isn’t what I’m missing; I’m missing the Andrew Fairlie environment. I worked with Jeff for a few months then said, genuinely I don’t think I’m the man to do this; that’s when things really fell into place because then Andrew gave me a call and asked if I would like to come back.

You did your first ten years; you had a bit of a wobble; you then realised this was where you wanted to be; can you now see yourself doing another ten years?

In the whole conversation about coming back it was about not settling back into the same old shoes but pushing on and improving and being a long term thing. For me it was a case of, if I’m going to come back I want it to be with the same attitude that we opened the place, which was with clear ambitious goals. I’ve been back 18 months and it has certainly flown by! We’ve got our teeth into the service as a product and are pushing it forward again. I’ve not come back to mark time; it’s about how we make this a better restaurant; how do we make the service better and I do see it as a long term challenge.

Have a look at current front of house vacancies here if you want to run a restaurant like Dale. 

>>> Read more from the Are You Being Served series here

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th April 2014

Dale Dewsbury, restaurant manager, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie