During my first months in London, the restaurant recruiting system didn’t impress me and I wanted to opt out of the whole thing entirely. Dealing with hospitality recruiters was akin to doing business with used car salesmen. Not promising. I had met with numerous companies, been on quite a few interviews and had numerous job opportunities. None of them worked for me though. So, I decided to look at things differently and work the few connections I had in London to maybe open some doors.
Soon after arriving in London in 2013, I had joined a local tennis league, to get back into playing tennis, something I enjoy immensely but never had the time for, and potentially meet some new people. Thankfully, through someone I played in this league, I got connected with a guy who runs an independent wine consultant company, advising restaurants on their beverage program. He was well connected through his years of dealing with small and large restaurant groups and wine distributors. I called him up and we met for some coffee to talk about my career. We had a productive meeting and he was kind enough to send my CV around a bunch of restaurant groups and wine companies, with the new plan of pursing a beverage related job.
Around the same time, I also decided to pursue a formal certification in wine and spirits, since certifications hold more weight here in London than in the US. I was able to skip the first two levels of the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) and enrolled immediately in the advanced course. After a lot of hard work and a lot of wine drinking (which does not sound like work, I know) I aced the exam, passing with distinction, the highest level. I had always been fond of the beverage side of the business and had run a wine program at a steak house in NYC prior to our London move. I decided at that point that I wanted to focus my energy on finding a job in that field. Meeting this contact was perfect timing, and with my new certification, my impressive CV and with a local reference, I figured that I had a great shot at finding the right position.
I received quite a few emails from various restaurant groups thanks to my contact and interviewed with a handful of companies. Armed with a new sense of confidence and a clear intention of what my goals were, I strolled into these meetings ready to be offered a dream role. Of course, things played out slightly differently. Most of my interviews were with restaurant groups, who were still throughly confused about what to do with me since I did not want to be a GM.
Unlike NYC, London restaurants do not typically have a full time beverage manager or beverage department. Instead, they pay a bartender to do inventory once a month and do the ordering. The stupidity of this is mindblowing. The beverage side of a restaurant accounts for around a third of the revenue, yet restaurants rely on an hourly employee to take charge of the program, maybe offering a small stipend for the effort. Would an entry level employee at any company, regardless of the field, be tasked with controlling and monitoring a third of a companies’ revenue? I don’t think so. And due to differences in cost structures (significantly higher labor cost), most restaurant groups, even large ones, can only afford to maintain tiny head offices and maybe, just maybe, one corporate beverage manager to oversee dozens of branches. One person told me that a lot of head offices in London are like a roomful of chickens running around without their heads. Totally chaos. Not enough people in charge of way too many things. Sounds fun, right?
While I was well received at all of my meetings, a position simply did not exist for me. My interviews with wholesale wine companies resulted in nothing solid. The restaurant groups thanked me for my time, but had nothing to offer other than GM positions. I did interview with one Italian chain (which I won’t name) that really wanted me to be a GM and offered the potential to be an Area Manager. In 18 months. In the hinterlands of Northern England. Oh boy. I could imagine the conversation with Julie would go like this: “Hey, do you want to quit your great career in London, have us lose all of our expat benefits and be forced to find a lower paying job in Yorkshire so I can manage a small, casual Italian cafe for a small salary? No?”
To say I was frustrated with my job situation would be an understatement. Julie was very supportive throughout this process, but I think even she was over my attitude towards finding employment. I had become rather jaded about my experience. I continued to troll the online job databases, avoiding anything to do with restaurant groups. I could not handle one more hopeless interview with a hospitality recruiter. Eventually, I did stumble across an opportunity with Neal’s Yard Diary, the premier cheese company in the UK. I had shopped in their retail stores and loved their product, and, on a hunch, I checked their website for any job openings. If the restaurant side of things was not to be, and the beverage opportunities were cloudy, I figured I could at least enjoy something that allowed me to be around high quality food and who doesn’t love great cheese? They had a few positions open, so I interviewed with HR, did a quick job trial for an hour or so and got a phone call a few weeks later, offering me a job as a wholesale cheesemonger!
I must say, I did not see my career moving in this direction but it was a great company and the job was Monday through Friday, 9am-6pm. It was to be my first ever position with standard, normal hours like most of the working world. Julie and I could go away for a weekend without me having to beg and plead for a Saturday and Sunday off. We could have dinner together during the week, a first in our relationship! And I would finally be making my own money (granted not very much, but more than zero), which I valued. While we have had a joint banking account for years and share everything financially, I felt a strange sense of shame buying things for myself with what was Julie’s money, something Julie did not really understand. I think it has something to do with personal pride, or maybe it is our society’s un-evolved male instinct to provide financially. I don’t know. Either way, receiving my first paycheck was radically gratifying.
So happy ending, right? Well, not exactly. As of this moment, I am unemployed again and passively looking for a job. What happened? Well, that will be explained in part three!