Craig Firmager is the General Manager of Delicious Dining’s Banana Wharf restaurant in Southampton. Originally from a corporate hospitality background we caught up with him on a busy Monday afternoon to find out more about him.
How did you get into the hospitality trade?
I grew up around it. My parents were outside caterers. So from about 8 years of age I used to travel to show grounds around the country with them and sell cans of drink out of a freezer!
After that they had pub with a restaurant in Eling so I continued to work with them going full time when I left school. When they retired a position became available with Whitbread and I worked with them for 2.5 years as a deputy general manager for a Beefeater Restaurant.
Why did you leave a multi national company to join a local independent one?
With an independent company you get a lot more say, Whitbread was great for learning but the opportunity to work with Delicious Dining was too good a one to pass up, here I can have more of an input and effect on the business; I can have my own say in terms of menus, training and the day to day running of the restaurant; a lot more scope to help the business grow.
Describe a typical workday for you.
Key to a good day is to make sure you are set up first thing ready to go; making sure that everyone knows their jobs. For me it’s all about the service, so if it lunch or evening service you are going to be on the floor, (in the restaurant) making sure all the diners are ok, the kitchen is running smoothly and everyone knows what they are doing.
It also depends on what type of day it is. Monday is more of an office type of day for me, catching up after the weekend, looking at figures, sales and looking forward, planning the next rota, which we plan two weeks out.
If you dined at Banana Wharf what three dishes would you order, and why?
Pork ribs, nasi gorang and chocolate crepe with fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream.
What would you say was the key ingredient to Banana Wharf’s success?
We have a very diverse menu, which appeals to all; we can also cope with a very large footfall. But I’d say that our strength is ensuring that the quality of the food is maintained no matter how busy we are; we could do 250 covers on a Saturday night, but the quality will still be there, not forgetting the good service along with a competitively priced menu and good portion sizes.
What three (four) words would describe Banana Wharf?
Fresh, Fun, Good food
What do you think are the most important qualities to be a good restaurant manager?
To have a good relationship with you team. You also need to be passionate and knowledgeable about the industry, hard working and dedicated, with a friendly personality to match. You really need to go the extra mile, anyone can come and sit in a restaurant and eat, but you need make them feel special.
As a restaurant manager, how important is it to have actual experience in every aspect of the business?
I would never ask someone to do a job that I haven’t done myself, so yes it’s really important, that way they see you do everything and that is how you gain people respect.
What would you say if someone if they said to you: “I think running a restaurant looks like fun and easy.”
I’d think great, I must have made it look that way!
But there are two sides to every coin. It is fun but it’s also hard work; you have to have a passion for it otherwise you wouldn’t do it. There are jobs out there that you can earn the same amount of money and have a bit of an easier life, you do get the social side of it but with that comes long hours, but as long as you are aware of that and you know what you are getting into – give it a go!
What has been your biggest career success?
Sales wise it was when we had the round the world Clipper race here and smashed the record weekly takings and record daily takings in the same week, which was a good feeling.
Sales aside, I’ve also been here more than seven years and had several teams to bring on and develop as new staff join us and I’d like to think that the consistency level remains high. So from a staff development point of view that is really rewarding.
If you could give your younger self some advice when starting out in your hospitality career what would it be?
Be aware of what you are getting into, you have to be dedicated and at times you may not have as much time for your family and yourself as you think you would. Go into it with an open mind and enjoy it.
How do you relax away from work?
I’m married and have two small boys so we have lots of family time – we go to Legoland quite a lot; we have a Merlin pass, personally though I’m a keen cyclists and try and get out as often as possible.