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Meet London’s most outstanding front of house professionals

By Ina Yulo on 4th November 2019

There is no shortage of articles and stories written about rockstar chefs or business-savvy restaurateurs. Whether it’s a hot new opening or a piece on the latest winners at an awards show, it is often the same names and faces who are given front-page exposure.

Many chefs and owners are quick to acknowledge that any accolades or favourable reviews are a group effort and there is, in fact, an entire team working together towards a common goal. Ironically, it is often those who work the front of house–those who are responsible for the first interactions with guests–who end up having to take a backseat when it comes to being in the spotlight.

Food writer Ina Yulo sought to create a stage for these often overlooked individuals in the hospitality industry and remind everyone who steps into a successful restaurant about the massive role the front of house team plays in the overall dining experience.

Tomas Kubart, Restaurant Director, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill

Tomas Kubart – Restaurant Director, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill

Being on CODE Hospitality’s 30 Under 30 List and winning the award for Restaurant Manager of the Year from the Institute of Hospitality are just a couple of highlights from Tomas Kubart’s career. Born in the Czech Republic, Kubart started his career at the Hotel School of Hospitality and Tourism back in his home country, where he also began his relationship with the Mandarin Oriental group working as a waiter in their Prague hotel. The young professional’s resumé now includes stints as maître d at Bar Boulud in the Mandarin Oriental Knightsbridge and as part of the team overseeing the launch of the Mandarin Oriental Milan’s new restaurants.

Kubart left the Mandarin Oriental in 2017 and joined the operations team at The Hand & Flowers and The Coach, Tom Kerridge’s restaurants in Marlow. Last year, he was involved in opening Kerridge’s first London restaurant, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, where he is now the Restaurant Director. “The best thing about my job is all the amazing people we meet along the way in hospitality and making someone’s day better by providing excellent service and serving delicious food,” says Kubart.

Sarah Rhone, General Manager, Elystan Street

Making a great impression throughout each stage of your career journey often plays a key role in opening yourself up for bigger opportunities in the future. After spending time with Angela Hartnett and Robin Hutson as Senior Head Waitress at the Lime Wood Hotel in Hampshire, Sarah Rhone moved to the Big Smoke to take on the Head Waitress role at The Square under Phil Howard. She was swiftly promoted to Restaurant Manager and her talent did not go unnoticed by the then Chef Patron. “Sarah is one of those rare people who has it all: huge drive, ambition matched with ability, and is a great leader,” says Howard.

Howard eventually left The Square and opened up Elystan Street in 2016 with co-owner Rebecca Mascarenhas and Rhone was appointed General Manager of the Michelin-starred Chelsea spot a year after. Rhone shares: “I gain immense satisfaction from all of our guests enjoying their experience of Elystan Street; from us greeting them at reception to the attentive personal service. Our guests visit Elystan Street with the absolute knowledge of being able to enjoy great service, phenomenal culinary tastes, and seasonal fare.”

Angel Alleyne, General Manager, Oblix at The Shard

“What’s not to love about hospitality?” asks Angel Alleyne, General Manager of Oblix at The Shard. “I surround myself everyday with the things I love: great food, amazing wines, and a team of people who want to share their passion with the world.” Born to a Barbadian father and British mother, Alleyne had an early start to his career and studied hospitality and business management to further hone his craft. During his studies, he took on chef jobs across the Caribbean and Toronto and shares that he has experience doing almost every role within a restaurant.

Alleyne notes his time at Gaucho as being instrumental in allowing him to manage the specific challenges that come with different types of clientele—from the tourist-driven flagship in Picadilly to international sites in the Middle East. Prior to Oblix, he joined the Corbin and King group as Assistant General Manager at The Wolseley and as General Manager at Brasserie Zedel. “Angel has a genuine love for all things hospitality.  His infectious personality and ability to make people smile are just a few of the many things that make him a valued member of our team,” says Oblix Head Chef Marcus Eaves.

Aurelija Sovaite, General Manager, Barrafina

Aurelija Sovaite – General Manager, Barrafina

In 2009, Aurelija Sovaite moved from her native Lithuania to the UK to study. During her time studying in Nottingham, she took up a job working at a restaurant owned by the parents of restaurant gurus Sam, Eddie, and James Hart. Her talent and ambition soon saw Sovaite moving to London where she climbed the ranks at the original Frith Street branch of Spanish favourite Barrafina. ”The hospitality industry is very fast-paced, which I love…Being part of–and growing with–Barrafina is something I’m proud of. I admire the dedication to sourcing the freshest produce and ingredients. Working alongside such talented chefs and front of house teams to create a vibrant atmosphere for guests at our restaurants is one of the reasons I enjoy this job,” says Sovaite.

“Aurelija has worked in Barrafina for many years and has progressed from waiter to Restaurant Manager to Group General Manager across all four Barrafinas,” shares Harts Group Director Sam Hart. Aside from playing a large role in the opening of the newest Barrafina in Coal Drops Yard, Sovaite is also leading the business for another neighbourhood newcomer, the open-air grill restaurant Parillan. “When Aurelija is not in the office ensuring everything is running seamlessly behind the scenes, you will see her familiar face, working and managing the front of house teams at Adelaide Street, Coal Drops Yard, Dean Street, or Drury Lane. She understands the needs of both our customers and staff, is a trusted, organised and well-respected team leader, and a hugely popular member of the Barrafina family,” adds Hart.

Melissa Thomas, Restaurant Manager, Frog by Adam Handling

Not many people can say that they got their foot in the door by being a commis waiter at Dinner by Heston, but that’s exactly what Melissa Thomas did. She has since peppered her resumé with big names such as Roganic and Fera before she eventually landed her current role as Restaurant Manager at Frog by Adam Handling. “Melissa joined the Covent Garden team as our Restaurant Manager quite recently, but she’s already made a big impact. Her experience is second-to-none, so it’s been great to see her push our front of house team forward. She’s always smiling and always chatting to our guests; it’s very clear to everyone that she loves her job,” says Chef and Owner Adam Handling.

Frog by Adam Handling is known for its avant-garde dishes and sustainable cooking. Being able to communicate the thought process that went behind each dish and introduce diners to something they may be unfamiliar with are aspects that Thomas enjoys. “I love being on the floor and interacting with our lovely guests and inspiring them to explore and discover new ingredients and dishes on the menu. I like to make everyday a memory, filled with laughter and joy,” she shares.

Samantha Calandrelli, Head Host and Supervisor, Dishoom

“At Dishoom we believe in showing Seva,” explains General Manager Wentzel Annandale. “The concept stems from a core belief about humanity, a belief that we are happiest when our hearts are inspired and our minds are engaged…Sam is a real embodiment of Seva; her team loves her for her big-heartedness. She will always go out of her way to help others and to inspire through her leadership.”

Calandrelli was a member of the team that opened up Dishoom Carnaby four years ago. She soon climbed the ladder to become Head Host and was chosen to take part in an advanced training programme to further build on her leadership and restaurant management skills.

“One of the things I love the most about my job is the people it gives me the chance to meet and the relationships that I have established with them,” shares Calandrelli. “When I’m on my way to work, I have the same excitement that I used to feel when I was a kid and I couldn’t wait to get to school to see my mates. That’s one of the things I love about working in our industry, especially for Dishoom – it’s like working with a massive extended family, which brings together people from all backgrounds.”

Giovanni Spezziga, General Manager of Dalloway Terrace and The Coral Room

Giovanni Spezziga – General Manager of Dalloway Terrace and The Coral Room

Giovanni Spezziga has over 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. After bartending at the Porto Cervo in northern Sardinia, he came to the UK in 2003 to work at Rockwell Bar at The Trafalgar Hotel. His career now includes time spent at One Aldwych Hotel, Rosewood Hotel, and the Michelin-starred Benares. “I love that I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and have had the privilege of working in a multi-cultural environment, meeting interesting people and discovering unique ingredients that I can use to enhance the guests’ experience,” shares Spezziga.

He now heads up the teams at The Coral Room and Dalloway Terrace. “Gio is undoubtedly one of the finest hosts in London, and personally, a pleasure to work with,” says Joshua Craddock, Director of Marketing, Restaurants, and Bars at The Doyle Collection. Craddock describes Spezziga as someone who can transform the vibe of any room you put him in. “This influence, coupled with infectious Italian charm means that everyone who visits The Coral Room is greeted with warmth and enjoys his delivery of a fine and memorable drinking experience.”

Jose Ubero, Avenue, St James

Jose Ubero has been working in the restaurant world for over 8 years, with half of that time being in a managerial role. He was born in Spain and studied Tourism and Hospitality at the Polytechnic University of Cartagena, but it was during his time at London restaurant Plateau that he found his calling in leading a team. Starting off as a bartender, he quickly developed the skills needed to run a restaurant and puts these learnings into play in his current role as General Manager at the contemporary seasonal British restaurant Avenue.

“I enjoy my job immensely because I love working with people. Each day is completely different working with colleagues and customers across various walks of life,” says Ubero. At Avenue, Ubero is able to showcase his dedication for his craft whilst immersing himself in the busy and dynamic atmosphere that comes with a central London restaurant and bar. “Jose always shows passion and a love for being the General Manager at Avenue,” shares Head Chef Arnold Ievy. “He is always so welcoming and always makes sure that everyone who stops by leaves with a smile on their face.”

Oona O’Grady, Reception Manager, Quo Vadis

After working as a Senior Receptionist at The Ivy Collection, Oona O’Grady joined iconic Soho restaurant and private members’ club Quo Vadis as Reception Manager. “I love being able to meet and build relationships with such an interesting and eclectic group of people, whether they are regulars, members or first-time visitors. Making guests feel welcome as soon as they arrive is a very important part of the dining experience, and can set the tone for the rest of the evening,” shares O’Grady.

As a former home to Karl Marx, the historic club has become the perfect environment for O’Grady to meet and engage with international guests and show them the specific Quo Vadis brand of hospitality. “It is hard to conjure a more delightful welcome to a restaurant than to be greeted by the warmth and charm of dear Oona, who is blessed with one of the world’s greatest smiles,” says Jeremy Lee, Chef Proprietor at Quo Vadis. “With a practiced ease, folks coming through the revolving doors of Quo Vadis are welcomed by Oona then graciously ushered into the dining rooms, the club, or up into the private dining rooms, readied and waiting.  Madame Prunier once said that no matter what form any guest in her restaurant arrived, they left smiling. Oona is a vital part of ensuring Quo Vadis does just that.”

Bethany Morgan-Jones, Assistant Restaurant Manager, Tredwells

Bethany Morgan-Jones – Assistant Restaurant Manager, Tredwells

If you had told Physics graduate Bethany Morgan-Jones that she would one day be feeding thousands of festival goers out of a New Orleans-style food truck in Australia, she probably would not have believed you. However, after finding out that the traditional career path that she had set for herself was not one that truly honed her talents, she quit her job, entered the hospitality industry, and hasn’t looked back since. “I have felt more challenged and satisfied in my hospitality career than I have whilst studying or during my grad -scheme. I get to meet new people, learn new things, and talk about food for a living. I love each day because it’s completely different to the last,” she says.

Four years ago, she returned to the UK and found herself in the kitchen of Marcus Wareing restaurant Tredwells as a Commis Chef. Soon, her interest was piqued by the operations and business side of running a restaurant and she took on responsibilities in marketing, operations, and guest management before officially becoming Tredwells’ Assistant Restaurant Manager. “My favourite aspect of my current role is selecting and nurturing the fantastic team we have here,” says Morgan-Jones. Tredwells Chef Patron Chantelle Nicholson echoes this and shares: “Beth’s approach to her job is one of passion and drive. She is a key part of the Tredwells team and I am excited to see where her future develops with us.”

George Hersey, The Frog Hoxton

“George is a major team player and is constantly motivating and developing The Frog Hoxton team. He’s always keen to learn and progress; he just takes an idea and runs with it,” says Frog Hoxton Owner and Co-founder Adam Handling. Working in restaurants from the age of 15, George Hersey has seen the industry through the eyes of both a KP and a GM. Moving to Cornwall to study photography, Hersey realised that it was in working part-time at local seafood restaurants where he found his calling. At The Boot Inn located in Lapworth, he went from Junior Manager to General Manager and managed a team of 30 people at the ripe age of 22. He also launched a non-profit community project with some of his peers called “Project Birmingham” for rising stars in the food, art, and performance industries.

Handling’s ethos and focus on sustainability were initially what caught Hersey’s eye. After moving to London last year, he helped to open The Frog Hoxton and has been an important asset for the group ever since. “I love my job because I truly believe that working front of house gives you the opportunity to impact so many people’s lives through education in food and drink, sustainability, and seasonal cooking,” says Hersey. “It also gives me the opportunity to make 100 new people laugh, smile, and have a wonderful experience. What could be better and more powerful? If you do not love what you do, then this industry is not for you. Embrace it and make an impact.”

Alejo Galvez, Restaurant Manager, Casa & Plaza Pastor

Alejo Galvez’ journey from Peru to the UK began in 2008 when he hopped from one restaurant job to another, starting as a kitchen porter in a Lake District hotel before eventually taking on roles at the Hard Rock Cafe in London, Jamie’s Italian in Westfield, and Ceviche. At Ceviche, Galvez started as a supervisor and worked his way up to General Manager and Openings Manager across the entire Ceviche group. Soon after, he joined the Harts Group and brought his Peruvian flair to their portfolio. “Alejo started at the original El Pastor in Borough Market, just before we opened in Coal Drops Yard,” says Crispin Somerville, Director at the Harts Group. “He is responsible for bringing the Latin good time vibe and character from there to the Pastors at Coal Drops Yard, and was an integral part of our opening team. However, behind his relaxed and friendly exterior is a tenacious, dedicated, and inspirational leader who has excelled at maintaining the highest possible standards in such a new, unique, and challenging district of London.”

Despite initially being tasked with overseeing the launch and overall management of the Coal Drops Yard restaurants, Galvez has fused his passions and taken on a slightly different responsibility as well. “I DJ on a regular basis, occasionally playing at Plaza Pastor as well as around top London clubs.  Working with the Harts Group has given me a work-life balance that is very hard to find these days, but is so important. I love being around people, so if you don’t see me at the restaurant recommending a mezcal to finish off your meal, you might see me behind the DJ booth instead!” says Galvez.

Sam Orbaum, Restaurant Manager, The Drop

Sam Orbaum – Restaurant Manager, The Drop

When he pivoted his career in 2017 to transition from the Public Relations world to one in hospitality, Sam Orbaum’s goal was to eventually learn enough to start a career writing about restaurants. “Having worked joylessly in marketing for years, I knew that food and hospitality were my greatest interests, but initially thought that writing would be the right direction. A Christmas spent on the floor at Quo Vadis changed all of that,” shares Orbaum. Having the opportunity to create meaningful experiences through conversations with diners, working with the larger team, and putting on a performance on the floor all add to the instant gratification that Orbaum says is hard to find with other jobs. His passion and innate talent with guests at Quo Vadis made it an easy decision for the Harts Group to bring him on board when they were opening The Drop wine bar and restaurant.

“Sam joined the start up team at The Drop as Assistant Manager and very quickly learned the skills to be the main man. He has a fantastic ability to make clients feel relaxed but special. He has always had a strong sense of food and presentation and is developing a brilliant wine palette. Remarkably for someone so young, we have absolute trust in him representing us as a business and as people,” explains Harts Group Director James Hart. “Managing a team and getting to inspire that drive in a young crew is another joy, and I guess that operating a wine list also comes with its perks,” adds Orbaum.

Emma Underwood, General Manager, Darby’s

To say that Emma Underwood has made people stop and think about the future of hospitality would be an understatement. Whether it’s the impact she made at restaurants owned by Gary Usher and Mark Jarvis, the initiatives she runs to further develop front of house talent as part of the TMRW Project, or the time she spends sharing her insights as a mentor, speaker, and writer, Underwood’s every move is dedicated to pushing the envelope towards a better world for hospitality.

“For me, dining is not just about the food on the plate, the wine in the glass, or the room you are sat in. It is about the time you are spending with the person you are dining with. Whether it be with yourself, a colleague, a loved one or a friend, as front of house it is our responsibility to enhance those moments as much as possible,” says the two-time CODE Hospitality Top 100 Influential Women awardee and current General Manager of neighbourhood restaurant and oyster bar Darby’s. Whilst studying for her PhD, Underwood found a link between her research on women’s experiences within anarchist and feminist groups and the kind of personal dining experience she wanted to give her guests. She explains: “Dining is such an emotional experience, and it is my job to ensure those emotions are purely positive.”

Hilary Brett, General Manager, BAO Borough

Hilary Brett – General Manager, BAO Borough

When she was 16, Hilary Brett was making sandwiches and coffee at a local cafe. Being right in the middle of the action got her hooked and she soon saw herself packing her bags for London to take on the restaurant industry full-time. The dynamic industry, where no two days are the same, has helped Brett find roles where her love for food and people are front and centre. She quickly learned the ropes as a General Manager at a small independent restaurant in Soho before joining the team at powerhouse steamed bun specialists BAO.

“All the best people want to work with Hilary. Wherever she works she always builds excellent teams and gets them to perform to a high standard.  Hilary has real skills with spotting raw talent and nurturing young people to become great managers themselves,” says Tom Ward, Operations Manager for BAO and Xu. After working at BAO Soho as its General Manager, Brett was tasked with opening the newest BAO branch in Borough and continues to develop her skills on a daily basis. “This industry is amazing for so many reasons,” shares Brett. “I love that restaurant life constantly keeps you on your toes; there are a million things going on at once–and therefore a million things that could go wrong–so you’re always active and engaged with what’s going on around you.”

NOTE – Main image is Oona O’Grady, Reception Manager at Quo Vadis