We met up for a quick chat with the General Manager one of Southampton’s grandest venues, The Grand Café.
After qualifying as a Criminal Lawyer, Edyta Swiecka had plans to join the Polish Diplomatic Service but a year studying English in Southampton put her on a very different career path.
How did you come to work in the hospitality trade?
“I was studying English full time at one of the language schools in Southampton while working part-time in a restaurant, I only planned to stay the year, but I fell in love with this industry and 14 years later I’m still here. I worked in a couple of venues in Southampton, and five years ago, Steve Hughes, Grand Café’s owner offered me the job of General Manager.”
Edyta says a typical day at Grand Café for her is a lot different from what people imagine. “There is plenty of admin and paperwork to do. A large part of my day is spent responding to emails, meeting with people such as suppliers and staff and dealing with the day-to-day issues of a large venue that employs up to 40 people. Sadly, it’s not one big party, but luckily I can get to enjoy the restaurant side of things and meeting with the customers and spending more time front of house at the weekend.”
With a capacity to cater for up to 200 and firm favourite for celebrations and events, the menu at Grand Café has something for everyone. Edyta would recommend the Sunday Roast if you had time to pop in at the weekend, “It is a fantastic meal, I have been eating it for the past five years and I haven’t got bored of if yet! But she would also highly recommend the Chargrilled Tuna Steak or the very popular Steak on a Stone, where guests can cook their fillet steak on a hot marble stone, “It’s a little different and always popular.”
While looking after one of the grandest restaurants in Southampton draws on many skills, Edyta says that above all, you need to be extremely organised and hard working. “As a general manager, your jobs are never done, and you need to be ready to pitch in no matter what at all hours of the day.”
And what advice would she give to someone wanting to be a successful restaurant manager? “To start from the bottom and work you way up. It’s the only way you realise just how grueling it can be. I think the hardest work is for those who work front of house and in the kitchen and if you haven’t done it you won’t understand how it works, it will also help you understand your staff more.”
When asked what she would say to someone who wanted to run a restaurant because it looks easy and fun Edyta recommends a job-swap. “I would ask them to swap jobs for a week and let’s talk at the end of the seven days. I would be happy to do any job they do; I would be pretty sure that after a couple of days if they hadn’t done it before, they would want to swap back.”
With 14 years working in the trade, her advice to a younger self would be not to take things too personally and learn and have a good work-life balance; something she admits she is still pretty poor at doing. But says when she does have some time to herself there is nothing better than curling up with a good book and having a rare duvet day.