5 key life lessons that I learned from catering school


As someone who was never overly academic or wildly enthusiastic about school as a teenager growing up in France, the vocational educational route, was one that to a certain degree was largely unavoidable.

But, as with many teenagers who are faced with the reality of having to try and choose a career based on what they think they might like to do, choosing to specialise in catering was largely a choice made on the basis that catering was a sector that encompassed a wide range of career opportunities.

So, just over 10 years on from my catering college graduation, here are 5 things things I took away from catering college, that have played a vital role in my career to date.

1 It changed my life for the better

Wow, it doesn’t get any more serious than that does it?! But it’s true: as someone who was just never academically minded, university really didn’t appeal to me and therefore wasn’t really ever an option.

Thankfully though, catering college turned out to be the making of me, for no other reasons than I finally ended up doing something that I loved, and was therefore pretty good at: where others simply couldn’t hack the fast-paced environment, the high pressure, the regimented structure, and the long hours, I loved every minute of it and I thrived as a result.

Finally, catering gave me incredible opportunities to travel (it is the reason why I ended up in Ireland back in 2007 and have stayed here ever since!), and allowed me to experience working in extremely diverse, multi cultural working environments, and in a variety of diverse job roles.

2 The importance of high standards

Though catering college is rarely given the same respect as a university in education terms, the training I received in catering college was absolutely second to none.

In terms of standards, I was trained to work in 5-star, Michelin approved properties, where only the best is ever good enough.

The almost military style training, which at the time seemed excessive and a lot more than I had signed up for at the outset, was in fact a blessing in disguise: learning that only perfection will suffice when it comes to meeting a guest’s expectations, is something that has stayed with me throughout my career.

Training to the highest standard in any profession means learning the importance of discipline and ultimately, ‘tough love’ was what enabled me to appreciate the importance of detail when it comes to exceptional customer care: from meticulous uniform presentation, to first class table setting, right through to problem resolution, first class service ultimately comes down to the finer details. That is what separates the average from the great.

3 The devil is always in the detail

The life skill of discipline, which many people fear as a negative force, was present in everything I did during my formative training years.

But the thing is, although this strict discipline often made the learning experience a difficult one, the fact is that discipline develops self-confidence and resilience by fine-tuning skillsets: as a result, discipline brings freedom.

The fact is, in my experience at least, discipline is what trains the mind to focus on attention to detail, and this is ultimately what brings about success: it is what enabled me to take a Dublin hotel from a 3 to a 4 star rating, and it is what allowed me to take a Paris hotel from a 4 to a 5 star rating.

4 Always be prepared

Being prepared is yet another form of discipline, and it really means being highly organised to ensure that the wider hotel team is focusing not only on the task in hand, but on creating fail-safes to ensure that solutions are always in place when things go wrong.

Ultimately, running a hotel is a tough and demanding job that involves long hours and heavy workloads. However, as businesses go, it is not a complicated business simply because an established business model is in place, it is highly departmentalised, and it is highly repetitive and structured.

For these reasons, the key to being a successful hotel manager is to be prepared, by being supremely organised.

And this very simple (yet very under-utilised) thought process was the inspiration that led me to the start of Dmbook Pro.

5 The importance of knowing a little bit of everything

To this day the single best piece of advice I ever received (while working in a small hotel in the south of France), was simply that to succeed in hospitality “you need to know a little bit of everything”. The experienced hotelier who told me this was in the middle of creating a bedside lamp out of a beautiful piece of wood.

In fact, knowing a little bit about lots of things is becoming incredibly important in many cases, simply because technological innovation and evolution are completely changing business models that were once very straightforward. It is also a key element of control when dealing with any kind of suppliers and/or contractors.

As the CEO of a tech start-up, I heavily rely on this broad knowledge acquired in catering school and hotels. I now appreciate fully the value of classes like marketing and accounting who didn’t seem so relevant at the time. There nothing quite like that feeling when an accountant, for example, compliments you on your working knowledge of bookkeeping.

So, being adaptable, flexible, and forward thinking, are no longer desirable skills for a hotel manager: they are absolutely vital for the success of any hotel business.

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