In February, the iconic Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles retained its two Michelin stars for the 17th consecutive year. However, its general manager, Dale Dewsbury, also took home an additional prize, the Michelin Guide Service Award. We asked him about working front of house.
What was your career path?
I was brought up living in pubs in my hometown of York, as my parents were publicans. I went to catering college and worked as a commis chef in local restaurants while studying. As my training progressed, I was more drawn to the restaurant than the kitchen. When I qualified, I worked at a lovely privately owned country house hotel as a waiter. It was the Eighties and the country house hotel was where great cooking was to be found. I stayed in that environment for a number of years – Middlethorpe Hall in York, Horsted Place in East Sussex, and then to Llangoed Hall in the Brecon Beacons. Llangoed was pivotal in my career. I was working for Sir Bernard Ashley (of Laura Ashley fame) and he challenged us to put Llangoed on the culinary map. Within three years we had achieved everything he asked us to – winning the AA Hotel of the Year award, The AA’s Courtesy and Care Award, but most importantly, winning a Michelin Star with chef Ben Davies. I was house butler, working very long hours, but it was worth it.
Then I moved to Scotland’s Michelin-starred Georgian Room, before going to One Devonshire Gardens and meeting Andrew Fairlie. He asked me why I wanted to work there and I told him I wanted to manage a restaurant that could win two stars, and that he was the only chef in Scotland that I thought was capable of that. Very soon after, I managed front of house for his first solo venture. That was in 2001 and has defined my life.
Do you want to inspire others to go into hospitality?
I’m too old and gnarly to be the poster boy for the service industry, but if an earnest and deeply felt endorsement is inspiring, I can give that. This isn’t an easy or soft job. It takes hard work and commitment. However, throughout the duration of my career, I’ve seen improvements in working conditions, hours, and financial remuneration.
How do you think people want to feel at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie?
Everybody has different interpretations of what makes it great, but we ensure they eat produce that we love in a culinary style we believe in, and are served by professional staff who are passionate and enthusiastic. That’s the starting point, and we build on that. I see people who visited in 2001 and who are still returning in 2022.
How do you anticipate diners' needs?
Small things – the rate that someone drinks at, their pace of dining, what’s the purpose of their visit? We note these, then tailor our service. That’s the difference between a good restaurant and a great one. Many of our diners chose to celebrate here. Equally, dining here can be an occasion in itself for some people – precious time in the company of a special person, so the lack of a visible celebration doesn’t diminish the quality of experience we must deliver. We serve a lot of celebratory Champagne and celebration cakes, though even a discreet ‘congratulations’ can make a difference.
Any past challenges?
Losing Andrew was the biggest challenge I think I’ll ever face. I’d worked with him for 20 years, and he was someone I had ultimate respect for as a chef. In that time, he became a friend. He was very generous with his trust and gave me a great deal of freedom professionally and I flourished. We all miss him every day, but his passing has galvanized us. Despite the grief, we have really focused on the restaurant. It’s a huge motivator – I’ve always taken pride in what I do, but now it has so much more importance. I know how proud Andrew would be about this award – he would be more excited about it than me. He’d be reminding me to enjoy it and I’m trying to remember to do that. He always had a better opinion of me than I do of myself and I can’t help but think there would be a little ‘I told you so’ in his eyes.
How do you keep his memory alive?
He knew how to get the best out of me. He was the most talented chef I’ve known, and his love of his craft was clear to see and infectious too. When he talked about food, wine or restaurants he lit up and I always wanted to listen. He gave me scope to create the service culture to complement his cooking.
I don’t find it hard to keep his memory alive as every day something triggers it on a personal level. Professionally, I have the privilege of working with Stephen McLaughlin (Stevie), our head chef, who has such a strong bond with Andrew both in culinary terms and in professional outlook, that we always have an ‘Andrew opinion’ in most of what we do. Without falling into the trap of constantly looking backwards, Andrew is part of our future, and by having a restaurant that we’re proud of and that our diners love, will cement his memory.
How did you cope with lockdown?
Stevie and I met up for walks and kept the restaurant in the forefront of our thinking even when we were locked out of it. We talked a lot about what it should look like when we were able to re-open and a lot of that has come to fruition. When we re-opened, we were immediately back into our stride. I see it in myself and colleagues – lockdown reinforced what we love about our careers.