Lauren Barnett is the founder of Actually Good Chef Jobs, a new free to use recruitment platform for the industry to help place chefs in jobs.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I have been working in the hospitality industry since my first job at 16. I went to uni to study PR, but kept a part time role in restaurants on the side. After leaving uni and interviewing for my first few graduate PR roles, it became pretty evident that I wasn’t much cop at it and really didn’t enjoy it. The office life never was for me. So I dived straight into management, running my own restaurant at 21. Ever since, I have moved through senior management positions around the country, most recently being Head of Operations at Everyman Cinemas.
It was around 3 years ago when I made the decision to set up my own recruitment business, Home Hospitality. I felt from my time working with other recruitment agencies, that there wasn’t anyone else out there doing it personally enough. I knew that I could help some of the fantastic independent restaurants that I loved as a customer to build the best teams. I have been so lucky in the sense that my business now works on referrals and I am working with some of the best restaurants in London.
I am passionate about supporting women in the industry and so am fortunate to work with a number of female led kitchens, which is a rarity in the industry. More recently I have launched a new platform, Actually Good Chef Jobs for the best kitchens in the country to find good chefs to join them. This is non-profit platform to help the fantastic chefs who have lost their roles on the back of the pandemic get back into work.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, but when I was working my way through the management career path, everything felt inevitable that I would work my way up into a Director or CEO position for a restaurant group, because it was the natural final step. As soon as I began to consider how I could ever make that work and have (and be able to enjoy) a family, was when I decided to take a different path and set up alone. It was a big U-turn.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Most of my career has been plain sailing and without too many major setbacks I am lucky to say. But I was made redundant out of the blue from a position I loved dearly and that completely knocked my confidence. I was devastated. Now, on reflection, I can see it was for the best, but at the time, I was crushed.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement has been having the courage to go completely alone and begin working with some of the clients I do. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I get to recruit for these seriously amazing restaurants; it makes my job so much easier.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Just caring about people. Actually caring about how a particular person feels at the point when you are dealing with them. This could be someone job hunting, or even one of my clients. Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on our industry and I have been just amazed by the resilience, patience and courage of some of the people I have been working with this year. I have met some genuinely incredible individuals that I hope I will continue to work with for a long time to come.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have recently become a mentee and I believe it could possibly be the best decision I have made yet since setting up my business. My mentor is already helping me to understand how my business could work from several different perspectives. She has years of experience doing what I am doing, and I am just loving the mentoring and coaching I am getting from her. I would love to know that I could also become a mentor for someone in a few years who may be just starting out on their career in the industry too.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
The hospitality industry is renowned for vast inequality throughout senior management and within kitchen teams. Part of setting up the Actually Good Chef Jobs page was to share the best practices and stories from the women working in the kitchens of our restaurants and project their voices. That is my main suggestion, to shout about the successful women making waves in our industry to encourage other young women to join us too. I believe the biggest issue within hospitality is the lack of progression opportunities for women, especially those over 30. I decided to take off my engagement ring in an interview for that reason, as soon as I did, I was offered a new position. We have a lot of work to do.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Not to work so much. To chill out, have a life, see your friends and family and to have considered self-care. I went at everything at 100 miles per hour and never took care of myself.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Ideally continuing to grow my client base next year, to work with more wonderful chefs and owners. I never want to become a big agency, that is not my plan. As it stands, I am super happy just doing what I am doing and hopefully help to get as many people as possible back into work with the most caring and forward-thinking businesses in the country.
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