International Women’s Day: Searcys in conversation with Hoxton Radio8 March 2023
On International Women’s Day (8 March), we are joined by David Preshaah from Hoxton Radio to discuss careers in events of the three exceptional Searcys individuals, patisserie chef Marlene Macus at HAC, head of sales and marketing CJ Alves at 30 Euston Square and deputy GM Ana Mendes at 116 Pall Mall.
Listen to the full interview here.
David Preshaah, Hoxton Radio: Can you talk us through your career to date?
Marlene Camus, Patisserie Chef, Searcys at The HAC: I’ve been in the role for almost 2 years now. I have worked across a variety of roles specialising in pastry and came across the Searcys team while freelancing for them. After seeing my work and passion for consistently delivering the best, they offered me the role which gave me responsibility over the whole pastry section.
This is a big task and one which I relish. I enjoy the breadth of opportunities the role offers me. We get to be very creative, making new dishes and experimenting daily.
Our customers are very knowledgeable, so working with people who really understand and appreciate good food is great. We cater to a wide and varied number of palates, and it is an immense pleasure to work with Searcys and delight our guests.
CJ Alves, Head of Sales and Marketing, Searcys at 30 Euston Square: I actually came over to the UK on a gap year around 20 years ago and found a career in hospitality and events starting at a hotel. This allowed me to explore a wide range of roles within one organisation. So I began with waitressing. I worked front-of-house, performed a few roles in the reservations team, and began to transition over to events which really is the area that makes me tick. The pace, the excitement, working to deadlines and dealing with individual client needs to ensure you deliver the best possible show imaginable.
Ana Mendes, Deputy General Manager, Searcys at 116 Pall Mall: My career started very much in hotels, in hospitality, before moving to Searcys seven years ago. It’s been great a great career move because ever since then, I’ve been progressing in my career. There’s a lot of recognition and a lot of different activities that we’re doing.
David: A key pillar for International Women’s Day 2023 is inclusive work culture, where everyone’s careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated. Can you share some insight into how you are facilitating this?
Ana: I think at the end of the day, it is all about celebrating the individual. So you need to be supportive of your team and peers and make sure that everyone is recognised for their work. In Searcys, we work as a team. Yes, there are more women now than before, so it’s good. You do need a balance of men and women in any organisation.
Marlene: I am working with the chefs and behind the scenes running the pastry section. I think there’s a definite movement towards having more women in Searcys kitchens, for example, with women-led teams such as mine.
We are two women working in a team of five people, and I feel very supported by the whole team because it doesn’t matter what obstacle we’re going to meet, everybody’s going to come and jump in and help. And it’s a very good atmosphere. You never feel like you’re alone, you’re always going to have someone who has your back. Compared to a few years back, it’s starting to look better, so the industry is changing.
CJ: What I like to do with my team is empower them to do the jobs that they’re here to do, and really enhance their strengths and build on that. As well as giving them the voice to speak. It’s also listening to where they want to go. It’s actually understanding where they want their career to go, what they would like to do, and how I can support and develop those skills so that they can get to those places.
David: Searcys has multiple sites. You run multiple locations. How do you create connection and rapport with your staff, being part of such a big team?
Marlene: It is about connecting with people. We were presenting a tasting the other day, so another female pastry chef came along. She could see what we could do and give each other advice and different tips about how to do different things and improve our technique. You’ll always have someone who is there, and you can reach out to help you.
Ana: Although it’s growing and we have been organically growing across the city, we are still very much like a family business. We’re all very supportive and get everyone to go around and experience different venues and businesses so everyone gets to know each other.
In the same way that we want our customers to come into our business and feel special, we offer the same for our team. They need to understand what it is that we aim to achieve. We explain the reason why we do things in a certain way. For example, we pour a glass from the right-hand side or open a napkin from the left, making our team understand that what we’re doing, there’s a reason for it. We work to instil the same passion for hospitality, food, and service intrinsic to the brand.
David: Can you expand on this napkin trick, as we’re keen to try it here?
Ana: You usually fold the napkins into a triangle at a banquet and place them on a plate. If you unfold it from the left, you lean in front of the guest, so you do it from the left instead of the right. There’s a reason for everything.
David: When you go to some of the other Searcys venues and destinations, do you feel it’s still your home?
CJ: A couple of weeks ago, we had a sales team social that we all got together for. It was really nice just to chat with other people from other venues and share ideas. But it was also a chance to get to know them personally. And that’s what it all is about, especially in this industry, is just building relationships with people and taking those relationships forward.
We have just started Lent, and we’ve got everyone to sign up for what they’re giving up for Lent on a big board. It’s looking at ways of including everybody to make them feel part of something – part of a team.
David: Can you give some examples of how you’ve highlighted and applauded where essential gains are being made? How are you motivating and celebrating work?
Ana: It falls back into appreciating everyone’s hard work. We work in a very tiring and hectic environment, especially at particular times of the year, like Christmas, which is relentless. And it’s about supporting them and rewarding them every step of the way.
Going back to CJ’s point earlier – it’s essential to understand where my team members want to go, give them the right tools, celebrate them and make them seen amongst their peers and by management too. Making sure that their actions are noticed. It’s thinking about our journey, rewarding them, and ensuring they feel important. We share the same passion for what we’re doing. They understand the end goal is delivery to the customer.
CJ: It’s appreciating the team members – shouting out when they’ve done something really well and hit a target or completed a task they had for the day. It’s about pushing them when they need to be pushed for their own development as well. A lot of it comes down to empowering them to do the job you’ve employed them to do and letting them get on with it.
I’ve got one fantastic team member, and she thinks very creatively, and sometimes the ideas are a bit wacky, and it’s honing that in, but it’s that sort of creativity that brings out the good ideas. That’s why I say it’s allowing them to be who they are and just put the boundaries in when you need to put the boundaries in. So, yeah, that’s what is really important. Most importantly, it’s empowering them to do what you’ve brought them on to do.
David: What empowers you?
CJ: Allowing me to do what I need to do. It’s getting results, it’s seeing hard work come together. And with that, you’re reaching your targets, seeing the results of all that hard work and how everything can come together, events going well, brilliant feedback coming in, hitting your budget, all of those sorts of things. That’s what empowers me. It’s getting things done, getting the sales in.
Marlene: Creating beautiful desserts. Having the opportunity to develop and challenge myself. I enjoy using different cooking techniques and different plating styles – it’s the creative side I love. I think it’s incredible how much pasty has evolved. If you look at all the social media, whatever we did ten years ago, it’s so old-fashioned compared to now, so we always have to keep up-to-date and on-trend.
Ana: Getting the business to be successful is something that will empower us always. For me as well, happy client, happy Ana, and my team – it’s essential to see they enjoy what they’re doing. It’s a good feeling when you are in the middle of a busy service, and everyone is smiling. It can be a very busy or stressful day, but everyone is having fun because they love what they’re doing and the passion is there.
David: Can you share some of the challenges that hospitality as a sector is facing at the moment?
Marlene: A lot of people have left the hospitality sector, so now it’s difficult to get them back in. It’s a big struggle in all areas of service, but it is certainly a challenge for us in the kitchen.
David: Would you recommend a career in hospitality for the younger reader out there or people looking to change up what they’re doing slightly?
Ana: There’s so much happening in the industry, and it’s so exciting at the moment. There are so many ideas going around the table, like Marlene was saying about food, how you deliver different things, different ways of plating something, how different types of events, and the appeal of it.
There are so many cool things out there, and I don’t think you’ll ever stop. So, there is a job in events for anyone seeking that sort of adventure and who prefers to avoid sitting in front of a desk from nine to five. Come and join us.
Marlene: The kitchen can be challenging, but also, I really enjoy it. I have developed both personally and professionally because I’ve been pushed to discover myself in another way.
You always have a lot of diversity in hospitality because many people come from different backgrounds and all come into one sector, one kitchen. And it’s always fascinating what they all bring to the table, and it’s a good opportunity.
CJ: If you want variety, definitely events. If you want to have fun, definitely events. One example I was very proud of is when during the pandemic at my previous venue, we were fortunate to do filming for one of the Marvel films, which was absolutely fantastic.
It’s all about variety; you can do a fashion show one day or a conference the next day. And you meet so many different people. If you don’t want something boring, the same thing day in, and day out, go to events because variety is what you will get.
David: How do you raise greater awareness about issues impacting women’s equality in your work?
CJ: It is about looking at people as individuals and looking at them for who they are. That is when we’re going to be in a good place. We need to look for the right people for the right jobs, no matter what their gender is.
Marlene: You need to have that balance of women and men in the kitchen. Everyone brings something different, and together, it’s a perfect combination.
Ana: It’s about the individual. It’s about the individual’s talent and skills. It’s about hiring the right people for the roles. From my perspective, it’s also essential to make our work environment safe for anyone to shout out any differences they have and understand that you can challenge the status quo. So, I incentivise and cultivate the idea that we all belong here. This is our space, and you deserve to be here for your skills and the role you’ve been hired to do. Own it. Go for it, run with it, and run with your ideas. And I will always be behind my team to support them in moving forward.
David: Searcys has the longest Champagne bar in Europe, located at St Pancras International – what sort of champagne do you like?
CJ: I do like my Veuve Clicquot, but Searcys champagne is pretty good too.
Ana: I’m always going to go for the brand, and I’ll definitely go for Searcys, I do love our Blanc des Blancs.
Marlene: For me, it will be Moet Chandon.