We Sit Down with Kayleigh Thorogood – Restaurant Manager, Rogan & Co
Describe your career journey so far.
I started working in an Italian restaurant when I was 16, which is where I learnt the basics of hospitality as well as quite a few important life skills like how to make the perfect calzone. After that I went to work in a new restaurant that was just opening in my hometown. The service and food was different to anything I had experienced before, but I fell in love with it and began dining in Michelin star restaurants. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed, so, I decided (and was encouraged, by a rather determined and wonderful manager) to move to another part of the country and that’s when I found myself in the Lake District, working at Forest Side with Head Chef Kevin Tickle. I started as a Chef de Rang and when I left just under two years later had worked my way up to assistant restaurant manager, leaving with heaps more passion and knowledge.
It was then that I took a position at L'Enclume as a Demi Chef de Rang. During my first year at L'Enclume, I worked my way up to Junior Assistant Restaurant Manager as well as taking part in competitions, including the Annual Awards of Excellence. Just before COVID-19 hit in March last year I’d started my probationary period as Assistant Restaurant Manager. During the first lockdown, an opportunity to become the Restaurant Manager at Rogan & Co became available, I grabbed it with both hands and well – here we are.
Who has inspired you in your career so far and why?
I’ve had some incredible mentors and managers throughout my career: the truly great few have not only inspired me with their own knowledge, skill and talent, but they have given me opportunities which have allowed me to grow. I think what inspires me most daily is the team that I’m surrounded by. They are all from different walks of life, but we are all aiming toward the same goal. This applies to the suppliers that I have come to know over the last few years as well, because these guys ooze passion about what they create! I’m also really lucky to have a really encouraging family: my mum doesn’t work in the industry but when I’m faced with a difficult situation I find myself wondering what she would do, plus I definitely get my grit from her.
Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to females working in the sector?
I do think that there is a stereotype attached to women in hospitality, but I also think that a lot of us create stereotypes without realising that we’ve done so and, often, we attach these to specific roles not just in our sector but in roles in other sectors too, particularly in managerial positions. Unfortunately, unintentional stereotyping is so common, and I’ve experienced this more than one occasion. Whether it’s a guest asking to speak to the manager because they’ve assumed that I must be a junior manager, even after I’ve made myself known as the restaurant manager they sometimes still insist on speaking to a senior manager even though I’m it! Luckily, this is something that is changing. I am lucky enough to know females throughout our industry in a variety of roles, including head chefs, head sommeliers and restaurant managers, all of whom are succeeding, and all are making positive impacts.
In your view, what skills are needed for a successful career in the sector?
I could definitely list a fair few skills, including customer service, organisation and leadership. In my view, these skills are not only necessary, but they are essential, and I think most in the industry would agree. However, the most important thing above all else is to be inspired. There is no doubt that our industry can be tough, long hours and constant pressure are the main issues mostly. Of course, being able to make the perfect martini, decant a bottle of wine and explain every cheese on the trolley all have a place, and it certainly helps but in my humble opinion it isn't what makes us great. It has to be a passion and a love for our great industry as well as a desire to be inspired and to inspire others, whether that be your team or your guests, for me that’s what makes my role truly rewarding.
How do we attract more women to work in senior roles in the hospitality sector?
Throughout the industry companies are beginning to make real progress and make senior roles in hospitality appealing and achievable. With many restaurants now looking at four-day weeks and a better work life balance, I hope this will attract not only women but a range of different people to our industry. Maybe the way we could attract more women is by nurturing the ones that already work in the sector and obviously by all of us consciously ensuring that they we give females and males equal opportunities to progress based on ability and not on gender. I’ve been lucky and have received lots of positive encouragement and have been presented with opportunities for progression throughout my career.
What are the current challenges for women in working in the sector?
I think a huge challenge for women working in our industry is simply people's idea of the lifestyle and emotions often attached to being female. This all begins even before you embark on a career, with people in society saying things like 'you're being a soft' or 'you're acting like a girl.' This automatically associates being female with weakness. This doesn’t change when you start working in kitchens or restaurants. Of course, if you're having a bad day many people will assume that it must be your 'time of the month', this can often lead to a feeling like you need to hide your emotions. In fact, I’ve never had that mind set – far from it actually. My emotions help to drive me, and they allow me to be empathetic – not just with my team, but with our guests. It’s easy to find quite a few females in middle management roles, but you struggle to find many in executive positions.
There’s no doubt that’s as a result of many women choosing to leave the industry once they start a family, which is wonderful. However, things are changing, especially as more and more men are becoming stay at home dads and more women are choosing not to have children. That said, there are a number of hugely inspirational women who have achieved a high-ranking executive role and looked after a family as well. Take Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who raised two children while attending law school and then set about changing gender equality and women's rights for good in America. My point is that we have an opportunity to make a case for more women to be employed in executive roles. There’s no need for them to be overlooked and absolutely no reasons whatsoever as to why they can’t do the job and in many cases better in that role than their male colleagues.
How important is it for women to lift each other up, and what does that mean to you?
There’s no doubt in my mind that we should all lift each other up. I’m confident when I say that the males in our industry need a pick me up from time to time too and I'd be lying if I pretended that they don't do the same for me. This is of course what many people's answer would be and it is right. However, sometimes people don't want to see the difference. History has shown us that men have always been empowered, they don't need the lift, but some women do, even though these positions and roles have always been available to them. They’ve may never have considered them as a realistic option. Personally, I feel lifted when I see all the incredible women in our industry and what they are achieving and the stereotypes they are breaking! I’m also lifted daily by the talented, kind, strong and resilient women that surround me. It’s important for us to support each other, to remind one another that we can achieve anything, reach any goal, earn any position and break any boundaries.
What advice would you give to women looking to start working in the sector?
Do it for the love of it! Learn from every experience, never doubt your own strength. You can achieve anything you put your mind to. With the right mentors, company and team, there won't ever be a door closed to you as long as you work with determination and passion.