London is over 1,000 miles away from the Amalfi Coast but Sorella in London’s Clapham neighbourhood wants to make guests feel like they’ve stumbled upon a restaurant on the Italian coast line. The restaurant is owned by Robin and Sarah Gill, the same team behind The Dairy, a seasonal, vegetable-forward restaurant in the same neighbourhood. Sorella is their latest venture, in a refurbished space that used to house The Manor restaurant, and focuses on Italian cichetti, antipasti and primis created with seasonal, local British ingredients.
On most nights you’ll find the handsome dining room packed with customers who are being tended to by a small, but tight front of the house team. That team is led by Meri Farre Gomez, the general manager who stayed through the transition from The Manor to Sorella. “I like to say is a restaurant is about teamwork,” she says. “I’m the manager but it’s all about the team.” The restaurant is less than three months old and has already received favourable reviews from The Guardian and The Evening Standard.
The first few months after opening can be one of the most challenging times for a restaurant crew, but Gomez approaches this time with dedication, empathy and calm that she hopes to pass along to her team. During a recent lunch service, Gomez stepped away to talk about the year ahead for Sorella and the lessons that she has learned about managing her team.
When the owners of The Manor let Gomez know that the restaurant would be changing into Sorella, she says she didn’t stress it. “Robin (Gill) was keen to have an Italian restaurant to London that was like what he fell in love with in Italy,” she remembers. She says that she stressed a bit with the change but ultimately found it exciting because it was an opportunity to do something different.“There’s always stress when you’re doing something new but it was really fun.” The restaurant closed for three weeks to change the decor and reopened as Sorella.
Have Empathy for Everyone in Your Restaurant
Since reopening the restaurant has stayed very busy meaning Gomez and her team have to be in sync. But instead of running the restaurant like a dictator, Gomez finds its much more efficient to be as kind as possible. “I would say I manage my team with love.” She says that being busy is tough but she tries to not let it impact how she treats her team. “I’m really grateful because we have a great team. We have 10 people in front of the house and two assistant managers and we’ve gotten busier and busier.” When team members mess up, she tries to approach them with empathy. “Mistakes happen sometimes but I prefer to sit down and talk with that person about why they messed up,” she explains. “We’re all human beings and sometimes we don’t have a good day in service. I sit down with that person and ask how he or she is feeling and try to understand where they’re coming from and try to be empathetic.”
Gomez and her team also extend that empathy to their diners. “Everyone goes to a restaurant for different reasons so you have to use empathy to figure out what they want,” she says. “They may be having a business meeting, or be with their family or on a date so you have to interact in a different way based on what they need and you have to feel out anything how they want their meal to go.” Feeling out what the guests is looking for helps the team be able to create the experience that they need. Empathy on both sides of the restaurant is key to a happy team. “We have to be empathetic with our team and with our guests”
Along with empathy, Gomez says that the key to running a successful team is to show appreciation. “If I had to give advice to another manager it would be to respect your team and appreciate how hard they work.” A simple thank you or glass of wine at the end of a shift can help communicate how grateful you are to your team. “I think of us as a family and make sure to let them know how important their work is.”
Is there pressure to maintain that high level of service and quality, especially after such positive reviews? Gomez says that while favourable reviews are good, it’s the customers’ reviews that really matter. “We recognise the reviewers when they come in but I told my team to treat them like any other customers,” she says. “Everyone is a VIP and we try to do what we do as best as we can.”
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