This much I know: Phil Roker

03 February 2017 by
This much I know: Phil Roker

The newly appointed managing director of Vacherin talks to Ally Head about his passion for excellent service and the promise the catering industry holds for the next generation

When I was 13, a friend's dad used to take us to work with him in a Cunard hotel and let us have the run of the place for the day. This is the only link I can think of that led to my career path. I was very academic at school, and left with a place to study German at Southampton University. I went travelling for year and, when I came back, I told my parents I wanted to study hotel and catering management. I applied to Portsmouth, and when they offered me a place, I took it.

At 15, I was called up to the Brentford Football Youth Academy by Ron Harris, the ex-Chelsea legend. Sadly, I only lasted a few months, as I was more dedicated to school work than my ball skills.

I quickly learned you have to earn respect. My first full-time job was as a ‘cool chef'. One day, my manager grabbed hold of my knife to show me how to chop a cucumber and, in a blur, there it was in a pile of perfect slices. That impressed me, as I realised that he wasn't just a suit. I know now that if you expect someone to work for you and follow your instructions, they have to know that you know what you're talking about.

My move from hotels to catering was by chance and a real eye-opener.

We're only as good as our teams. The biggest challenge I've ever faced is the one I am currently facing: taking over the helm at Vacherin. I am privileged to be in the position and excited to take the company forward to its next chapter. I hope to overcome the challenge by building an exceptional team around me.

To give excellent service, you have to love giving excellent service. Anyone can lay a table or carry a plate, but the great waiters, baristas and receptionists care about it. Little details matter, and attention to detail elevates service from good to great.

One of the biggest things for me is eye contact. I think the best professionals understand the rhythm of an event or meal. How many times have you sat at a table trying to catch a waiter's eye and they all rush here and there without noticing you? The best in the industry are able to anticipate their guests' requirements before the guests have even realised it themselves.

Our industry has transformed in the past 20 years. In the old days, you really did have a captive market. The City had a handful of restaurants and a few old-fashioned sandwich shops. Now, we have a capped market, competing with dozens of high-street competitors. Our food, service, marketing and promotions all have to be incredibly professional.

If you're prepared to work hard, the opportunities within the catering industry are limitless. It's also an industry where you will have a lot of fun. I'd like to change the perception about catering so that students - and their parents - see the fantastic opportunities this industry can offer. It would encourage more people to come and join us.

I've profited from both good fortune and learned from the bad. I have no regrets. I have had a wonderful life in hospitality, and am now in an amazing position. Everything that has happened to me has led me to this point, whether it was good or bad at the time.

CV highlights

June 2006-present Co-owner/managing director, Vacherin

2002-2006 Business development director, Restaurant Associates

2000-2002 Business development consultant, Sodexo

1996-2000 Client account executive, Directors Table

1995-1996 Catering general manager, TSB Group (Directors Table)

1994-1995 Hospitality manager, Robert Fleming (Directors Table)

1991-1993 Assistant manager, food and beverage, Athenaeum Hotel, London

1999-1991 Graduate management trainee, Royal Garden Hotel and Gloucester Hotel (Rank Hotels)

1989-1990 Banqueting waiter, Park Hilton Hotel, Munich

1987-1988 Management trainee, Foxhills Golf and Country Club, Surrey

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