Tom Seward, Marketing Director, Sidmouth Hotels Ltd

In our regular series, industry heavyweights remember remember when work was much lighter

Hi, Tom! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Tom Seward. I’m a fourth generation hotelier from Sidmouth in Devon. I’ve worked in hospitality since the age of about 13.

What was your #MyFirstMcJob?

Kitchen porting, which is a bit of a cliché for hospitality first jobs! I was 12, 13, worked Friday nights and shared my shift with a friend. We were both much younger and slower, so they put us in together because they felt sorry for us.

How did you get the job?

A couple of other friends had paper rounds, so I just wanted a job. Now, everyone talks about the staff shortages in hospitality. Even back then, there was demand for someone to wash up, and I needed some pocket money.

What did you have to do?

Clock in at 5pm, prep the breakfast items for the next morning — so cut the tomatoes, lay the bacon on the trays and put it all in the fridge, which was quite satisfying. Then I’d prep some veg and the starters for the evening — liver parfait, Melba toast, prawn cocktails, all the classic seaside stuff. I usually worked alongside a second chef who was about 18, 19, who we all idolised, but obviously thought we were young and annoying

How long did you work there?

Friday nights and school holidays up until 16. Then I started restaurant service because I was quite tall and looked older than I was, so I took to it quite naturally.

What were the perks of the job?

Occasionally we’d get good tips. The chefs made really good desserts, so I always had a pudding at the end of my shift.

Did anything particularly funny happen?

Growing up in a hotel my whole life, there’s enough to write book! Lots of people getting stuck in baths and nudity.

Nudity! Tell us more!

I went to one of the other sites that had a busier pub, and had a more senior age cricket team staying. One of the guys had locked himself out the room and was wandering around the ground floor fully naked. The night duty girl had to usher him back up to his bedroom. It was a like an episode of Fawlty Towers.

What skills did you learn that you still use now?

People skills. Outside of work, I might come across a bit serious and not that outgoing. But when serving customers, I switch into service mode, which is all smiles. I think the ability to speak to people in any scenario is a pretty valuable life lesson.

Are you still in contact with anyone you worked with?

We had a Spanish lady called Terasita who moved to the UK in 1964 and waitressed for my grandparents. She stayed at the hotel until 2008. Earlier this year, I went on holiday to Spain with my fiancé and we stopped to see her, which was amazing. We’re going to Australia next year and I’ve already earmarked to visit five or six Australian guys who came over to play rugby or cricket and worked seasons at the hotel. The hodgepodge of people who work in hospitality are a sociable bunch. They stay in touch and come from all over the world.

Why is alumni important to you?

You build so many memories at work — good, bad, ugly. The people around you are the ones that help you through, so you remember the skills they’ve taught you. If you’re doing something in a kitchen and use a technique that someone taught you, it reminds you of them. That applies to everywhere — hospitality, tech, writing. They’re like an extended family.

What would happen if you went back and did a shift as a kitchen porter?

I’d love it because it’s a lot easier what I’m doing now! I occasionally have to slot in on busy mornings if someone’s called him sick. It’s very cathartic, standing at the sink washing up, because you all you have to worry about is putting the stuff into the machine and putting it away again. It goes in dirty and comes up clean. I’d probably enjoy it until the shift ended and it’s back to reality.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?

Maybe try and work abroad. I never really branched outside the UK. I think the opportunity to work abroad, maybe on a yacht, would be great to experience some different culture.




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