Katie Mulliss: Manager at Tom Kerridge’s The Hand and Flowers, the first pub to gain Two Michelin stars in the UK
Her Parents as Role models.
Katie Mulliss, 31, grew up in a family of four in Maidenhead, just 15 minutes from Marlow. She admits that her brother and herself were brought up to understand what it is to graft and work hard for what you have. This she credits to the work ethic held by her parents.
“I have two very hardworking parents that really influenced me in my life. I didn’t need to be pushed too hard to go to work. Just watching them, I knew that was what I wanted. I’ve always enjoyed working, and I wanted to do something for myself from a very young age. My approach to work has most definitely stemmed from my parents,”
Katie took her first part-time job at 14 years old and has worked ever since. Though she never pictured herself specifically as a ‘manager of a top restaurant’, she was though, a born leader.
“Seeing my mum so high-up in her career position, I saw myself also working hard to climb up the ladder. I saw myself as someone who could help others, be strong and independent, lead a team and influence people and be proud of working somewhere.”
Choosing higher education or to work for your buck
Katie certainly enjoyed school, but not necessarily for the studying and the grades, it was the social scene in which she relished. Katie believes that is why she loves working in the restaurant industry, at times it doesn’t feel like going to work – more like going to her second home.
“There is a misconception in the hospitality industry, that it ‘isn’t a sociable job to have because of the hours’. In fact, it is the team you’re with that makes it sociable. You’re working with, and making, friends for life. You become a close-nit family. I would never want to be stuck in a job where I wasn’t around people”
When it came to choosing which university to enrol in, Katie decided not to attend university at all. She had been working since the age of 14, and had a taste of the rewards, both personally and financially – she wasn’t prepared to give that up. She wasn’t prepared to study for a degree she may, or may not use, and saddle herself with long term debt.
“I was 19, and a college friend of mine was working at Tom Kerridges’ Hand and Flowers, one of the first British pubs to be awarded a Michelin star.
My friend had always said just how much she loved being there. I was intrigued, so I grasped the opportunity and applied for a job as a waitress”
Over the next 12 years, Katie climbed the ladder at The Hand and Flowers, experiencing all the departments of front of house. She moved to bar work after waitressing, then started a new role as a host before being promoted to head host. Katie further progressed to assistant manager then finally achieved her dream role of restaurant manager.
Working in a variety of roles at The Hand and Flowers has provided Katie with an advantage. With such broad management skills, she can put herself in the shoes of her colleagues and understand any challenges or obstacles they may face.
“My career evolved naturally and I just grew within the business. After a very short amount of time at the Hand and Flowers I knew that’s what I wanted to do – to work in the hospitality profession. As well as working at the Hand and Flowers, I have all had experience in a brand new opening of a business. When Tom opened the Bull and Bear in Manchester, I was part of the opening team.
That’s why I love the Choose Hospitality Initiative and everything it stands for. I started at The Hand and Flowers when I was 19. It is a fabulous and rewarding profession for young people. I am living proof of this. I’ve just fallen in love with it.”
Oysters and 4 year old Katie
Katie has always had a connection with the restaurant world; she takes a trip down memory lane to when she was just 4 years old, when she gained an extremely mature and acquired palette for a young child.
“I remember going with my parents to an oyster bar in Covent garden. The waiter asked what I would like, and I asked for six oysters. The waiter looked at my dad and said, ‘what does she really want?’ And my dad said ‘she’d like 6 oysters’ I polished them off.”
One of the perks of working in hospitality, though, is the menu training. As dishes are created by the kitchen, it is important that those delivering the knowledge to the guests have a great understanding of both the ingredients and the way it is cooked. So, even if you have never eaten in a restaurant, even if you think you may not have culinary knowledge, in some establishments you will taste, test and enjoy new food experiences.
What it means to manage
Katie finds that the most important managerial skills are: leading by example, work ethic, strong team work and morale boosting, making sure your team feel the energy and positivity. A happy team radiates an ambience to their diners, and Katie knows her guests feel this synchronicity.
“Our team all get on so well. We are like one big family and we often have guests commenting on our morale and professionalism. ‘Your team obviously enjoy what they do’ is something I hear all the time. Because when you’ve got a happy team, that really does come across”
A valuable career
Katie feels there can be misconceptions towards her and her job. She admits, she feels a little dis-heartened and patronised when some guests ask ‘so what is it you want to do?’ and insinuate this isn’t her end-career-goal. As though it is just something she is doing for now.
“I say, this is my career. I couldn’t imagine being any more fulfilled in any other sector.
That’s why the Choose Hospitality Initiative is so great. Hospitality is a career and an amazing one at that. It’s full of opportunities. We have to spread the message. It’s our sector and we know how great it can be”
I think that perhaps people are a little ignorant to what it means to work in hospitality. We’re taught in society that being a doctor or a lawyer is a prestigious career and one to aim for (of course both are incredibly important jobs).
But when that doctor has had a tough day at hospital and nips to the local pub for a quiet pint or that lawyer is celebrating his/her first case with their family, where do they look? Hospitality, of course.
From christenings, to weddings to funerals, engagements, celebrations, get togethers. Those memories are created by us, the workers in hospitality. We are all interconnected and each career is as important as the other, maybe not in an obvious conventional way”
Katie agrees that a career in hospitality isn’t showcased much in schools compared with academic subjects;
“In my experience, there was a bit of food education in year 7/8, then there was nothing. It was never discussed, never recommended as a career. And I don’t understand why our schools are not celebrating this profession”
Gender in a high-ranking role
Being a female in the industry Katie has never felt the barrier of the glass ceiling.
“The tides are changing in society and Tom Kerridge’s restaurant group is partial to a female leader. The general manager of our Marlow restaurants is a woman, the restaurant manager at The Coach in Marlow, as well as the head chef at Butchers Tap and Grill, The Bull & Bear in Manchester the head chef and restaurant manager are all female.
Tom and Beth built The Hand and Flowers together and Beth has been a great woman as a role model. She has shown us if you are dedicated you can achieve anything you want.
It shows that this, too, can be a misconception. It doesn’t always have to be men in charge, women are leaders too. I’ve had a very positive journey.”
The Hand and Flowers and Tom Kerridge
Katie describes working with Tom Kerridge and the dynamic he has with his employees.
“Tom’s great fun, he’s got great banter. Me and Tom mess around a lot. It’s not like ‘oh gosh there’s the big boss and someone you never see’ it’s more like, ‘there’s Tom, hey TK how are you?’
Tom has a great relationship with everyone, He knows everyone’s name and checks in on them and he’s very down to earth. What you see is what you get with Tom.”
Two Michelin starred
The Hand and Flowers pub is famous for its Chef, its impeccable service and its Omelette.
Katie explains further, that it’s not just any old Omelette;
“It’s a glazed Omelette with smoked Haddock and Parmesan which has been on the menu from day 1- that’s 16 years of blowing people away with their dish. A dish that is not going anywhere soon!”
Service at The Hand and Flowers is just important as the food, and Katie assures the guests are welcomed as soon as they step through the door.
“Our service style is very attentive but relaxed. As Beth says, she wants everyone to feel like they’ve had a big hug when they walk in, I think that’s what the staff do, they’re caring and want their guests to have a good time.”
The Ups and the Downs
For Katie, the proudest moment of her professional life had to be winning the Acorn award in 2019 for ‘the best 30 under 30’. She added;
“I just made it in time, and being recognised in the industry, and featured in a magazine article, was so fulfilling. It was amazing because I usually see Tom in the magazines, but to see me in one – that was an incredibly proud moment.”
The most difficult moment of her life and career was the when the pandemic hit, and its impact it had on hospitality.
“We are all so dedicated to our work, we genuinely enjoy what we do. To suddenly get pulled into a meeting saying that we’re closing for the foreseeable, was unimaginable.
We were told by Tom, he got us together and told us that it was out of his hands. We had to close and we didn’t know if we’re going to reopen. That was definitely the scariest moment. I felt sick, it was horrible.”
Though the pandemic was an huge hurdle for the industry, Katie and the team stuck to their guns, and did what they do best in one way or another. Over the lockdown periods, Tom Kerridge’s team created the project ‘Meals from Marlow’ where they sent an astounding 100,000 meals to the NHS, hospitals and to vulnerable people.
Even though this was an incredibly tough time for the restaurant, Katie and the team needed to somehow create a positive spin, and by helping the community, this left a bittersweet outcome.
“It’s just about evolving and overcoming challenges, and those are skills us hospitality folk have in abundance.
I’d hate to think Covid would ever prevent people joining hospitality because it’s an amazing place to be. There are always challenges along the way in every career, but what is life without challenges? The satisfaction you feel overcoming them is immense.
Choose Hospitality Initiative
“I feel extremely close to the Choose Hospitality Initiative and proud to be an ambassador. Who better to build some excitement around our profession than those already within it. I know the identities of the initial group of supporters and ambassadors and, wow, what a line up!
But this campaign doesn’t just sit with the names and faces you will see when the campaign is live. It’s a campaign for everyone, every single hotelier, chef, restaurateur, food truck owner, contract caterer – if your business is hospitality then join us in promoting the sector. Let’s raise the roof on the opportunities, creativity and rewards we know this sector offers. Let’s get our share of young professionals and stop losing them to other sectors.
The Time of her Life
The manager’s best memory while working at The Hand and Flowers was the appearance from culinary mastermind and global culinary superstar that is Alain Ducasse. With his team, Chef Ducasse spent a lunch at The Hand and Flowers and cooked alongside Tom and their team.
“To work with Alain was incredible, we had our full team in all working together and it was amazing. He was such a gentleman and we were in awe, it was such a proud moment for us”
At The Hand and Flowers, the staff are lucky enough to join around 6 trips a year to vineyards in regions such as Champagne and Bordeaux. Katie reminisces on her time in Tuscany, where an educational work trip involved travelling to Tuscan vineyards and eating all the glorious Italian food.
“We went to the non-touristy area, and were taken to restaurants with the most amazing home-cooked pasta, meats and cheeses. Anything carbs is my favourite. It was food heaven.
In the evening, we would sit around this massive table, with a huge fire place that overlooked the vineyard. We have created some incredible memories, and learned a lot at the same time. There aren’t many careers out there that can match that!”
Katie’s Ultimate Hand and Flowers Experience
If Katie were to choose a three course meal alongside three drinks from her restaurant past or present, she would begin with the duck liver parfait, toasted brioche and mustard seed chutney;
“Our parfait is butter smooth, really rich in flavour but light and airy in texture it’s amazing. For my main course it would have to be the Essex Lamb Bun with sweetbreads and salsa verde. That’s been on our menu for 10 years, it’s such a classic dish, like a wellington style, with lamb cutlets in the centre, wrapped slow cooked lamb breast, caramelised sweet breads, lamb stock and bone marrow, wrapped in cabbage and then a lamb fat and polenta pastry.
Pudding would be a ‘tiramachoux’ which is no longer on the menu. Inside the Choux bun was a biscuit layer, coffee ice-cream, mascarpone, amaretto and an oozing hot chocolate sauce you would delicately pour over.”
For the drinks, Katie praises Fro, the bar manager for making most amazing cocktails. She’d begin with his famous Margarita, then a glass of a nice Chardonnay from the Burgundy area of France, then she would finish with an Espresso Martini.
“There’s something extra special about Fro’s Espresso Martinis!”
Katie’s final words
“My career? I think, as an industry, that we create special moments for people and I feel a massive privilege to be part of that. It is more than just a job – I look forward to going to work and I enjoy what I do. I also have plenty of free time to catch up with friends not in the profession.
You can’t pretend in hospitality, you have to love it, and I do love it. Being part of making memories with others is pretty special. It’s got a feel good factor, after every working day it is a really fulfilling feeling. And I can’t imagine doing anything else.”