“A life in the day”- of Miloš Srdanov, Senior General Manager of Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill

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Miloš Srdanov, Senior General Manager of Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill, shares with Amelia Barling of Bird & Bird his experience of 25 years of working in the hospitality sector, as well as his musings on a typical day for him at the restaurant and some general comments on the challenges and opportunities facing the hospitality sector today.

Miloš’ career in hospitality started when, as a schoolboy in the former Yugoslavia, he learnt from his mother how to cook the traditional dishes of his homeland. After completing military service he went on to train at the prestigious Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon and completed further studies in Belgrade. Having decided that his skill set was better equipped to front-of-house work rather than cooking, Miloš spent nine formative years working for Sofitel, part of the Accor group. Since 2009, he has been working in London and this has led to his current role at Bentley’s, working for its owner, Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan.

Amelia: Please could you describe your role at Bentley’s?

Miloš: To use an analogy, if you imagine restaurants as ships at sea, I would be the Captain and Chef Corrigan would be my Admiral! I get involved in all aspects of the business but managing and supporting the staff is the one I probably spend most time on. This can involve assisting people through various hardships. The human element is at the core of the business after all. It is important to create a culture at work where the staff feel empowered and hence can thrive, but this is challenging in the hospitality business, because it is a high-octane environment brimming with so many emotions. The job has many rewarding moments however, my favourite being organising and celebrating with our guests the momentous occasions in their lives – such as birthdays, anniversaries and of course a day of great importance to Bentley’s and their diners, St Patrick’s Day!

Amelia: What does a typical day at Bentley’s look like for you?

Miloš: People go to restaurants to feel and be part of a community. On average, I work long days in which, in very simple terms, I aim to create happiness for the Bentley’s customer. Happiness at Bentley’s means high-quality seafood and other beautiful food, great wines and an atmosphere of calm and understated luxury. I love to recommend and see diners enjoying a wine I have proposed, especially when they have never tried it before.

Managing my team of 100, both in front and back of house, does give rise to 100 different stories and the potential for 100 different daily dramas, which makes no two days the same! I aim to foster a working environment that delivers a robust, stable team. At times this can be emotionally demanding on a personal level.

I also oversee the maintenance of the arts and crafts heritage at Bentley’s and I recently oversaw an important refurbishment project, which lasted 3 months. My guide and mentor through this sensitive process was Bambi Goodhew, designer of Bentley’s and of Virginia Park Lodge, Richard Corrigan’s Irish country house destination in County Cavan.

The Bentley’s refurbishment was challenging but rewarding. We operate from a building that has been standing for more than a century and so requires constant attention. Water leaks are a real source of worry! My days can range from actioning repairs to supervising the floristry.

Amelia: How did the business respond to the pandemic and what was your biggest challenge during lockdown?

Miloš: Our biggest challenge was accommodating customers on the outside terrace and the logistics surrounding the regulations that were in place at the time. However we managed to create an attractive, vibrant and successful external dining area where we could have customers socially distanced, assisted by features such as powerful external heaters and blankets to keep them warm in the colder months - and of course great service. The terrace was and continues to be a huge success with customers and a thriving part of the business; it’s where the magic happens.

It was also vital that we kept re-building our teams so that we could re-open swiftly every time we got the green light from government to do so, which was often on minimal notice.

I think that post-pandemic, all restaurants in central London have, like us, been constantly evaluating what we need to do to stay relevant to the customer.

Amelia: Bentley’s celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016; how has the Bentley’s brand evolved and what does the brand mean to you?

Miloš: I have been at Bentley’s for 2 years, 5 years in total at the Corrigan Collection. In my role, I do feel very much that I am one of the custodians of the Bentley’s legacy!

The shift in the brand came when Chef Corrigan took over Bentley’s in 2005. Since then, its status as an established luxury brand is undisputed and reflected in our menu. Our menu showcases caviar and lobster as well as sustainably caught haddock and cod. I must mention that we also have a really vast and varied selection of rock and native oysters.

Even though the Bentley’s brand has evolved, it is deep-rooted in tradition and many dishes on the menu have particular cultural significance. So fear not, the best fish and chips in London will always remain on our menu!

Amelia: Charlie Chaplin and Oscar Wilde are amongst many who have dined at Bentley’s; what is your current customer profile and do you see this changing, for example through social media and food influencers?

Miloš: Our clientele is mostly those working in the city of London. We are a very popular choice with business people and frequently host leaders of industry. From time to time heads of state have also dined with us, as well as Hollywood actors and politicians - including the current Prime Minister! I thoroughly enjoy working with people and this is why being front-of-house is so captivating because you interact with so many vibrant characters.

Amelia: What challenges does the business face in terms of staff recruitment and retention?

Miloš: It is easier to recruit rather than retain talent.

I have to say working with a Gen-Z workforce has been really eye-opening. I find them to be very far from the unambitious and demanding stereotype perpetuated in the media. Gen-Z are some of the best staff members I have worked with in recent years. They want to work hard and be financially independent whether that be for a mortgage or the must-have pair of trainers.

It takes real investment in people and giving them time, money and a quality of work to enable them to grow with you as a manager. I try to empower my colleagues by delegating and pushing them to challenge me.

Amelia: What is the most popular dish and drink on the menu at Bentley’s?

Miloš: We have a tie between our Lobster Spaghetti, Fish Pie and Monkfish Curry. They are more often than not accompanied by a glass of Chablis or Sancerre.

Amelia: What dish is your personal favourite and what drink/wine would you pair with it?

Miloš: Personally, I believe simple food is underrated. My choice would be the pan-fried fillet of hake, served on a bed of mussels and clams wrapped in beautiful beurre blanc - it is my favourite. To drink, I would have to say a glass of white Burgundy pairs perfectly.

Amelia: Is there a current business, individual or trend in the market you are inspired by (apart from Chef Richard Corrigan’s food and vision of course!)?

Miloš: I recently attended an industry event with some of the most esteemed chefs in the business, as well as those up and coming. I was impressed with their ingenious cooking techniques and grasp of flavour combinations. At the event, I caught up with a former colleague who recommended his restaurant Perilla in Stoke Newington, North London. I visited the restaurant and had a fabulous meal. The cutlery drawer is under each table top and guests are invited to choose their own set! It has around 40 covers and is run by a small team who have succeeded in creating a whimsical, fun and original restaurant serving absolutely stunning food. In such a challenging market, innovation is key to retaining the interest of your customers.

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