West is the executive general manager of The Social Company, running the global operations of Jason Atherton’s restaurants. He has worked with Atherton since they established Maze in 2005; before that he worked with Gordon Ramsay. West oversees the 16 restaurants in the portfolio, of which eight are in London, and spends time at each site as part of his role. He has never had, nor never will have, he says, a mobile phone. Here he explains why he takes that unusual stance and how he makes it work.
“I’ve always hated mobile phones. It’s my opinion that it was the most unsociable thing we have invented in our lifetime. I see people out at dinner with their phones on the table, taking pictures of everything, and then complaining that the food is cold! Everything about the mobile phone is self and nothing about a group of people having a nice conversation together. I’ve always said to myself I never want to be that person, I never want to have one. Why can’t people even switch their phones off for an hour and half while they’re round a table having dinner?
So I’m asked, “How can you run a business?” Well, it’s very simple – every single restaurant I’m in has a phone, and there’s a computer too. I have offices in different places so I have access to my emails, 20, 30 times a day if I need to.
Our executive team submits a rota to head office, so at any time of the day so they know where I’m going to be, and if they want to contact me, they can – you don’t need a mobile phone in order to contact me.
There’s nothing worse than seeing someone walking round the floor of a restaurant with a mobile phone in their hand. The chefs drive me nuts on the pass, always on their mobile phones and the guests can see that. Ten years ago that wasn’t acceptable, but I guess it’s just part of modern day society.
What has evolved is the whole idea of the mobile phone being a really negative thing – it’s less about communication, and more about the self. And sadly I think it’s too late to get past that. The world’s changed and we have to accept it ... but I don’t have to go along with it.
I eat out all the time, it’s very important to see what everyone else is doing, but I don’t need to take photos of everything to remember what I’ve eaten. If anything, I take the menu away. Plus, of course, everyone else takes pictures so if I want to see something, I go online and find everything I want!
I spend a lot of time at Pollen Street Social, I have an office here. Obviously, I have a general manager in every single restaurant, so I try to get around the other restaurants at least once a week. Everyone knows where I’m going to be for lunch and dinner – and in between lunch and dinner I’m either with Jason or in meetings or... I don’t want to be disturbed!
Do I ever miss anything that needs dealing with? No, because everyone else has got a mobile phone – if I need to get hold of someone, I just call them.
It is true that there was once an emergency and Jason couldn’t get in touch with me – and he was very cross about it. He was in New York or somewhere and I was in London, so he instructed his PA to go out and buy a mobile phone for me. I got called to the office and Jason’s PA said to me ‘Mike, Jason says you’ve got to have this’ and she put the mobile phone on the table. And I said ‘well I’m not having it’ and she said ‘yes but you have to have it, Jason says you have to have it’ and I said ‘well I’m not, send it back because you’re going to waste your money’ and she said ‘I can’t send it back, Jason won’t have it’ and I said ‘well I’ll speak to Jason when he gets back but I’m not taking it so I suggest you send it back before the contract starts’. And it went back. We laugh about that now.
Then again, I’m not distracted all the time. With a mobile phone, you can lose concentration in the middle of service because you get a beep in your pocket or vibration or whatever it is you have. Sometimes I’ll pop across the road to Little Social to see what’s going on and I’ll see someone outside on their mobile phone in
the middle of service. I pick them up on it. Sometimes I confiscate somebody’s phone for a couple of days - that drives them really mad. It teaches them a lesson though!
There is a downside for the business as well, which is sometimes that regular guests ask me for my mobile number and they don’t believe I haven’t got one; they just think I don’t want to give it to them. They can’t comprehend how I’ve not got one.
What I call my mobile phone is my seven-year-old leather address book – I bought it on the day we opened Pollen Street Social. It stays here and is always charged, whenever I need it!
Even if I go away I check my emails twice a day. I need to know what’s going on with the business and it doesn’t matter where I am, I’m always contactable if someone needs me. Emails are a lot of work but to be honest but if someone sends me an email which requires a response, a lot of the time I’ll just pick up the phone and call them.
It’s not that I’m phone phobic, that’s not the issue. The issue is people’s behaviour with those horrible little devices. I’ll be just walking down the street and all of a sudden they’ll just stop right in front of me and I walk into them – and they’re like “What are you doing?” What do you mean, what am “I” doing?!
They’re an addiction, aren’t they? That’s what they are. The moment a phone goes off, everyone grabs theirs, an addictive thing like smoking or drinking and if you want to quit you can, but you really have “I’m not distracted all the time. With a mobile phone, you can lose concentration in the middle of service because you get a beep or a buzz in your pocket”.
“There is a downside for the business – which is that sometimes regular guests ask me for my mobile number and they just can’t comprehend that I haven’t got one” to put your mind to it. I would say you have to want to do it, not just say you want to - and go for it - but I can’t see there’s anyone that would do that. I don’t know anyone strong- willed enough; they say “I can’t do without it” but they can, of course they can.
There is a big positive for Jason out of this, because I’m unemployable. Nobody else would employ me without a mobile phone. I know it’s true because after I’d been with Gordon for 10 years I went on a few interviews, just to keep my eye on the ball and see what’s going on.
It was at a time at the Mandarin Oriental when the restaurant was looking for a GM, so I went to the interview. I met the HR director first, filled in loads of forms, did one of those psychometric tests, spent hours on it, then I got called back several times, ending up meeting the whole team.
I got called back again – by this time I’d had a collected eight or nine hours of interviews - and told “We want to offer you the position”. Right at the very end of the conversation they said ‘Oh just one thing, you haven’t put your mobile number down on these forms’ and I said ‘I don’t have a mobile phone’. The HR director said “If you work for us you’re going to have to have a mobile phone”.
So I got up and said “Well then I won’t work for you then” and walked out. She started chasing me down the corridor and I said “Hang on, you’ve laid your cards on the table and I’ve laid mine.” And that was 10 years ago. Imagine it now. I’d never get a job!