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Restaurant Nathan Outlaw shakes up industry norms

Ian Dodgson – Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
Ian Dodgson has worked hard to improve his own leadership skills

As the only two Michelin-starred fish restaurant in the country, general manager Ian Dodgson is always having to think about what is next for Restaurant Nathan Outlaw – even if that means thinking differently.

Perched on the top of a hill outside the postcard perfect village of Port Isaac, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw is a celebration of all things Cornwall – fresh seafood and a coastal view diners come from miles away to enjoy.

Overseeing all of this is Ian Dodgson. “I’m involved with everything from working in the restaurants to looking after marketing campaigns,” he explained. “We have people in key positions such as head chef and front of house, and my role is anything outside of that.”

Having started in the kitchen himself when he first began working with Nathan Outlaw, a celebrated chef who many will know from television appearances and a wide range of cook books, Ian ultimately moved into a position away from the heat. “From when I first stated I’ve always wanted to make it a more professional outfit,” he added.

The bigger operational role, overseeing both Restaurant Nathan Outlaw and sister location Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, has seen Ian develop a “really strong belief” of how a team should work. He wants to make sure his people are in the right places and that they really understand the company’s mission and vision. There was some “hard work” to do in parting ways with those who didn’t align with the vision, but Ian now feels everyone is on the same page.

Charting a difference course

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw team
The composition of the team is now much more consistent

Next on his agenda was making sure the business in general was placing a greater emphasis on staff wellbeing. “This was the area we were falling behind on. We decided to reduce the hours our front of house and chefs were working. Around the country people in our industry work 80-90 hours, and that is the norm. However, we re-structured our approach so that everyone now works four days on and three days off,” he said.

While the four days are longer, they are reduced so total weekly hours never exceed 55. The business needed to bring in more staff, but they are now able to start the week completely refreshed, after a demanding period of service, with the same team.

Ian is also making sure the right investment is going into his people. At the start of the year a nutritionist was brought in to advise staff on what they were eating at work, discussing things like energy dips in and out of the restaurant. “Sick rates have decreased this year and one individual, who had a tough time with illness, was able to reduce that overnight after taking some advice – they just needed a little bit of enlightenment from a dietician,” he commented.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw fish dish
Staff now have a better knowledge of where produce comes from

There has also been an effort to invest in produce knowledge. With a mission to champion seafood and create exceptional spaces, Ian wanted to make sure every one of his staff had a unique experience in the workplace. “To do this we engaged with our local fish merchant, who is right across the road from us, and gave him a chef a month on rotation. They then got to see how he buys at the market and does analysis on different boats. This had a massive impact on our guys understanding day-to-day requirements, realising you can’t just ask for sea bass tomorrow.” Now, when their fish merchant says it’s a “bad market” the team now what he’s talking about.

A better balance

Looking at his own personal leadership journey, Ian pointed to lots of changes. At the beginning the business was under pressure because of a high turnover of staff, leading to inconsistent processes and ultimate end product. With a background in sport, understanding how teams work, Ian has worked hard to balance out any company’s three main parts: customers, employees and the bank manager.

“My management style has shifted massively, based on me becoming a lot more trusting,” he explained. “It’s about putting the work in early, during the recruitment phase, to find the right people you can place your trust in. I now have a better understanding of how different people’s minds work, creating greater empathy.”

Putting faith in his team can only happen because Ian has embedded a feedback culture into the company’s DNA. Employees at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw know they are responsible for providing ongoing input, using the hospitality firm’s open door nature to challenge the way things are done.

High-end hospitality, particularly in the Michelin star space, is a demanding environment. Under Ian’s leadership, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw and Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen are embracing a new way of working which should help reduce burnout and keep employees motivated through testing periods.

Ian Dodgson is one of five shortlisted Business Leader of the Year award nominees at the Cornwall Tourism Awards. Be the Business sponsored the Business Leader of the Year award and, in the run up to the awards on 7 November 2019, published a profile piece of each business leader. Read more from the same series here.

Find out how other business leaders in Britain have honed their management approach.

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