Alex Yeung's story
I was in the computer and telecoms industry for more than 20 years, and managed sizeable factories – 3,000 people – in China and Japan for 10 years. I retired from Hong Kong in 2012 and came to the UK. I am now 65 and when I was a kid I wanted to be an astrophysicist, so I went to Cardiff University for three years and graduated in astrophysics in 2015.
I found it too boring doing nothing, so I started work again, overseeing continuous improvement in factories but they closed because of Brexit. Then someone suggested I go to the Novotel recruitment open day, where I met my current General Manager. He asked what I wanted to do and I said I can do anything as long as I’m not bored. I don’t have any experience but saw a description of kitchen porter and said I could do that.
They thought I was joking; I was serious. He invited me to the hotel the next day for a four-hour trial and I passed the test and joined as kitchen porter. A lot of organisation is needed to make sure there are no bottlenecks, and at peak time there are 300 customers having meals; it is very busy.
After 10 days, I became a breakfast chef, preparing the buffet and when I finished my training, I worked in the morning from 5.30am to 7.00am; everything was ready, not a minute late! Eventually, I joined the Food & Beverage team.
A lot of people misunderstand F&B; it is not only serving food and cleaning tables but involves a lot of organisation – preparing the canteen, cashier, taking care of card payments, barista, bartender, and most important, I am talking to customers and listening to them. We are the face of the company and can move the company image. We see comments on social media about how customers have enjoyed our service, they mention us by name and that makes me very proud.
After only 16 months, I worked night shifts from 11pm to 7am; when everyone had gone after 2am, there was only me and the night auditor, and I started cleaning everything for the next morning; and if any customer ordered room service I cooked it and looked after them. It is very interesting and most important, when my successor arrived at 05.30, I made sure everything was set up for 07.00, when I greeted the first customer; then I went home for shower and to bed. When I wake up I go running and I read.
I have found new people for the hotel through friends who have come here from Hong Kong, where the political situation is unstable. They have excellent experience, most are around the age of 40 and come with their family; when they ask me, I introduce them to the company if they want to work with people. The customer is in our hands and enjoys service from the heart. Hospitality is heart; everyone wants to be happy.
I started a Level 3 apprenticeship in September 2021 and finished in August 2022. My apprenticeship training was with Badcock. Only when I started to think about the relationship between my experience and the hospitality industry did I understand it; and the Institute of Hospitality elected me a full member (MIH) this month.
My experience outside hospitality was useful because in a hotel like Novotel, we have a similar departmental set-up to manufacturing or a law firm: production, accounting, procurement, maintenance, but instead of giving customers something physical, we give them service and an experience so that sends them away happier and revitalised.
To someone who is newly in the sector, flexibility, a can-do attitude and being willing to walk the extra mile will lead to successful career development. It is important to take a wider view; a waiter is not only serving food to customers but is also a cashier, a barista, bar tender and most important, a customer service representative who is promoting the image of the company.
Regardless of your background, there are always lots of opportunities in hospitality, and wherever you start, you are offered training. In the UK there are many types of apprenticeship, so there are always opportunities to advance your career; for example, one Operations Manager of Novotel I know used to be an F&B assistant.
- Alex Yeung
- Front of House and F&B Team Member
- Novotel Cardiff Centre (UK)