It is a common belief within the restaurant industry that dining is a type of performance.
Here at 5pm, during our visits to various restaurants, we’ve spotted the same sign at the door of several of the kitchens, the last thing the waiting staff see before they go out to the restaurant floor – “Smile. You’re going on stage.”
Two Fat Ladies at The Buttery is a dining experience of pure theatre. The oak panelling decor, marble bar, the white shirted black waistcoat staff gliding from table to table, echoes the feel of a by-gone era.
Opened in 2007, it has garnered a reputation as one of the most highly regarded restaurants in Glasgow, thanks in large part to its owner, Ryan James.
Twenty five years ago, a young Ryan James faced a dilemma. Recently graduated from the RSAMD and working part time as a bar tender at another Glasgow institution Rogano, he was faced with a choice: pursue his dream of a career in theatre or accept a full time management position at Rogano.
“It was never the plan to work in restaurants,” he said. “It was the plan to work in theatre. I trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama as it was called back then and worked away for about three or four years and actually did quite well. But I ended up with a massive overdraft as I was making the mistake all actors did when they get work and think they are a millionaire.
“I spent loads of money and ended up skint so I got a part time job in Rogano as a bartender doing a few shifts here and there before I went full time, still in my own mind considering myself between jobs and thinking if an acting job came up I would take it. Eventually the full time job became a management position and it was then I decided to back up my greasepaint and stick to restaurants.”
Watch Ryan talk about his career in the video below.
As his classmates Alan Cumming and Robert Carlyle reached worldwide fame, Ryan flourished at Rogano, staying there for four years before the owners, Alloa Brewery, offered him the option of running restaurant of his own, the Victorian Albert.
He went on to run a number of successful restaurants in Glasgow before launching Two Fat Ladies in Partick’s Dumbarton Road then expanding the group to the City Centre, The Buttery and next door’s Shandon Belles, and its latest incarnation in the Marine Hotel in Troon.
For a second choice career it has certainly turned out to be a successful one. But according to Ryan, there are many similarities between a career on stage and on the restaurant floor.
“There’s a stage in the dining experience that is called the customer “wow” moment,” Ryan said.
“From my point of view, it takes theatricality to make it an unforgettable dining experience. There’s a lot of performance in being a waiter. Some days you can’t be bothered with it but you have to be; it might be your third night on in a row but the person coming through the door might be on their first visit. If you’re having a down day or bad day it’s really not fair to spoil their experience.”
Watch Ryan compare dining to theatre in the video below
“We had a girl a number of years ago called Maxine who was overly theatrical. Maybe it’s because her parents both worked in theatre. There was no table that girl served who didn’t go out adoring her. Her tips were absolutely fantastic. I think there is maybe one in one hundred who has the ability to do that.”
Ryan’s career has now come full circle. His success in the restaurant industry has allowed him to become a trustee at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, an experience he describes as bittersweet, as he watches the preparation of the shows he could have been involved in himself. But his passion for dining remains.
“Food is food,” he said. “What turns a food experience into a restaurant experience is the people serving the meals and the environment they are being served in. And that’s why I think theatricality is so important.”