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Our recipe for success – Tom Simmons restaurant, London

Tom Simmons, named after the chef and co-owner, is a celebrated restaurant in London’s Tower Bridge area. Tom, a former MasterChef: The Professionals quarter-finalist, heads up the kitchen. Lois Thomas, his partner, handles front-of-house and the guest experience beyond the food. Both share a proud Welsh heritage.

Established in 2017, the contemporary fine-dining restaurant champions the very best Welsh produce and serves locally sourced, thoughtful British-French dishes. A large number of customers are repeat guests. Reflecting this, Tom Simmons has an exceptionally high rating on tripadvisor.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars.

The success of the concept has led Tom and Lois to open a new Tom Simmons restaurant in Cardiff, Wales in early 2020.

We spoke to Lois get her thoughts on the evolution of fine-dining and her recipe for success.

How do you feel the industry has evolved in recent years?
Guests seek more than just great food. People come to your restaurant for the promise of a particular experience: you have to have that. That means making sure every aspect of your guest experience is just right. So, the service, the environment and everything else has to flow together perfectly.

Specifically, what changes have you observed in the world of fine dining?
Fine dining means something completely different now. The old-school way of fine dining automatically conjures up images of opulent tabletops, suits, ties and waiters in waistcoats. But these days, you can get some of the best food in the world from street food vendors. Nowadays, so much comes down to the quality of the food.

People don’t want stiffness and formality anymore. Our whole ethos from the beginning was to let the food do the talking – and leave everything else quite relaxed.

“We want our service to be friendly and attentive, not stuffy. I didn’t want table linen. Likewise, I wanted our staff to be comfortable – no ties – that way, they can inspire a more comfortable atmosphere.”

Do you have a set approach when it comes to designing your experience?
Experience-wise we are very inclusive: everyone who works at the restaurant shares their opinions. We don’t have a specific approach. We chose what looks good and what suits what we do. We like things to look quite minimalistic.

What’s your view on designing table settings?
When we first opened, we had a lot more things on the table. But we have scaled it back quite a lot. Now it’s just cutlery, glass and napkin. Our design philosophy matches the kitchen’s: we don’t use lots of ingredients. It’s all about simplicity and quality – not quantity. Every element is carefully thought through. You want a clean context that complements the food.

When it comes to guest experience, what do you primarily focus on?
We focus on making our experience personal. We place great value in matching the mood of the guest to the experience they receive.

Is sustainability a part of your ethos too?
It’s automatically ingrained in what we do. We use locally sourced food – and the kitchen is very conscientious about waste. For instance, we use every cut of meat, whether it’s making stock or a pie for the staff.

What is your most business-critical issue?
Communication with suppliers is vital – your business depends on them. A breakdown like a late delivery can lead to a domino effect. For instance, if our lamb doesn’t arrive by 10am, we can’t get it ready for lunch. It’s all about teamwork and getting the job done.

How come you started to work with Duni?
One of the main reasons for the move was that our linen supplier wasn't working for us at all. We've worked with Duni ever since – the relationship's going really well.

“It’s essential to understand what guests want and meet that. Some want attentive service; others just want to be left alone.”

So, why did you first switch from linen?
Being in London, we struggle for space. On the first day, as a trial, we ordered 100 linen napkins – and they delivered 700! Then there was a problem collecting them. We had linen napkins everywhere – it was bonkers! But the worse thing with linen napkins is that you have to check each one. You need to put aside around 10% due to the fact they are dirty, have holes in them, or they aren’t properly ironed. So, you end up storing napkins you are never going to use anyway. It was a complete nightmare. Dunilin® Max napkins fit the mood of the times well. The texture of fine dining has changed from linen.

Cost-wise, did you notice much of a difference between
linen and single-use napkins?
Not much of difference. But everything runs so much smoother with single-use. I don’t have to deal with checking them or worry about arranging pick-ups. They arrive on Monday, and everything is ready in time for Tuesday when we open.

Why do you feel single-use napkins suit your business?
Not only are they great from an owner’s point of view, they also give customers exactly what they want, without them realising. Duni napkins are great all-round products. More than anything, we use them for the convenience and the quality. The napkins are always consistent and reliable – perfect for us.

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