Community Spotlight – Cameron Bownes, Hotel Manager
By Frankie Fitch-Bunce
Cameron Bownes is Hotel Manager at The Zetter Hotel and Townhouse at The Zetter Group. He started his career with the intention of working in the kitchen. However, he soon found his love for interacting with people and embracing the excitement of a fast paced and unpredictable industry, so followed the path of front-of-house positions instead, starting off at the Dorchester.
Frankie: Tell me a little bit about yourself?
Cameron: Initially I wanted to be a chef. I got the opportunity to do an NVQ level in the local college to do cooking and I enjoyed it. I went to Westminster Kingsway to study to be a chef for two years and then in the third year you specialise in something, so you get a chance to work in pastry, bakery, larder section, hot kitchen. I enjoyed doing the front of house elements of it the most – talking to people and the unpredictability of it. In the third year I specialised in that. From there we did various things, we had two restaurants on site. One was a fine dining one and the other a small brasserie where we have events and things. We got the chance to manage both of them, whilst doing work experiences off site as well. I really loved that experience. After school I went to work in the Dorchester, which was very tricky and definitely a culture shock- I went from college to one of the top 100 restaurants in the world. So it was very high pressure but I learnt a lot and obviously it was enjoyable. I never looked back to being a chef after that. It was always in front of house, which I knew was where my real passion was. Skip ahead to now, it’s still the same. I’m still very much in love with the food and beverage element of things whilst being a hotel manager. Whilst you need to look after rooms and maintenance, the food and beverage element is a really big part of what we do.
Frankie: How long have you worked in the hotel industry?
Cameron: I’ve dipped into hotels and back to restaurants throughout. Overall I’d say about five years now. Three years at my current job. A year of that has been as hotel manager and the two years prior to that I was house manager, which is looking after the food and beverage element.
Frankie: What’s your favourite thing about working in the industry?
Cameron: I think my favourite thing is unpredictability. I can’t imagine coming to work every day, having a plan and it actually going according to that plan. When you’re doing an event, for instance, and something changes at the last minute, that kind of adaptability I actually find really fun. Even during COVID when we were opening, closing, opening, closing- as much as it was frustrating at points, it was really interesting to see how we all adapted to that. It was nice because you can be inventive, you can be creative, which is definitely what I love about the role.
Frankie: Does that love for unpredictability help you cope with stress?
Cameron: I think the fact that I love it helps. It would be difficult if I didn’t. I’m quite confident in my ability and the ability of the team. I have a really good team around me, which helps. Having those people around you and knowing you can trust them. Knowing when someone is assigned a task when you’re absent, they will do it as they would do when you’re here. It’s that which really gives me confidence and helps me manage stress.
Frankie: Is there anything that you’d like to see develop in the industry?
Cameron We’re very much at the beginning of bringing a bit more diversity into the industry. I’ve done lots of panel talks, one with Caterer for example, and I’ve recently been at the AMC Cup, which is where hotel schools over Europe come together and do a competition. I think it’s not just bringing diversity into entry level jobs such as waitresses, waiters, reception staff, but seeing more ethnic minorities on the boards, in director roles and in senior positions in the hotel. I think it’s really important. And like I say, I think we’re in very early stages, but it seems to be pivoting slightly more in the right direction. So, I’d love to see that more in the future.
Frankie: Can you identify a career challenge so far?
Cameron: I think my biggest one was taking a career break and spending some time outside the industry. I paused to create a gin business making alcoholic and non-alcoholic gin. We were going through a venture capitalist programme- we did that for about six months but unfortunately didn’t get the funds in the end. So when we came back to what we were previously doing, into restaurant manager roles, I found it quite tricky. A lot of people saw a career gap as a red flag against my name, even though I was trying to start something for myself and I learnt so many new skills. I managed to do an interim role somewhere while they were waiting for another manager. After that they decided to keep me on. So, it worked out well and got me back into a job. I think a career break is unfortunately seen as quite negative when it definitely shouldn’t be. Whether it’s for your mental health or any other reason, I think it’s in fact very healthy to do so. I would actually encourage it to be honest.
Frankie: Is there an important piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Cameron: I would say don’t be afraid of career breaks or to take chances. Something I always wanted to do was work abroad, which I never got the chance to. Which is a shame. I would also say networking, I think networking is incredibly important. It’s a real skill. When you come across people that have done it well and maintain those networks, you really notice it when you’re talking about something and they say, Oh, I know a person over there. That depth of network is very important as you progress.
Frankie: Can you tell us something about working in hotels that we might find surprising?
Cameron: I think it’s that more people sleepwalk than you would realise.
Frankie: The future of hospitality is…
Cameron Bright. I do think it is. I think that there’s definitely many challenges but I think that through lots of different groups I’ve spoken to, people like Be Inclusive Hospitality, youth employment and things like that. There are people that genuinely care and are going the right way about getting people into hospitality.