Sponsor’s Interview: Anthony Symington, 5th Generation Port Producer, Graham’s Port

For five generations, the Symingtons have combined their passion for producing fine wines and Ports with a deep commitment to the region’s land and people. 

 First launched in 1882 by Andrew James Symington at the age of 18, the family have maintained the traditions and commitment to quality across their four Port houses: Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Dow’s and Warre’s, as well as their Douro wine brands – Quinta do Vesuvio, Quinta do Ataíde, Altano and Prats & Symington (of Chryseia fame). In 2017, they launched a new venture, Quinta da Fonte Souto, in the Alto Alentejo.

 Anthony Symington is a fifth generation Symington to work in his family company alongside his father and cousins.

 After finishing university, he worked in the City for a number of years before deciding that his true passion was wine. He joined the family company in 2018 and now looks after the commercial strategy for the Symington Family Estates UK operations.

 Symington Family Estate’s recently hosted a unique study trip for our scholar and winning finalists from the 2022 competition. We caught up with him to understand a little more about the Estate, why port is important, and his thoughts about the scholarship.

Hi Anthony, please can you tell us a little about your role
I look after the commercial interests of the brand in the UK. Like the rest of the family, I am effectively a custodian of the brand. I am very fortunate to look after the UK as it’s our most important market.

Why is the UK the most important market?
The UK is the foremost premium port market in the world. Whilst port is becoming increasingly popular in other countries, the UK is still the number one consumer of the drink.

Britain and Portugal have one of the longest standing military relationships across the world. In fact, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force. It was established by the Treaty of Windsor in 1386.

The two countries have been trading closely forever.

Despite your English origins, you grew up in Portugal firmly embedded in the wine trade, what was that like for you?
To be honest, growing up in this world has been amazing. I grew up in Porto and made regular trips to the Douro Valley. We were allowed to run around the valley and felt like we didn’t have a care in the world. Growing up in the vineyards was amazing.

I have a great sense of pride working for the family business. Most family businesses fail after the third generation so the fact that we’ve all been nurturing the traditions passed down, and evolving where possible to keep us relevant, has been a huge privilege.

Why did you decide to work with the scholarship?
The scholarship represents exactly what we stand for as a company.

We are B-Corp because we care about social and environmental responsibility. We are very aware of the role we can play in society and are always looking at ways in which we can support the younger generation.
We also understand that, in hospitality it’s all about partnerships. Partnerships make successful people and businesses. People on the front line in restaurant needs to know how we work and what we do, only then can they tell our story better. None of us can be successful without the other and every link is important. It sounds cliched but we are all a family.

The idea of family is clearly important to you. Why does it matter?
People and relationships are the essence of everything that we all do.

As Symingtons, we are a multigenerational family business but there are also other families that have worked across generations in our business. We have families within the family! An extension of that is the hospitality family too.

When a family runs a business, it’s not just about turning a profit, its about creating legacies and brands that last. We always take a long term view of things. That principle is extended to supporting people at the start of their careers. We know that, if we support them now to develop, we can have long-standing relationships in the future.

You have experience of some of the best restaurants in the world so tell us what good service means to you.
For me it’s about compassion. Being able to understand the needs of the person you are serving and reading the room is really important. You need to be able to determine what their immediate needs are without them telling you.

People with good emotional intelligence will always be more effective in service. In the medical trade, people often talk about good doctors having good ‘bedside’ manner. In hospitality, it’s the same. Those who can read a guest and tailor their approach provide the best service.

Why good service is important?
It’s essential. Front-of-house professionals are the face of the establishment. If the food is great, you lose half of the value if the service is terrible.

Importantly, service is the first and last thing that any guest sees and experiences.

What role do you think port plays in the service experience?
Port usually sits at the end of a meal so its often one of the last moments of an experience. You want them to leave on a high.

I often think it’s a great drink to enjoy slowly with friends at the end of the day. It’s a drink you can have when you are putting the world to rights.

In service, the focus is often on the standard structure of starter, main, dessert. Port gives you the opportunity to extend your experience. This is fantastic for the guest experience, but also for the restaurant as they can extend the spend! Not to mention that it is a fantastic pairing for many desserts.

This is where training is so important.

You are a big advocate of hand-on training, what do you think works best for young people at the early stages of their careers?

I think being able to live and breathe a product is so important to truly understand its story. Books, social media and the internet in general are important learning tools but there’s nothing like being present in the development process of any product. That’s why we’ve partnered with the likes of the Gold Service Scholarship.

 Training is crucial. We should constantly be learning, both personally and professionally. Any chance to better yourself should always be taken.

For us, training and helping people become comfortable with our product is hugely important.

How does the scholarship help develop future talent?

I think it’s important to point out that competitions like this offer unique training and development experiences that you would not ordinarily get in your day jobs.

 It’s the only organisation of its kind that genuinely focusses on young people. The opportunity it gives young people is incredible. The places that winners can go to learn, work, and experience, is unrivalled.

It feels very personal and not corporate. Trustees are all hugely engaged with every single applicate. The personal aspect is really attractive.

Helping young people develop and advance is important. Applicants essentially get free training from icons of industry.

Finally, why should young FOH professionals enter?

I think its an amazing way to receive training, develop themselves in their career and make contacts and friends you would never have the opportunity to. You can make friends for life and have lots of fun in the process.

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