Restaurant managers, waiters and waitresses, hosts, concierge staff, reservation agents, baristas and bartenders – they’re the unsung heroes of the hospitality industry – the bones, the foundation, the glue, if you like. And there’s one single thing that they all strive for – excellence in service.

Whether you’re taking a seat at a restaurant or stepping on board a cruise ship for the holiday of a lifetime, you will undoubtedly find that the first and final interactions of your experience are with one of these hospitality heroes, and we’re sure you’ll agree that it is their words and actions that can lead to you having the greatest experience possible.

Our friends at Celebrity Cruises say it best – ‘it’s the little details that make a world of difference’. With a deep-seated understanding of what it means to provide an extraordinary level of service to guests, Celebrity Cruises pride themselves on their award-winning hospitality and know that it’s what keeps guests coming back time and time again. So, in collaboration with Celebrity Cruises, we thought we’d dig a little deeper into our world of food and beverage and shine a light on one of the incredibly talented, unsung heroes of the industry.

Introducing Catalina Cuevas, General Manager of Rockpool Bar & Grill Sydney.

Catalina has been with Rockpool for an impressive 20 years. Her commitment to elevating the guest experience and providing premium service is second to none, and her hard work and dedication has seen her grow from Commis Waiter right through to her recent appointment as General Manager of the restaurant.

We sat down with Catalina, to discover a little more about life in hospitality, going ‘above and beyond’, and what those little details are that keep guests returning for more from Rockpool Bar & Grill Sydney.

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Good Food Month: Why did you get into the hospitality industry?

Catalina Cuevas: There were two pathways I could have taken: hospitality or interior design. Hospitality has always been in my blood. When I was a child, my mother was the Maître d’ of a well-established restaurant in Chile. She used to take me to work on special occasions and sit me on the end of the bar, while she went about her work. I vividly remember having a pink soft drink with an umbrella in it and feeling like the belle of the ball while she was at work. Hospitality is what I grew up knowing, so ultimately, it’s the path I chose.

Good Food Month: How long have you been with Rockpool?

Catalina Cuevas: In total, it’s a 20-year career – albeit with some time off when I became a Mum. I was interviewed at the original Rockpool on George Street on September 12, 2001. I remember because it was the day after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Towers. The interview was very little about me, and more about what was happening: the restaurant being at full capacity one day, then customers cancelling and tourists not travelling the next. I started work at Rockpool a few weeks later. I took a few years off when I became a Mum for the first time, and then had my second baby. But since starting to work for Rockpool, I haven’t worked anywhere else.

Good Food Month: Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself, your career and your time with the Rockpool Group?

Catalina Cuevas: I studied a Certificate IV in Hotel Management which laid the foundations of my career. I began working in cafés before moving into hotels. I worked in the hotel industry during the Sydney Olympics, which I loved: it was a magical time. However, I haven’t looked back since starting work at Rockpool. My first role was as a Commis Waiter, which meant I made coffee, sliced bread and polished cutlery. I worked my way up the ranks to become an Assistant Restaurant Manager by 2005. About eight months later I left to have my first child. I was very much in Mumma mode until 2009, which is when I returned to work on a casual level as a Senior Waiter. I had always loved the Rockpool philosophy, and I’ve also always been very loyal, so I was keen to come back. It took about another four years for me to come back full-time, at which point I took on a training and development role, which was a natural transition for me. I returned to become an Assistant Manager in 2019, then Restaurant Manager, and was promoted to General Manager just before the most recent lockdown.

Good Food Month: What is it that you love about hospitality?

Catalina Cuevas: From those childhood days, sitting in a restaurant in Chile, watching my mother work, I remember really soaking up the collaboration and connections between people: the noise, the atmosphere, the conversations. Ultimately, I love engaging with people, which is what drew me to hospitality. It’s very much a service-oriented industry: you are there to be hospitable and to deliver service, which is what I enjoy doing. I am a people person, so in in the end it was a no-brainer for me to choose hospitality. I’ve always had a love of the craziness of this industry.

Good Food Month: How do you define outstanding customer service? What are the three most important ingredients for the perfect customer experience?

Catalina Cuevas: Atmosphere is extremely important, along with engaging service; service that doesn’t just tick the boxes but creates rapport with guests and services everyone in a unique way that is tailored to their needs and expectations.  The service element and the interaction you have sets the foundation of what people remember about a restaurant – it’s what keep them coming back, often times more than the food itself. Then there are the other layers: beautiful food, fine wines, knowledgeable staff. Together all these elements and layers create a beautiful customer experience. Ultimately, it’s about going above and beyond what is expected and being attentive and listening to what the guest really wants.

Good Food Month: Outside of the exceptional food, what do you think it is that keeps customers coming back time and time again to Rockpool?

Catalina Cuevas: The level of consistency, as well as the service. Guests know exactly what they are going to get when they come through the doors. They know they are going to receive exceptional service, exceptional drinks and an exceptional meal. Guests can rely on the fact that they can come to Rockpool Bar & Grill and know exactly how their lunch or dinner is going to go.
One last note, the teams both FOH (front of house) and BOH (back of house) are another reason our guests keep coming back. Their commitment, passion and hard work shines through all that they do. I am extremely grateful to have their support.

Good Food Month: Celebrity Cruises are a Good Food Month partner who, similarly, pride themselves on outstanding customer service. They strongly believe it’s the little details that make a world of difference. What ‘little details’ set a Rockpool Bar & Grill experience apart from the rest?

Catalina Cuevas: I think the ‘little details’ are so embedded in what we do that they’re no longer little details. It’s second nature. For example, arranging a complimentary birthday cupcake at the end of a meal when we have overheard a birthday is being celebrated, or complimentary glasses of Champagne when we hear it’s our guests’ anniversary – these little things are part and parcel of what we do; forever going above and beyond. I’ve seen a team member taking a toddler for a walk around the restaurant while the mother finishes her meal, or bringing a box of house-made popcorn to a couple to take home to their children, when they’ve been out for a romantic celebration. I guess those are the little things that are engrained in the Rockpool customer service and are what sets up apart.

Good Food Month: What’s the best guest reaction you have ever witnessed in response to having an excellent dining experience?

Catalina Cuevas: What really impresses me is when people take the time to send written messages of thanks; a letter that goes into a card, that you need to buy a stamp for, and take to the Post Office. The art of writing is slowly diminishing, yet we do receive letters and notes quite often. It’s one of the best feelings, knowing the team has inspired someone to go to such lengths to convey their gratitude.

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If you are heading to Sydney Good Food Month feature events, Young Indigenous Chefs Lunch at Rockpool Bar & Grill, or The Good Weekend Food Quiz: Live, you’ll be able to see Catalina in action.

You can also visit rockpoolbarandgrill.com.au to book a mouth-watering meal by Head Chef, Corey Costelloe and an exceptional experience brought to life by Catalina and the Rockpool Bar & Grill team.

To discover more about outstanding customer service at sea, and to plan your next luxury cruising adventure, visit celebritycruises.com/au.