149 restaurants and 26 brands. From double Michelin-star holder ‘Alma’ (Henrique Sá Pessoa) to fast food concepts like Vitaminas and Capri. A 24-year career path offers a lot if you know how to make the most of it. And if you don’t, just ask Rui and Margarida Sanches (Plateform). The couple behind the biggest restaurant group in Portugal are experts in the search for excellence in both their professional and family lives. The secret of their success? Work, constancy and, above all, a genuine passion for food: the engine driving their lives.
How did Margarida and Rui Sanches set off on this adventure in restaurants?
Rui: I began in 1998 with Vitaminas and, when I was getting to know Margarida, I was opening the third Vitaminas in Cascais. Margarida was part of the opening and the whole final part of assembling the restaurant. In 2007 we opened a patisserie in Amoreiras. Margarida was working in another sector and came to work with me as manager of the patisserie, which was called Milano. And we're still together today... 15 years have passed, and plenty of things. After the 2011 financial crisis, we decided we wanted to do something more in the ‘fine dining’ and ‘casual dining’ style. Because, up until 2010, all our restaurants had been fast food: Vitaminas, Capri, Milano... In 2011, we started to do casual dining, then Alma and, from then on, other projects started to arrive.
What do each of you do exactly?
Margarida: Rui manages the development of new projects, architecture and so on, while I mainly focus on the human resources side. I really like searching inside our company for the best profiles to carry out different roles, getting employees promoted... Also, alongside Rui, I work on everything to do with decoration, lighting, tableware, details... He’s mainly responsible for the management side.
How do you achieve a work/life balance?
Rui: When we’re working, we’re working and when we’re off we’re off: we go to good restaurants, good hotels... Our whole lives revolve around food, restaurants, experiences. We do what we love at work and in our free time together. There’s no strategy for this, it’s more about a need. Our work, which we do with a huge amount of passion, is a reflection of everything we’d like to do as customers. And that’s really good because you manage to fill both roles: restaurateur and customer. We really like enjoying our restaurants. Today I sit down at the table with a totally different spirit to the one I had ten years ago. I always used to be really nervous and insecure, I was really anxious about improving. Today, that desire to be better is still there, but always from a constructive perspective. And the teams really appreciate that. We’re totally present in all our restaurants. We sit down with the manager or chef and that’s when we have ideas. You can improve a lot more at the table than in the kitchen. At the moment, with the way we work, 75% of our ideas come at the table.
What problems have you noticed at the moment with finding restaurant staff?
Margarida: After the pandemic, we realised that the sense of commitment had changed. It’s something that you particularly notice in restaurant teams, not so much in positions with greater responsibility. Perhaps because they went through a lot, they’re younger people and now what they want is to live more. But the sense of commitment has changed a bit.
Rui: I think the problem has several answers. First, training. My father said something that’s probably my motto: “there are no bad children, only bad teachers”. People should be trained. Another factor is that we’re experiencing a unique period of high employment in Portugal. Unemployment is at 8%. And we have great people in other countries, people who need to find work and are highly capable. And tourism and catering are probably good solutions for them. I think that we should make it easier for these people to come to Europe and receive the necessary training. I believe that we have good kitchen and dining room training in Portugal, but we have very few available schools.
How do you see the future of Plateform?
Rui: I don’t know what the future holds, but the strategy is to carry on being a family company. We don’t want to sell anything. We really want to carry on working the way we’ve been working. What we’ve done over the past two or three years is what we really like doing best, which is creating restaurants that we like to visit as customers, with our friends, and more fine dining concepts. The future will be continuing to create what we think is missing in Portugal, because we have no plans for international expansion for now.
How would you define your relationship in one word?
Margarida: Defiance. A defiant love every day.