Inaugeral Team Gold Event: An Interview with Cav. Diego Masciaga
Diego Masciaga is synonymous with service. Having spent more than 40 years in the industry (30 at with at the three-star Waterside Inn in Bray), he has welcomed the good and the great with his inimitable Italian warmth.
As one of the most vocal advocates of the profession, Diego was the first-ever speaker at the Gold Service Scholarship’s inaugural ‘Team Gold’ event. He shared his experience and advice with some of the industry’s most talented young front-of-house professionals at an exclusive event held at The Goring. Having recently secured the prestigious ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award at the Cateys, we caught up with him to capture some of his thoughts and observations on the industry.
How did you get into the industry?
My first ‘proper’ job was as a commis in Alain Chapel’s restaurant in Lyon. If I’m honest, I had never heard of Michelin at this point. It was a three-starred restaurant and I was shocked when I arrived as the standard of service was just beyond anything I had ever experienced. I started working at 13 when I had a weekend job in a restaurant in my village in Oleggio. I was too young to do any of the front-of-house work, but I used to help by sweeping the terraces and helping with odd jobs. This was quite different.
I learned so much from Alain Chapel. He was a chef but he taught me so many valuable skills such as carving, tasting wine, pouring wine, table setting. I was there for just over two years.
Where did you move to next?
I went to Germany to see how German service looked. After that, I had to complete my military service back in Italy, which taught me about respect on another level. Everyone is forced to be there, so you will see people from all walks of life. Whether you were the son of a millionaire or from a poor background, everybody had to polish their shoes. This was a valuable lesson.
After this I joined Le Gavroche.
Is this where you first met Silvano Giraldin, one of our Trustees? While I obviously had some skills, Silvano taught me so much. He helped me understand what we call ‘the eye’ – seeing what the customer wants before they ask. He also taught me so much about speed of service and organisation. The pressure was huge at the time as it was the only three-star in England.
I later took these skills with me when I joined the Waterside Inn in 1988.
You’ve had quite a career. What has kept you in the industry?
I get pleasure from pleasing people. If you do this job and you don’t get pleasure from it, you should do something else.
A chef produces something you can eat, see, taste. A waiter provides personality and attitude. These things are so important and difficult to define.
The guests I look after have kept me in the profession. It’s a real privilege.
Why do you believe the Gold service scholarship important?
What the GSS has done has really raised the profile of the profession amongst British people. It has also helped to raise the bar in terms of skills and standards.
I’ve never seen anything like the GSS. We’ve never seen this network of waiters in the past – it has always just been the chefs. I’ve worked everywhere and this is special, and not just for the winner but also the finalists and all the entrants. They become a great group of friends.
What key attributes do front of house people need?
Skills come later but there are four key elements that are important from the very start: the right attitude; personality; honesty; and humility.
There is an Italian saying that translated reads: ‘People should make sure the step is longer than the leg’, which means you have to read the mind of the guest and know exactly what they need before they do.
It’s important to gauge why the guest is at your restaurant. Is it for business, is it for love, or is it for other reasons? Once you’ve determined this, you’ll know when to talk and when to stop.
What are the highlights of your career?
My goal was to become a manager of a three Michelin starred restaurant. I’ve had offers to be GM of large hotels but I always wanted to do this.
I was fortunate enough to achieve my goal at 25 but I never lost my hunger to continue. I was given carte blanche at the Waterside by my employers, which meant a lot. I had to work for it and earn their trust.
I’ve had so many fantastic experiences. I served A-list celebrities and sports stars, I served at a Kremlin reception hosted by [Boris] Yeltsin, which was quite something. I’ve served the Queen and other Royals on many occasions.
These are unique experiences, but just as meaningful to me is looking after an ordinary couple out for an anniversary meal.
What advice would you give a young manager looking to progress in the industry?
Firstly, it’s important they realise that they need their team to succeed. Without their team they are lonely and isolated. They can be king for a day but won’t be happy for long. It is important to look after each other. If my staff have failed, I have failed. It’s up to me to make sure they are prepared, trained and in the right environment.
Secondly, a manager should know how to do every job brilliantly. In the past, people would work their way up. Now, there are different routes into more senior roles. Those who miss out on the junior roles need to learn everything about the establishment they work in.
How have you approached your work? How do you see the restaurant and its purpose?
For me, when the curtain goes up, it’s showtime. We had two shows a day (lunch and dinner) so it’s important that people are ready to go.
An honest smile is important – it shouldn’t be forced. Our teams need to feel happy. You can change a customer’s mood in an instant. The food comes later. If the welcome is badly done, you can be sure that the customer will still be in a bad mood by the middle of the meal.
Giving people advice on what they should do is always important but what should professionals looking to progress look to avoid in their careers?
In our business, it’s important to avoid complacency. One should never cut corners and never be dishonest – it will catch up with you.
And it’s important to know your own ability and skills and don’t look to be something you are not. Sometimes it’s better to be an excellent number two than a bad number one. We are all different. Be honest with yourself. I know my limitations. Know yours.
What should front of house talent look for from a prospective employer?
People need to ask ‘what am I going to learn?’ This is crucial because all the money in the world cannot pay for the ability to learn.
How much has service changed over the last 30 years?
It has changed a lot. The customer has changed. The age group of guests has changed. It used to be very stiff because people wanted this. Now service is more relaxed and front-of-house people are able to spend more time talking to guests. Before, only the maître d was allowed to have this sort of relationship with guests.
How do you think service is perceived in the industry?
Between the 70s and mid 90s there was a gap in recognising the profession. As chefs became more high profile, it was at the expense of front of house people. Chefs became idols, waiters were just carriers. This has changed and initiatives like the Gold Service Scholarship really help.
This recent shift is down to the public going out more. They are more discerning. They pay for an experience and this experience is not just a chef, it’s the service too. The GSS has really tapped into this.
You headlined the first ever Team Gold event for Gold Service Alumni, how did you find it?
It was a great night and so good to see so many talented people in one room, getting on and networking. I really enjoyed talking to them.
The beauty of the Scholarship is that there are so many people from diverse establishments coming together. They can all learn together and from each other. This will help them for many years to come.
You’ve just left the Waterside Inn, what does the future hold for Diego?
After 30 years, it was a very difficult decision and I don’t think I slept for two weeks before I told Mr Roux back in September. I’ve been very fortunate to learn from some amazing people; I now want to help other people.
In our world, consistency is the most difficult thing. I want to help businesses reach excellence and maintain it.
The Diary of a Scholar: Michael Staub, Quarter 1
The aim of this report is to document the activities undertaken, learning outcomes and achievements accomplished during my year as Gold Service Scholar. This is the first in a series of four quarterly reports commissioned by the Trustees of the Gold Service Scholarship (GSS). The activities are listed in chronological order:
Professional Wine Service by WineEd, 12 March
I was hoping that this semi-finalist prize would be a good refresher about wines in general. This one-day seminar fully met my expectations as it covered the winemaking process, viticulture, different components of wine and the resulting different styles of wines. More importantly, this workshop was particularly helpful as it was tailored to people that work in the industry. The main focus was on using the gained knowledge in order to recommend wines as well as sales and customer care relating to wine. This was a very helpful learning opportunity ahead of the WSET level two that I am taking in early June.
A Special Evening with Diego Masciaga, 19 March
I was looking forward to meeting Diego Masciaga and learning more about his philosophy of service as well as reconnecting with the fellow finalists. This first Team Gold Event turned out to be a truly special night. Diego’s humble nature, passion for service, knowledge of our industry, motivation to develop people and willingness to share success were extremely inspiring. Before, during and after that Q&A session, a fantastic dinner at the Goring Hotel provided a great platform to not only see the fellow finalists and trustees but also to meet and connect and with previous finalists. This event totally exceeded my expectations and set the bar very high for future events.
Dinner at The Waterside Inn, 1 April
This dinner and overnight stay was a Scholar prize and the perfect way to celebrate a special occasion. I had heard a lot about The Waterside Inn and was particularly excited to find out more about this establishment, where the service is just as well-known as the culinary side of it. I was not disappointed.
The quality of the food was fabulous, but what impressed me, even more, was the outstanding service provided by Diego and his team. I would best describe it as perfectly synchronised, perfectly paced and with incredible attention to detail. It became apparent why this restaurant is so prestigious and I doubt that I had ever experienced better service before. This experience fuelled my excitement for my stage at this establishment.
Hildon Water and Chewton Glen Visit, 5 April
I was aiming to learn more about a natural mineral water bottler and the competitive landscape in the water industry. Also, I was excited to learn more about the offerings of one of England’s most prestigious countryside resorts through this finalist prize. Additionally, this day was a great opportunity to reconnect with some Trustees and the fellow finalists.
I had never visited a water bottler before and so it was interesting to learn what makes waters different as well as Hildon’s history and philosophy. A highlight was to see and understand their automated bottling system, which was fascinating. The tour was very interesting and I particularly liked that our guide was very open and shared challenges that Hildon and the industry as a whole are facing.
After a short drive through Hampshire’s beautiful countryside, we arrived at Chewton Glen where we enjoyed a delicious lunch. Thanks to a site inspection, we were able to see all parts of the hotel. I was impressed by the innovative treehouses, modern spa and the commitment to the on-site growing of fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Chewton Glen is a great example of a hotel that does not live of its past reputation but ensures to stay fit for and relevant in the future.
Scholar Lunch, 10 April
The Scholar lunch was fantastic meal during which my employer was able to meet with the Trustees of the GSS, learn more about the competition and the programme, which I will be following this year. I was absolutely impressed by the quality of both, culinary and service we experienced. It was an unexpected eyeopener in terms of the level at which establishments like private banks, insurances, and clubs must operate at.
Other than connecting my employer with the GSS Trustees, my second aim of the day was to choose the Scholar Prizes, which happened after lunch. I am so grateful and extremely excited to conduct stages at a Mandarin Oriental Hotel, at The Waterside Inn and at Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace Garden Party, 15 May
The Buckingham Palace Garden Party was another finalist prize. I was mainly curious about the style of service, which I had imagined to be very traditional, to see the china and glassware of the Royal Household and to understand how a large-scale event like this one was organised and managed.
The day started with an introduction to the team, with which I was working on the day and an overview of the departmental structure. Following that, I was shown around the garden by a senior manager of the catering company Ampersand. He explained the different structures that were constructed for the Garden Party, the workflow of his teams, the intended guest journey and the challenges involved in catering to such a large number of guests in a relatively short period of time.
After lunch, a few last preparations in the Royal Tent had to be completed, a moment during which I learned more about the equipment used as well as its historical and sentimental value. On an exclusive tour, I was shown around the entire Buckingham Palace including the White Drawing Room, Picture Gallery, Grand Staircase, Ballroom, Throne Room and many more. Shortly after, already changed into my footman uniform, I attended the final briefing of the event. I was honoured to greet the guests at the door and welcome them to the Garden Party. Once the service started in the Royal Tent, I was offering beverages to the important guests of the Royal Family.
Seeing members of the Royal Family live was a very unique moment. Beyond that, I was impressed by how well the entire event was organised and how smoothly it was running, which without a doubt is the key to success with such a large scale event. The team of the Royal Household inspired me greatly with their professionalism and warm sense of hospitality. Thanks to them, I was introduced to a very traditional style of service, something I was not used to before. Overall, it was a day which I would summarise as a once-in-a-lifetime experience which fully exceeded any expectations I may have had.
I would like to thank all Trustees for their support during the first quarter. It has been a delight to get to
know you better.
Stephanie Beresforde, 2017 Scholar’s Speech
Stephanie Beresforde, our 2017 Scholar, was invited to return to the stage at the 2018 Awards Ceremony, held at Claridges in February, to tell guests about her experiences over the last year.
Stephanie Beresforde, 2017 Scholar’s Blog: Winner’s visit to Laurent Perrier
First of all, I have to say what a fantastic start to the year it has been since this year’s Gold Service Scholarship.
Having never visited a vineyard before, since the results were announced at Claridge’s on that wintery February evening, I have been lucky enough to visit the Champagne region three times as part of the Scholarship’s prizes and study trips. Each time has been unique and special for so many reasons, and I am extremely grateful to have had these experiences.
Most recently, Jennifer (2016 Winner) and myself were invited to visit the Champagne house Laurent-Perrier by David Hesketh, Managing Director for LP UK. This has been a prize given annually to the winner of the Scholarship, and it worked out perfectly that Jennifer and myself were able to make this trip together. Having attended two group trips, what was exciting about this trip was the prospect of one on one time with some of the most knowledgeable people in the Champagne world. Also what was personally exciting for me, having recently moved to Jean Georges at The Connaught, was to learn more about the champagne which we serve as our house Champagne throughout the whole hotel.
The trip started with a somewhat bleary-eyed early meeting at London St Pancras, where the three of us grabbed a coffee and croissant in anticipation of the two days to come. The trip was well and truly underway as soon as we arrived in Reims, after a stop off at LP headquarters to collect our host and tour guides we headed out on a driving tour of the region and vineyards, with a boot stacked with picnic baskets, contents already being speculated over by Jen and myself. En route, we collected a local expert on the landscape and geography of Reims and Epernay, a wine grower and small-scale producer of his own Champagne, who guided us during our tour of the region. During the time in the car, we learned more about how and where vines can grow and the reasons why. Stopping off to view what looked like simply a wall of chalk, it was explained how chalk is necessary for the growth of Champagne grapes, and how this came to form under the soil from hundreds of thousands of years of shell and sea creature decay, all of which ensured that there were holes and gaps within the chalk, creating the texture of a sponge, which allows the vines to seemingly defy gravity and suck the water upwards to nourish themselves during drier times. No time was wasted in opening the first bottles of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé and Brut Millésimé to taste, as the contents of the long-awaited picnic were finally revealed.At this point, it was hard not to think how lucky we were to have been invited on such a fantastic trip, whilst sipping our Rosé and nibbling at the home-made lobster quiche and freshly cooked fish which we found in our picnic baskets.
After a quick stop off at the hotel to change for dinner, we met David in the lobby, unaware that the dinner location was a Michelin starred restaurant in the centre of Reims – Le Foch. Having come to Champagne to learn about the wine itself, it was an unexpected treat to be able to taste some unusual still wines, as well as experience Michelin starred service in another country. After a full day in the vineyards, the cheese trolley well and truly finished us off, back to the hotel it was for us to catch up on sleep before the second day of tasting.
As the trip was a two-day visit, with our Eurostar tickets booked for the evening, our second day with Laurent-Perrier flew by in a blur of tours, tastings and a final lunch. We were lucky enough to taste the whole range, the unanimous favourite being the Grand Siècle – an interesting concept whereby Laurent-Perrier want to ‘recreate the perfect year’. By assembling three exceptional vintages, and ageing for a minimum of 8 years, LP aim to create the perfect year which nature could never provide. The result was fantastic, a beautiful Champagne which will stick in our memories due to the unusual concept and exceptional work put into creating it.
Reflecting on the trip now, having returned to work, I feel extremely lucky to have been able to visit Laurent-Perrier with David and Jennifer. David was extremely generous and allowed us to expand our knowledge which is invaluable when progressing through our careers in the hospitality industry. Visiting the vineyards and tasting the wines whilst in Reims has given me a greater understanding and more passion for these wines in particular, which I can use personally but also pass on to my team.
This is just one of the many prizes I’ve experienced. All have been equally interesting, inspiring and enjoyable.
Stephanie Beresforde – 2017 Scholar and Jennifer Santner – 2016 Scholar.
Jennifer Santner, 2016 Scholar’s Speech
Jennifer was invited to return to the stage at the at the 2017 Awards Ceremony to share her experiences throughout her year as a Scholar.
Jennifer Santner, 2016 Scholar’s Blog: Waterside Inn Placement
I’ve been looking forward to this for such a long time. Meeting Diego Masciaga is something many people in our industry dream of doing, let alone work with him for a few days. This is really going to be special
My partner and I (we were fortunate to be offered a night’s stay at the Waterside Inn itself!) were welcomed to my room by Alessandro, a passionate and full of energy doorman, he proudly presented the river view terrace and kitchen where guests can help themselves to coffee and other beverages throughout the day.
The first thing that struck me was that the rooms are perfectly clean. Absolutely spotless. Diego checks the rooms daily himself to ensure everything is up to standard.
A bottle of champagne on ice was waiting for us with a welcome card from Diego – what a welcome! We enjoyed the bubbles in the sun on the terrace with a stunning view over the river. It was pure relaxation. We were in hospitality heaven.
We are treated to dinner in the restaurant that evening. What a treat. After being offered drinks and canapés on the restaurant terrace, the moment I had been waiting for finally arrived – meeting Diego Masciaga.
After reading his book “The Diego Masciaga way” I was full of expectations about how the meeting with him would be. Full of energy he greets us warmly. We talk about the room, the restaurant, the week ahead, the sun and the lake. “Do you want to drive the boat? Yes of course you want to, let me organise the team to teach you how to drive it”. The WOW Factor I preach my team about every day achieved just like that. We are shown on the boat and left to drive it for 30 minutes up and down the river. No, no ducks were killed and I managed to climb into the boat without falling into the river either J mission complete.
We then had an exquisite dinner.
What really struck me was the ‘lightness’ that the majority of the team performed with. Nothing seemed too difficult and it was effortless. There was always time for any member of the team to share a joke too. I was absolutely loving it.
I saw something interesting during service. At Fenchurch, I teach the team that only one person should touch the table at once, to avoid overcrowding and to give the guest the space. At the WSI I have seen the best example on how it can be done differently. Whilst Max, our sommelier, introduced the wines, showed us the bottles and explained why it is matched with the dishes on our menu, the waitress discreetly placed the cutlery for the next course without me even noticing. I was stunned.
The food of course was cooked and presented to perfection. The service was spot on. All guests were shown to the bathrooms, chairs were pushed for the guests and all napkins folded again or replaced. Cutlery placed correctly and carefully without interruption. The sommelier, Max, was knowledgeable, motivated and funny. It was a lovely experience.
Today I started my first shift at 10am. Fred, the Restaurant Manager showed me around the WSI, which consist of several houses, apartments, rooms and suits, private dining room, function rooms, staff facilities and of course Michel Roux’s house.
Every day at 11am and at 6pm, Diego, Fred and the junior management team as well as the chefs (Alain and Fabrice with his sous chefs) enjoy a “staff meal” within the restaurant. It is great to see how the team enjoys a 45 minute meal together, has a good conversation about “non work” topics (news etc), drink a small espresso, read magazines and then start the briefing at 11.45am and 6.45pm.
The entire FOH and BOH teams work Wednesday to Sunday, 10 shifts, a.i 5 doubles.
It really reinforces my belief that you have more control over the business and the team if:
You don’t spend hours working on a rota
If you have 26 chefs on duty every service it can only be perfect
If you have 30 FOH members on every service, again it should be perfect
If holidays can only be taken in January because the business is closed for 4 weeks, avoids you counting holiday days and being short
If everyone gets Monday and Tuesday off because the business is closed those 2 days, no hassle about who gets the weekend and who does not…
If you hire team members that know exactly what they get and what to expect. No more and no less than 10 shifts a week.
Everyone is always there and knows exactly what is happening.
During lunch service I spend most of my time at reception, seeing how bookings are taken and added manually to handwritten sheets. Guests cannot book online. They have to call or send an email. Again, I am surprised how simple everything is kept.
Diego gets plenty of calls all day. He has a “Diego messages book” where the receptionists add all calls and messages for him. Diego is there all day, just like his team. He spends his day in and out of the office. Making calls, sending emails etc and greeting all his guests very warmly and always finding a great topic to talk about.
Diego explains me that he answers every single complaint personally. He also responds to every single compliment personally.
The restaurant seems to take roughly 70 covers for lunch and 50-70 for dinner service. 5 sommeliers are on duty every night. Several times I have now heard how “Beverage service” makes most sales. I think of our restaurant in London and compare the staffing level on the floor and sommeliers.
Today Diego has arranged a couple of training sessions for me. He seems like such a generous person. I have not seen him once being authoritative with anyone. I start at 10am and get to enjoy a wine training presented by Max. Just for me, I was surprised no one else has attended.
We go through two whites (burgundy and Bordeaux), two reds (burgundy and Bordeaux) and he pairs cheese with…. beer to my surprise – and guess what? It matches perfectly.
The training was very educational and I got to see the stunning selection of wines in the cellar and asked plenty of questions about the sommeliers side of service.
I got to spend lunch and dinner service in the restaurant.
I follow the service and try and help as much as I can. I learn a lot through this process and think about improvements I can make back at my restaurant.
It was Saturday and my second to last day. I started by meeting Diego for a carving session. He showed me how to carve two ducks, one chicken and one lobster. He highlighted the importance of confidence, temperature and experience. I tried carving a roasted duck and seemed to have figured out the “take the whole breast off and then slice” method, quiet well. Not so the slicing directly from the bird, but as Diego said “experience should help”.
Diego told me that, later this afternoon, I would get to see him carving a whole lamb by himself for a party of roughly 20 guests. I am stunned how confident and efficiently he cuts the different parts of the lamb.
Diego has kindly arranged for me to go and see Dmitri, the manager at the Fat Duck in Bray, which is only a couple of minutes walk from the Waterside Inn. It’s fascinating how many Michelin stars can be found in a small Village.
The renovated version of the Fat Duck is super modern – mirrored rooms, hidden wine cellars and a map to replace the traditional menu. I am planning to visit soon as a guest, once I’ve saved up a little. After a lovely tour of the restaurant, I returned to the Waterside Inn.
For dinner service, I returned in a slightly different uniform as I was ‘chef’ this evening. Was I nervous? Very! I can barely cut a carrot straight J
I started working in the canapé section, carefully preparing every one, then I found myself on the fish starter section, creating beautiful crab dishes alongside one of the team.
I felt very proud to be part of such a great team for the evening – three Michelin stars. How lucky I am to be part of this!
Today was my last day at the Waterside Inn. I spent most of my day having a great conversation with Diego about his career, his current role and to bring me back to earth about the difficulties he experiences “still” at the Waterside Inn.
One last lunch service I get to work alongside the team. As well as at Fenchurch, lunches here at the Waterside Inn are a bit more relaxed. Guests are more relaxed… I enjoy every moment of it.
For dinner, I get to see the guest’s view of things again. Service is so simple, but still so consistent and exactly what makes it perfect. Diego is such a generous and honest man, I am in tears when I have to say goodbye.
What an experience.
Jennifer Santner, 2016 Scholar’s Blog: Finalists’ Champagne Trip
2016 Finalists accompanied by a selection of Trustees
Tuesday, day 1 The day had finally arrived and we were all super excited! We met at 7am at St Pancras train station to travel to Reims.
Seeing all the finalists again after a long and eventful year was a rather special moment for all of us. We have all grown very fond of each other in the past 12 months so it was amazing to see everybody again.
After a few oysters and steak tartare and frites in Paris, we then arrived at our hotel. Everybody had a triple espresso and a shower and got ready for a packed day. We knew we were visiting two of the world’s major champagne houses. Excited beyond belief!
First up was Krug, we were welcomed warmly by Maggie Henriquez, CEO and President. She and her colleague were very passionate about the work they do and the champagne they represent. Hearing about the founders of Krug and their mission to create something unique every year and declare it as a non-vintage champagne that simply aims at being the greatest, was very inspiring to all of us.
During a tasting of the rarest Krug champagnes, we were introduced to the matching of music and champagne. To all of our surprise – it actually works!
We then went to Taittinger and tasted a very different, and lighter, champagne that afternoon. After a tour through the fascinating wine cellars, we were treated to a four-course dinner at the Chateau de la Marquetterie which was perfectly paired with some of Taittinger’s finest cuvees. We learned a lot about the production of champagne today and became some real connoisseurs. We can’t wait to share our stories and knowledge with loved ones and guests when we return to London.
Wednesday, day 2
Way too early, everyone agreed, we had breakfast at our hotel. We then jumped on a shuttle bus to visit a number of different champagne houses.
We started at Boizel, where we also enjoyed a beautiful lunch; then onto Lenoble, where we met the very inspiring Anne Malassagne and then on to Tarlant, where the delightful Melanie showed us around the vineyards. Meeting these passionate women from the champagne industry really made our trip extra special.
We were then treated to an incredible ten-course tasting menu at the “Le club des artistes” in the evening. The menu was paired with 10 vintage champagnes from different houses going all the way back to the Krug 1995!
Thursday, day 3
On Thursday we started the day at Jacquart with Floriane Eznack. We got to taste some first fermentation wines. We learnt about how the grapes from different regions from champagnes vary in taste and texture.
The blending process was emphasised and we learned a lot about the importance of the tasting sessions which last up to 2-3 months every year.
The second and unfortunately last visit of the day was to the Bruno Paillard house. A champagne house that was only established around 30 years ago. We got to meet the one and only founder Bruno Paillard personally. This champagne house was much more modern and all cellars are on ground level rather than the usual several floors underground. Finishing our trip with a last meal in Paris over Steak et frites we then headed back home. Feeling happy and thankful after such a “once in a lifetime trip.”
Over the three days, we not only had an amazing experience but we learned so much. This is something we will remember for the rest of our careers and hopefully put our new found knowledge to enhance the experience of our customers and guests in our restaurants and establishments.
Barrels, Vats and Grand Marques within the Champagne Houses
Trustee Interview: Thomas Kochs – Managing Director, Hotel Cafe Royal
He has been the youngest ever GM at Claridges, led the reopening of the prestigious Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, and even fronted a prime-time BBC documentary. What he doesn’t know about hotels and service probably isn’t worth knowing.
We caught up with Thomas Kochs, now MD of Hotel Cafe Royal in Soho, to gauge his thoughts on all things service.
You have had quite a career already, how do you feel about the path you have chosen?
I’ve been very fortunate to have had some amazing and remarkable experiences in my career. I knew from a very young age that I was destined to have a career in hospitality and haven’t looked back ever since. It is really a wonderful sector to work in and has given me and many of my peers, a fantastic quality of life.
Like with any career, you have to work hard, but it opens many doors to you and is extremely rewarding.
How did you initially choose to pursue a career in hospitality?
I actually checked myself out of med school when I was studying to be a doctor. I always knew deep down that I wanted to be a hotelier but it took the first semester at medical school for me to realise that.
As with medicine, if you want to succeed in hospitality, you have to been very committed and focussed. I knew that my heart was in hospitality so I left medicine to give my complete focus to this career.
I actually remember being a waiter at 15 years old and always feeling incredibly happy to be at work. I really buy into the idea that ‘if you love what you do, it will never feel like work’. This has always been the case for me.
You were the youngest person to become GM at Claridges, how did that feel?
It was obviously a very proud moment for me but I didn’t really consider my age and its relevance. I felt I was ready to take on the role based on the experience I had and it was a challenge I was ready to take on.
How did you know you were ready?
To be honest, I always think you should make a move just before you are actually ready to do it. I don’t think one ought to be reckless and go for a role that they are not experienced to do but I do believe that you ought to take roles that will stretch you and your experience.
So what advice would you give budding young service staff, looking to work their way up through the ranks?
It really depends on what part of the industry they want to work in. I urge people to spend some time to understand where they want to be.
I suggest they take a moment to imagine that they are 45, 50 or 60 years old, looking back at their lives and careers. What do they need to do to make sure that they don’t have any regrets?
Being analytical is very important. There are opportunities for all types of people, but you need to be honest with yourself.
Some people like the commercial side of the industry. Obviously running a hotel is a pretty demanding job and requires a different set of skills. A hotelier is a business manager so there are specific skills they require.
Early on in my career, I asked myself these big questions. I knew that, in order to run a big hotel in a major capital city, I needed to develop my commercial acumen, that’s why I ended up doing an MBA. To be an MD of a hotel of this size, I felt I needed to study.
It is not a must, but for me, I needed to broaden my horizons in that way. Whilst our industry offers great careers for people with all levels of education, if they want to go down the path I have, I’d recommend this route.
It’s important to plan. I always say – young people have time, but no time waste.
What about personality, how important is this and what makes a good restaurant manager, for example?
I think restaurant managers need to be in tune with life. We deliver experiences; what can mean the world to one person may not mean the same to another.
People need to have the ability to deliver a personalised service and have the emotional intelligence and intuition to understand what their guest needs, and at what time. To create a perfect or captivating moment can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people.
How do you feel about the perception of the industry?
To be honest, I really want to see more people coming into hospitality as a career choice, not because they didn’t have another path they wanted to pursue. The industry isn’t a placeholder for those who don’t know what they want to do. It is up to the industry to make sure that we make it more attractive and things like the Gold Service Scholarship really helps.
We also need to provide a work environment that offers people a real choice; whether it’s through development, succession planning, pay etc, we need all need to make hospitality a place people are desperate to work in.
I think our entry-level roles need to be more attractive. In the long term, one can earn as just as much as most industries buts it’s the very first stage that we can all do more to make it attractive to the talent pool.
Its worth noting that the whole industry has this image of being unsociable in terms of the hours people work. It’s just not true. It is probably the most flexible profession and people can work around their lives as they wish. As long as they are prepared to work hard and create memorable connections with guests, they can create roles and careers in a way that suits them.
The industry moves fast, do you think standards have changed over the years?
Of course, everything moves and changes, particularly in our industry.
If you look at style of service now, we are seeing a lot more informality encouraged. I think many of us in the industry will also say that providing informal service is not as easy as it sounds.
Nobody wants contrived and stiff and we all like effortless and informal, but what happens when the informal feels contrived? This is arguably even more complicated than formal. It is a fine line between being informal and not intrusive. This is where you rely more on intuition. That’s why recruitment of talented people is really important.
You’ve worked in many different places, what is service industry like in UK compared to other countries?
In most instances, service is intangible so we cannot compare directly to other countries. What I can confidently say is that each country has its own personality and tone which isn’t comparable to another.
You will receive a very different type of service in New York compared to the Caribbean for example.
In the UK, we have a very competitive hospitality industry which ensures that standards are always being tested and challenged.
That’s why Gold Service Scholarship is so fantastic as a competition. It really brings together the best of British talent.
Now in its fifth year, how do you think the Gold Service Scholarship has helped the industry?
I think it has really brought service to the forefront of people’s minds. It really demonstrates the importance of a profession when The Queen attends the final ceremony to present the winner with their prize. Its really something special.
Also, given the fact that so many of the industry’s greats are involved in the Scholarship, it really encourages future stars to develop and strive to improve.
What are your thoughts ahead of this year’s final?
Standards are incredibly high and I’m sure we will see another fantastic final. We’ve seen another huge intake of people from a very diverse range of businesses. They have really impressed our judges and we are all incredibly encouraged by the people coming through.
Given how tight the semi-finals were, I expect it’s going to be a very close final too. We are all incredibly excited.
Jennifer Santner, 2016 Scholar’s Blog: Mandarin Oriental Placement
Day 1 I left London at 8pm (after celebrating with a glass of Champagne) hoping to catch some sleep on the 12 hour flight. This proved rather difficult as I was too excited!
Anyway, we arrived and I was warmly welcomed by a gentleman in a red jacket who greeted me with cold water and a fresh towel, it already felt very special.
On arriving at the Hotel, I was stunned that everyone I met along the way greeted me kindly with my name. I met a lady at the front door who explained all the tailored formalities and took me to my room. The room, as you’d expect, was stunning and, funnily enough, it was bigger than my London flat 🙂
I had an hour to spare before a welcome dinner at Mosaic Restaurant in the hotel, so I decided to have a bath and think about what the following 10 days would actually mean to me. I soon realised the magnitude of this amazing experience. It dawned on me how lucky I was to be here.
When I left my room in the morning to go and meet Marcel Li, the assistant F&B Director of Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur (MOKL), I was warmly greeted by the floor’s cleaning attendant who said: “Good Morning Jennifer” – again, I wondered how he knew my name. Given that the hotel has about 700 rooms, I was so surprised and felt very special.
Today Marcel and I had a long chat in the lounge about his working life and what the key issues are. Finding experienced hospitality professionals that want to build a career in our industry seems to be a challenge here as much as in London. Marcel explains that Malaysians don’t see “being a waiter” as a smart career move. They prefer working in offices or in agencies. We talked about the similarities in London and how programmes like the Gold Service Scholarship can help change and shift perceptions.
We talked a lot about training – a new member of staff at the MOKL and any other Mandarin Oriental will undergo a four full-day company induction/orientation and a one week on the job training before they start to work.
The hotel follows all the LQA and LQE standards as well as internal SOP’s. Some members of the MOKL Team have worked here for over 17 years, Marcel explained. The hotel has a separate Training and Development Department that conducts inductions and ongoing training for all the hotels staff throughout the year within the hotels large training rooms and facilities. Could this be the key to staff retention I wonder?
I also joined the daily F&B meeting held at 10.45am. All head of departments of all F&B get together to discuss current activities. In this meeting, we covered things such as hotel occupancy, cover, VIPs and regulars, guests’ likes and dislikes, hazards, beverage of the day, financials, dept updates and mystery shopper results and targets.
Today I got to experience some of the F&B Outlets within the Mandarin Oriental and learning more about how they operate.
Later in the afternoon, I went to the Spa Area of the Mandarin Oriental. Warmly welcomed by every member of staff I took a seat at one of the beautifully prepared lying beds, with towels ready for use and lemon flavoured water upon arrival. Very nice gesture! Again a cold fresh hand towel was handed to refresh hands and face if needed.
All these little details make the stay at MO very special and definite five star establishment!
I started the day full of energy and motivation and finally free of jetlag. I spent time with Nicholas, the restaurant manager at the Mandarin Grill.
He is very honest, direct and straight forward. He talks to me very openly about what he has observed at the MO Grill. No details left out. I openly compare his experiences with the ones I have approached in my career to date.
He really gave me some good insight into so many areas.
He explained to me that training is sometimes a challenge in Asia. Given the warmth of the people, people are always welcoming and hospitable; however, the more technical skills are often lacking which is why they place great emphasis on this at the Mandarin Oriental.
We also talked about some of our processes and procedures. What seems to be my personal challenge at work is his paradise: H&S, Training, Fire induction, security training and audits. Nicholas told me that it is of great help to be able to call on the training department to conduct all the training. He is able to focus on other service improvements whilst they look after the compulsory areas.
I also learn that every hotel guest would get a complimentary welcome drink upon arrival to the restaurant and a sorbet to cleanse the pallet. All such nice touches made to make the guests feel very welcome.
During the briefing, the whole team kindly introduce themselves to me. Fascinating to see how everyone has been at MO for at least five years. It’s a dream come true for every restaurant manager I think to myself. Everyone seemed to have heard about the Gold Service Scholarship and asked many questions which I was glad to answer.
Today I spent more time talking to Nicholas, again being greeted by one of the cleaning team who knew my name.
Nicolas showed me the comprehensive four-day induction folder every member of staff is given upon employment which covered areas such as complaint handling, telephone standards, uniforms and grooming, guest recognition and name usage, hotel history and fact sheet, and many others
During service, Nicolas engaged with all guests regularly and communicated consistently with the kitchen team. At no stage did I see him having to give guidance or instructions to team members. They all are extremely self-motivated and organised and always in the right position.
The restaurant has many regular guests. All waiters know them by name and are equally happy to welcome them back.
One thing I did notice were the exquisite petite fours which were outstanding and on a different level. They had small chocolate truffles in different shapes and colours served in a traditional Asian style box. The box at first sight looks like a jewellery box. The top is opened and four truffles appear. Two drawers can be pulled out and another four truffles appear. They are explained by the waiter to the guest who are stunned.
After this morning’s daily F&B Meeting I spent time with the hostess team. The hostess team at MO Grill and Bar currently consists of one lady for lunch and one for dinner. The ladies offer assistance and guidance in all sorts of areas escort guests part of the way to wherever they need to go to. If guests ask for prices for a meal in Grill they ladies would offer to see a menu, talk them through the offered dishes and also point out the great value lunch menu and the several set menus for groups. Reading glasses, magazines, shawls and reading lights are kept at the desk to enhance guest’s experience where needed.
At 5.30pm, a new selection of Caipirinha cocktails is presented – just in time for the Olympics in Brazil to start. There are six options on offer. My favourite definitely is the Blue Pea and Chamomile Caipirinha. Feedback is given regarding taste and presentation and prices are discussed and agreed on between Nicolas and some of the team.
I was fascinated by Nicolas’ ability to delegate responsibilities to his great team of supervisors and junior managers. I note on my ‘to do’ list “Learn to delegate, let go and train your juniors to be able to take on more responsibility”.
This is my last day and I’m very sad to be leaving but incredibly excited to take what I’ve learned back to my place of work. This experience has been fascinating and helped me experience a completely different way of working.
It just goes to show, we can all learn so much from each other if we have the opportunity to do so; I’m just pleased that I’ve been given the opportunity.
I am also sad to leave a team full of warm and motivated people behind; I wish I could take them with me. I am sure Fenchurch Restaurant will have a job or two for them 🙂