Jennifer Santner, 2016 Scholar’s Blog: Waterside Inn Placement

Day 1
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.

Day 2
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.

Day 3
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.

Day 4
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!

Day 5
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.

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