Sponsor’s Interview: David Hesketh MW, Managing Director of Laurent-Perrier UK
As managing director of one of the world’s most admired brands, David Hesketh is no stranger to what it takes to succeed at the very top of the hospitality sector. Having doubled Laurent-Perrier’s turnover in the last 20 years, he has seen how little details can help businesses and people grow.
We spoke to the long-term supporter of the Gold Service Scholarship about how to pronounce Rioja, what makes Laurent-Perrier special, and why there is no substitute for true attentiveness.
How did your career in wine begin?
I studied economics at university but at the same time worked in a wine and spirits warehouse. I often joke that I was the only person at university who could pronounce Rioja which made me feel like an expert – this was part of the initial attraction. The layers of complexity with wine also held appeal. After I graduated, I got a job in sales in the motor trade but that’s not an industry I saw myself growing old in so I knew I wanted something different.
My first proper foray into the wine industry came in the mid-1980s, when I worked for the Sunday Times Wine Club and then at Grants of St James’s, first in sales roles and latterly in marketing.
Today I work for a family-owned Champagne house with a fantastic and proven track record. Those opportunities don’t come around too often.
I joined Laurent-Perrier in 1996 as a national account manager before being named UK managing director in 1999.
What was it about the sector that drew you to a career in wine?
I must say, I really enjoy the product because it’s one that you can see giving people pleasure and enjoyment. People are very engaged in and enthusiastic about wine. They drink it when they’re happy.
Tell us about what makes Laurent-Perrier unique?
Innovation in Champagne is a fundamental part of our brand. We are a family company thatrespects its people, our product and the environment. All these little details matter and have nutured the brand’s growth. Sustainability and responsible viticulture are something the family take very seriously and has played a significant part in retaining the Royal Warrant of H.R.H The Prince of Wales.
As well as that, we innovate with a view to producing a better product. We are always striving to improve because even though we already have a great product, we don’t believe in standing still.
Why do you consider service to be so important?
Service is all too often neglected in terms of recognition despite being so important to the success of a hospitality operation. It’s often under-appreciated and for a long time it wasn’t being taken seriously enough as a career. In this country it is still often seen as something you do between jobs, which is very different to how it is on the continent.
Thankfully today more people see it as a proper job. If you are prepared to commit to it, there are some very good opportunities not least because the quality of hotels and restaurants in the UK has really improved.
Good service has the power to redeem an indifferent kitchen, but a good kitchen will struggle to redeem poor service. Anything we can do to support the recognition of service as a valuable profession must be supported.
When you look at the people who are backing the Gold Service Scholarship, the level of long term commitment is fantastic.
Why is service so important for a brand like Laurent-Perrier?
You can’t have a Laurent-Perrier representative on hand to serve every bottle of our champagne, so it’s important for people to be educated and equipped with the right knowledge about our product. It’s not just about temperature and the shape of the glass. It’s the whole act of serving champagne.
And it’s not about pomp and ceremony either. It’s about recognising the care that goes into what we do. Our cellar master puts in extraordinary effort and focus into producing an incredible product with utmost respect. It’s not something to be simply poured and done with. It’s often a moment that people want to mark so anything you can do to enhance that occasion helps create an emotional attachment associated with it.
How would you describe a good front of house person?
As someone who is genuine and warm. When you meet them, they take a genuine interest in you rather than it just being part of their job. There’s a balance to be struck between being attentive and overbearing. A good front of house person will make guests feel welcome and valued, but not bothered.
The human element is really important. Anybody can keep records of guests on a database, but delivering that genuine warmth is something you can’t rehearse. It’s all well and good remembering somebody’s birthday, or the name of their children, but if it comes across as staged, people see right through that.
Why do you support the Gold Service Scholarship?
I first got involved after taking a call from Willy Bauer, who is one of the Trustees and someone I’ve known for many years. We first met when he was chief executive of the Wentworth Group.
At the time, I thought we have strong relationships with many great chefs in our industry but they can’t influence the consumer at the moment of purchase in the same way that front of house professionals can. I saw the Gold Service Scholarship as a good opportunity to raise the profile of our product by showcasing it to people who can recommend Laurent-Perrier throughout their careers.
The Gold Service Scholarship has always had credibility but now it also has gravitas, which has come from continuity. Winning the title is now seen as a hugely significant achievement.
How does the Gold Service Scholarship support the wider hospitality industry?
Competition in the hospitality industry has become a lot harder over the years. It is taken very seriously and people want to enter the sector.
The Gold Service Scholarship has placed service in a more professional light, especially with the younger generation. It offers young people the opportunity to be mentored, which is vital to bringing on that talent.
London faces significant challenges around Brexit and one of the sectors that will sustain the capital is its restaurant and hotel sector. The more we can do to ensure that peoples’ experience of the sector is the best in the world, the more we can help the wider economy.