Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Art of Service

For my 18th birthday my girlfriend saved up and brought me to the old Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud ( when it was located behind BOI Baggot Street). I was working part time as a waiter in a good restaurant at the time and was a bit obsessed with the whole business. I read countless books about Michelin starred restaurants around the world and was beyond excited to finally get the opportunity to dine in one. 

The excitement was mixed with mild terror as we were about to enter the high church of gastronomy in Ireland. Dressed in my dad's jacket and tie, I was acutely aware of looks from other, more experienced diners as the hostess brought us to our table. The manager came over and I suspect immediately spotted us for what we were..a couple of nervous kids!
We needn't have worried. What followed was a master class in the art of service from the best in the business. Stéphane Robin was then, and in my opinion still is, the bench mark that all service industry professionals in Ireland should aspire to.

He immediately put us at ease. It was very clear from the outset that we were as important to him as every other guest in the room and he made us feel like we really belonged there. We ordered the tasting menu and he seemed genuinely impressed that we had such a detailed knowledge of the ingredients. We ate squab, veal sweetbreads, brill and scallops amongst other things and Stephane organised a special dessert for my birthday. We left on cloud nine and the whole experience has stuck with me vividly ever since. 

Stéphane Robin.
Source: Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud Website

Service has always been as important to me as food in a restaurant. During my time in the business, we had a service meeting every Saturday where any issues arising that week were ironed out. We also had a service training session every fourth Saturday where attention to every detail was covered. This included everything from the basics of greeting people through to matching wines with every dish on the menu. 

Nowadays when I go out, whether for a coffee or to a restaurant, I can spot trained staff straight away. Sadly it's the exception rather than the rule and it often baffles me why some operators clearly spend a lot of money on their fit out, put a lot of thought into their food and wine offering but completely overlook training their service staff. 

I've worked with two restaurants recently on their service and the key to improving the service in both cases was fewer staff.....but better staff. A lot of busy places think that flooding the floor with waiting staff is the way to go but it isn't. In most cases, staff will switch off if there are too many as they feel that someone else will spot what they don't. Careful selection of experienced, professional waiting staff, coupled with structured training, is the key to good service. A warm smile is the starting point. A smaller number of well trained staff will also earn more tips so the whole cycle generates a motivated, happy crew and a good atmosphere. 

The central focus of every talk or training session I give is the customer. Still to this day, I use the experience of my 18th birthday all those years ago as my inspiration. Trends will come and go in the restaurant business but qualities like that are timeless. 


  1. just finished reading a book called small steps by Paul McNeive. chap lost his legs in car crash. good bit of the book about customer service. well worth a read.

  2. Cheers Joe. I'll definitely give that a read.

  3. This reminds me of our first visit to Guilbaud's (a little older than 18, but not much!) We walked in and were a bit terrified, feeling completely out-of-place and basically wondering whether this could possibly be an enjoyable experience. Nick Munier was there at the time, not that I knew who he was, but he spotted our obvious discomfort and said the magic words "it's your job to sit back and relax, and it's our job to make sure you enjoy yourselves". Everybody stuck to that plan and a magical evening ensued.

  4. It's a gift that only those at the top of their game in the service industry seem to have Simon. It's a real pleasure to experience it.