After the huge success of his BBC TV series last year, Michel Roux Jnr tells Kerstin Kühn why it's so important to continue to raise awareness about good service
Do you think that after the huge amount of publicity generated by the BBC programme Michel Roux's Service, the excitement has died down a bit?
Yes I think it has slightly, partly because the BBC decided not to recommission the series. It's a shame because there is so much more work that needs to be done. I really wanted to take it further; I have lots more ideas.
It was an immensely popular programme and it really opened the eyes of the public on several levels. I've been inundated with emails from young British people inspired by the programme who are eager to start a career in service and who want to come and work at Le Gavroche. But we need to continue and carry on the good work. It's an ongoing process and the lack of awareness of what good service is in this country is still an issue. More importantly, young people need to realise that service is not just a job but a career.
Why do you think people in the UK don't consider a career in service as desirable?
I'm not sure. It's possibly the old English way of regarding service as servitude or looking at it as a job you do during your holidays or while you're at university to earn a bit of extra money. Of course that's still there but it's so much more than that. It can not only be a career but a very fulfilling and rewarding career.
In this day and age when chefs are put on a pedestal and treated like they are the only reason why customers visit a restaurant, it's time for people to wake up and realise that it's about a lot more than that and service is as important as the food. What's more, waiters have always traditionally been paid more than kitchen staff, they work fewer hours and you can climb the career ladder far quicker front of house than you can back of house.
What's the key to being a good waiter?
There are many myths. It's a very demanding career; it's a highly skilled job and it's physically and mentally hard. It's definitely not for everyone. You need a certain character and you have to have a caring nature. A good waiter needs to have a warm heart and really enjoy what they do, and that's giving pleasure to people through good manners and service. I don't think you can learn that. Similarly, you can teach chefs knife skills and recipes but you can't teach them taste, flair or imagination.
Waiters are the buffer between the customer and the kitchen and they get flak from both sides. If the chef is in a bad mood or there's a problem in the kitchen they get it from the back of house and if there's a problem with the food they get it from the customer too. You have to have a thick skin to be a good waiter.
How can operators improve their service levels?
Improving service is all about perception and how much - or how little - you have to do. Sometimes it's as simple as holding the door open for someone. It's all about the finer details and looking at it in much the same way as you would in the kitchen. Sometimes it's just so glaringly obvious but you don't see it as a boss.
I spend a lot of time wiping things in my restaurant with my finger or sitting down where customers sit or using the customer toilets. It's all about putting yourself in your customers' shoes, trying to see and experience the restaurant the way they do.
What about training?
Training is vital. Every Saturday afternoon at Le Gavroche we have a one-hour session of debriefing and planning ahead. We also look at any issues at the restaurant - it could be anything from the cheese board to carving at the table. It's all about reinforcing the message of good service. But it's also about encouragement and that's very often neglected. Don't leave youngsters just to polish cutlery and glasses and bring plates to the table; encourage them to get involved. Give them a glimmer of hope - that they could be the next maitre d' at Le Gavroche - to spur them on.
How can restaurants assess the kind of service that is appropriate for their business?
There's good and bad service - it's as simple as that. Service is an integral part of eating out and I'm not just talking about fine-dining establishments. There isn't that much difference between a three-star restaurant and a casual restaurant. Of course there are minor details like topping up wine but ultimately it's the same everywhere. Even in a fast food joint you expect a certain level of service - a hello with a smile; a clean environment in which your food is served on time; a thank you when you pay. In any restaurant it's all about the ambience, the style and the service, which is as important as the food.
What opportunity do you think the London 2012 Olympic Games will present to the industry?
There's been a lot of abuse, and it's terrible that hotels have been jacking their prices. That's just profiteering and it's giving London a bad name. For my part I'm overjoyed that London got the Olympics. It's a once in a lifetime experience and it's going to be brilliant. From a business point of view I think it's going to be very difficult. Our street will be shut from 6am until midnight each day so there'll be no access. Deliveries will be difficult; they'll have to come during the night so we'll have to employ people to work through the night. We're also going to have to be flexible with our opening hours.
Business-wise everyone will have to be as flexible as possible and not hike their prices. People's memories will linger and the last thing you want is for them to think of London restaurants and hotels as being a rip-off.
michel roux's service
We all value good service, whether it is in a Michelin-starred restaurant or a local sandwich bar. The basic principles of good service are common across a wide range of industries as well as in hospitality - yet our experience of service can be hugely different and affects our view of the product or the establishment.
With much focus on the UK in this special year and with so many visitors looking to us to provide a great experience, our ability to deliver good service has never been so important.
The acclaimed TV series Michel Roux's Service is a fantastic blueprint for anyone, particularly in the hospitality industry, striving for excellence in service. The series follows the journey of eight young recruits as they are mentored in the art of good service by Michel and a number of industry experts, including Fred Sirieix.
Across eight one-hour programmes the candidates learn basic customer service skills, understand the theatre of good service as well as the importance of teamwork, discipline and coping with pressure. We see from the programmes and the candidates' progression throughout the process that good training is essential.
Michel Roux's Service is now available as a special DVD set on a one-year licence from Filmbank Distributors. For more information, please visit http://www.filmbank.co.uk/licences/tvshows.asp," target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.filmbank.co.uk/licences/tvshows.asp, contact 020 7984 5971 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW SERVICE QUALIFICATioN
Westminster Kingsway College in London has collaborated with Michel Roux's Service co-star Fred Sirieix - general manager at the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows restaurant - to launch a part-time qualification aimed at aspiring restaurant managers. The course, entitled The Art of Service - Restaurant Manager, will run over 28 weeks from 15 May as a once a week day-release programme.
Geoff Booth, assistant principal at Westminster Kingsway College, said the course is unlike any other currently available.
"It has been developed by the industry in collaboration with the college and is designed to inspire people to become great restaurant managers," he said.
"It's not just another management qualification, but it's more about how we create an inspirational culture to get the very best out of our restaurant teams and develop a dynamic restaurant business."
The course will be divided into sections covering restaurant reservations; creating a high performance culture; customer psychology; selling skills; finance; and food knowledge. It will feature guest lecturers including Sirieix.
For more information on the course, which is priced at £2,225, e-mail Geoff Booth at Westminster Kingsway College at email@example.com