Le Caprice director Jesus Adorno has been with the business since its opening day in 1981. He speaks to Carol Millett about Margaret Thatcher, bad managers and preserving the Le Caprice legacy
I got my first break at the Royal Saracens Head in Beaconsfield when I was 20. I started as a potwasher, but after a month the restaurant manager made me a commis waiter. I loved it. Oneevening I knocked the dessert trolley over. I rushed into the pantry, very upset, shaking like a leaf. But the restaurant manager didn't shout at me, he just said: "Come and help us clear it up. Don't worry. It was just a mistake." I've never forgotten that. He gave me the biggest confidence boost ever and taught me how a good manager looks after his staff.
However, I once worked for a French head waiter who was like a sergeant major. I told myself that I'd never give him a reason to tell me off, but he did anyway. I knew I never wanted to be like him and that I'd never treat my colleagues like that, always barking and shouting at them.
The restaurant business has changed hugely since I came to this country from Bolivia. In the late 1970s I was working as a young waiter in a restaurant in London. One night, around 11.30pm, the manager received a call from Margaret Thatcher's security to say the prime minister wanted to come for dinner. The manager said: "I will go and check with the chef." You know what the head chef said? "I don't care who she is, the kitchen is closed!" That would never happen nowadays.
Being a good restaurant manager is all about attention to detail. It's about making your customers feel welcome, from when they phone to make a booking, to when they come into the restaurant and as they are leaving. Working closely with colleagues is also important. The first thing I do every morning is shake hands with every member of staff, to let them know I care.
I've been inspired by many people I've worked with over the years. There's Emilio, my manager at the Royal Saracens Head, and Colin Livingstone, who was the maître d' at Inigo Jones. He made sure he knew everything about London. It was a joy to watch him go from table to table, advising the customers on where to go and what to see. I worked with Chris Corbin and Jeremy King [former owners of Le Caprice] for 17 years and learned a huge amount from them. Those guys really know how to look after customers. And now Richard Caring [owner of Caprice Holdings]. I love his vision. I think if I'd worked with someone like Richard from the start, I might have opened my own restaurant.
I always tell my team, no one is infallible. The thing is to learn from one's mistakes. A few years ago a well-known journalist came in about one o'clock and asked for a table. The place was packed. I said I was very sorry but we had no tables free. He asked if I knew who he was. He became very upset and stormed off. Then, when I went into the restaurant, someone was just leaving a table. I felt terrible. If only I'd asked him to give me a minute.
The most valuable lesson I've learned is that the customer is king. I want to look after each and every one as best as I can. It's about never saying no.
My proudest achievement is being at Le Caprice since its beginning in 1981 and seeing the business grow from 25 staff to over 1,000 (within Caprice Holdings) today. We have very loyal customers who have been coming here since we first opened and now kids who came here with their parents are coming back as adults. Customers often say to me: "This is where I brought my wife on our first date." That makes me so happy.
I'd like to be remembered as the person who continued the legacy of Le Caprice. When Chris and Jeremy left I knew it was my job to hold it together. Luckily, they'd left a great team to help me. They sent me a card a few years ago, which said: "Well done Jesus. We left Le Caprice in your hands and you have made it even better." That was one of the nicest cards ever, from anyone.
1995-present Achievements and responsibilities include ensuring the consistency at Le Caprice, re-launching the standards of Daphne's, Chelsea; training at Daphne's, Barbados
1990 Board member of Caprice Holdings
1981 Joined Le Caprice as head waiter on the opening day
1977-81 Inigo Jones, Covent Garden
1972 Server at Downside School in Somerset
1973 The Royal Saracens Head, Beaconsfield. Joined as kitchen hand, promoted to commis waiter
1974-76 Frederick's of Camden Passage; L'Opera; Au Jardin des Gourmets
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