Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Benefits of Choreography, Magic and Psychology to Front of House

Working here in the Conference Cambridge office, we can sometimes feel a little removed from what’s actually happening on the ground at our venues, so when Catering and Conference Manager, Bill Brogan from St John’s College invited me along to sit in on a one-off, special training session for his front of house staff with Dimitrios Leivadas, former restaurant manager at The Fat Duck I jumped at the chance!

Dimitrios is a captivating speaker with extensive experience of the hospitality industry and we were all hooked with his anecdotes about working in some of the world’s most famous restaurants as he shared his tips and tricks for creating the perfect guest dining experience. 

I think it’s true to say that we were all taken by surprise at the elaborate level of detail involved in front of house service in high-end dining establishments.   

Apparently it’s not unusual to find teams working with choreographers, magicians and psychologists to fine tune their skills and develop their art.  Staff who are trained to move around the restaurant in a certain way, for example will be more efficient, reducing the risk of collisions or crowding, which in turn brings a sense of calm to the dining room and adds to the overall ambience. 

Additionally, a restaurant manager, who can read body language, will be able to decode feelings and emotions, he or she will know instantly if a guest is unhappy or unwell and will be able to respond before a situation can escalate. Dimitrios explained that being proactive and engaging with a guest on arrival, with even the simplest of gestures, will  reap rewards if anything goes wrong later in the service.

Achieving this level of quality obviously takes time, dishes at the Fat Duck go through a one year period of development before they make it to the menu, staff will be in training an average of three months before they even meet a guest and the training to serve Mock Turtle soup alone, at the Fat Duck, takes 5 -7 days, such is the meticulous attention to detail.

And it doesn't stop there.  Dimitrios made it clear that front of house service can be stressful and to that end it’s important that staff are well looked after.  Motivation unsurprisingly is hugely important, managers must encourage staff to be creative, challenge team members with new tasks and have a constant innovative approach.  The team at the Fat Duck have two reflexology sessions a week during service, a leisure space to relax between shifts, regular outings to suppliers and team sports afternoons, in essence, they work hard and they play hard too!

Dimitrios couldn't emphasise enough the importance front of house staff and the crucial role they play in the whole dining experience.   His advice to the each of the team at St John’s was to have a period of reflection at the end of each shift, to pinch yourself he said, to remind yourself how far you've come, congratulate yourself on your achievements and to acknowledge the wonderful historic surroundings in which you work.

St John’s catering department has a continued commitment to staff training and development and for me as an observer it was fascinating to get an insight into not only Dimitrios’s world, but also that of the college’s operation and the hard work and dedication that goes on behind the scenes.  Here’s hoping that the staff at St John’s won’t have to wait too long for those reflexology sessions! 

Picture shows The Wordsworth Room, St John's College.

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