Until First Dates, the best loved restaurant staff on British telly were probably Fawlty Towers’ Manuel and Polly, serving kippers to corpses and lacing veal cutlets with rat poison. But now Fred Sirieix, maitre d’ of the BAFTA-winning First Dates, has taken up the baton for entirely different reasons. More likely to charm his guests than poison their pets, Sirieix – who’s actually general manager of Galvin at Windows – has become the twinkly-eyed poster boy of the hospitality industry.
Known as the “Service Guru”, Sirieix’s used his powers for the good, setting up The Good Service Charter, to teach businesses how to deliver first class customer service, and teaming up with charity Springboard to celebrate the service industry with National Waiters Day.
Media savvy, Sirieix’s Gallic gallantry extends to the press, and he’s probably had more coverage than Pippa Middleton’s bum combined with Brexit. I’ve interviewed the blue-suited seduction boffin before, so it’s no surprise when he approaches me on Twitter, sending me a DM to ask if I’ll meet him in the park.
Unfortunately, Sirieix isn’t suggesting we do anything untoward in the bushes, in fact, he would like me to write about the National Waiters Day race. It’s taking place in Hyde Park on a Thursday afternoon, and despite my disappointment that it’s purely professional, I take the opportunity to ask what we as customers can do, to get the best service in restaurants.
“I think the restaurant, first, should provide the service,” says Sirieix, “that’s fundamental! But if you go to a restaurant, be as nice as you want the waiting staff to be. Then hopefully it will be good, you know?”
Should customers say when it’s a birthday or anniversary, or do you imagine we’re making it up? I’m still traumatised by the time a boyfriend made me fabricate an engagement to get a free dessert. I imagine waiting staff the world over will assume any “occasion” is a lie, but Sirieix says: “Of course! If you want to make a thing out of it, tell us when you book. It’s good because then people know – they can make preparations and have everything ready.”
A woman is standing six inches from us, holding a camera up to our faces. I assume she is taking a photo, but five minutes later, when she hasn’t moved, I start to wonder if she’s filming us. Sirieix politely asks if she might like to come back later. Does that happen a lot? Sirieix is stoical: “Yeah, it does.”
Getting back to the ‘interview’, I ask if it’s alright to flirt with your waiter if you fancy him. “Of course!” says Sirieix, “no waiter will take you to court for that! Especially if you do it!” Sirieix would flirt with a Christmas tree, and I would flirt with a bit of Lego. Between us we resemble an outtake from a Carry On film that got canned for being too cringe.
Is it worth sending your compliments to the chef? Does it get passed on? Do the chefs care? “Yeah – everybody likes compliments! You know what I mean!” A casual observer may mistake us for Tourette’s sufferers, whose symptoms manifest in the facial tic of winking.
I begin my next question: “If you’ve got a particular waiter you like –” but before I can finish, Sirieix says: “Take him home!” Noted! But I’d actually like to know if you can ask them to serve you, if you’re not in their section. Sirieix says, “Yeah of course, many people do that. A restaurant like mine is a well oiled machine, so you can’t move staff about. But if somebody has a preference, they would ask us and we would make sure that waiter is serving them. A restaurant should know which staff look after that person best, because people have preferences – this is the name of the game.”
Next, I turn to tipping. Sirieix says, “it’s up to you – a tip is over and above. If you feel the waiter deserves a tip, you can give it to him according to what you feel the service was worth and how it made you feel. There’s no limit on this one. But I don’t work for a tip – people give it to you, they give it to you, if they don’t, they don’t.”
Does Sirieix tip? “I give a tip if the service is good – I think it’s nice. Sometimes I like to put it on the table, sometimes I like to give it in somebody’s hand, sometimes I like to put it in their pocket – it just depends on the relationship I have with that person.” I would let Sirieix put a soufflé in my pocket, if he wanted to. However, this may just be something about him that The Good Service Charter cannot teach.
National Waiters Day is part of the Front of House Festival
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here