Assistant Restaurant Manager Francois Chateau has been with Gauthier Soho for four years. His professional attitude and natural character with the customers has proved a highly successful combination. Here he speaks to James Lewis, shedding light on his life at Gauthier Soho and providing an interesting insight into to the industry from a service point of view.
JL: What made you get into the hospitality industry?
FC: I was born in Bordeaux. I moved to Paris at a very young age, where my mother ran a small restaurant on a boat on the River Seine. My father was in the military so we moved around a lot.
At one point we went for a few years to Ile de la Reunion, a tiny French island near Madagascar.
Finally we moved to Cognac, where my mother taught at a local catering school.
I wasn’t so good at conventional school, so I spent most of my time helping my mother with the students at the catering school. I loved it there.
So hospitality was always your aim?
No, Actually I tried different things. Engineering was an option. But catering was the thing I felt most comfortable with.
What made you want to come to London?
I was working for a fantastic restaurant, with a great team. I learned so much there, the staff were extremely experienced and lived and breathed years of knowledge. But I realised I needed to speak English to advance myself in the industry. So London was the place for me.
There’s a huge demand for catering staff in London at the moment, and here in the UK some employers have the feeling that foreign staff work harder or are more motivated. Do you agree with this?
It’s not only a UK thing. In France it’s the same. In my home town many of the local French staff are lazy and demanding, expecting special treatment, not wanting to work hard. Maybe it’s the fact that when you are away from home, you have a purpose. Your attitude is you are there to work.
To be honest, for me this is great. If people are lazy then it means more opportunity for me.
Also, I don’t have many distractions here. In France I would go kite-surfing or skiing at the weekend. Socialising with my friends etc. Because of my hours I get maybe one night out a week.
Are there any downsides to living in London?
The cost of living is high. My friend and I choose to live in a nice place, around Borough Market. It’s beautiful and convenient but very expensive.
From a non-British point of view, what do you think of the industry? How easy is it for non-British workers to find employment?
It’s very easy. The London hospitality industry is booming. There is a huge demand. Probably 10 or more jobs for every worker. When I hear people saying ‘there is no work’ or asking for money from the government I wonder what planet they are on. The only thing you need is an attitude to work hard.
What do you think of the phrase ‘fine-dining’? Do you think it is still relevant in the restaurant scene today?
I think there is always a need for a place where you go to feel a bit special. ‘Fine-dining’ is not a good expression, it sounds dated. But the truth is restaurants that really focus on the comfort of the customer will always find business. People remember the experience for all the right reasons and go back to them.
Gauthier Soho is an example of this. I hear a lot of places are taking the ‘informal’ route, which is great, but the market is becoming saturated with this. It’s not so special for me.
Which of London’s restaurants do you like best?
I go a lot, mostly on Sundays and Mondays. Of course I’m a fan of places that celebrate a bit of luxury. My favourites have been The Waterside Inn, Sketch, Hibiscus, The Square, Kitchen W8, Pollen Street Social. For a less formal occasion I like Brindisa. All very good restaurants.
What do you think makes Gauthier Soho an attractive place to go?
Well, apart from the good looking staff, I have to say the price is a huge part. We offer the diner the kind of service, luxury, comfort, space, familiarity found at places much, much more expensive. People like to feel special, really looked after, and we offer this for an extremely reasonable price.
You can come here and have lunch, 3 courses, wine, Champagne, water, bread, canapés, amuse bouches, pre-desserts, petits fours, coffee and all the little touches you would expect at a grand hotel in Monaco, but you pay £45. £45! I know restaurants in London where a course of Dover sole costs this alone.
Would would you say was the key to successful service?
Regulars. At Gauthier we do more than anywhere I’ve ever known to focus on keeping regular customers. It’s true that with regulars you do half the work, they already know they love you. But the thing is, you have already done three or four times the work to make them regulars. Over time you build a relationship, just like a friend. I really consider them friends. Some are very generous, I’ve been given gifts, invitations to holiday around the world, all sorts of things. It’s very flattering.
What’s the secret to building the relationship?
Anticipation. If the customer wants to be left alone, leave them alone. If they want conversation, give them that. Most people want to be recognised, so remember this. Remember their little peculiarities and special requests.
I always say, the ultimate luxury is to not have to ask for things. For somebody to know already what you want.
It’s crazy, you work all your life to be able to afford expensive things, yet the things you really appreciate are free.
You’re becoming known for your Cognac list. Tell us about it.
I’m from Cognac and yes it has become a special passion of mine. I’ve built a small but very interesting Cognac list, involving some of my favourites. Some of the makers are even old friends of mine. It’s funny, Cognac. Such a globally known but tiny little town, with so many well known producers. The Cointreau family & Remy Martin, Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell , Frapin. And not just brandy. Grey Goose Vodka comes from Cognac. Did you know that?
No, I didn’t. So anyway, any last words for the readers?
Yes, of course. Come back and see me soon.
Francois is on twitter @chateaufrancoi1