Failure at an event teaches him that service also means being responsible for the numbers
How is the service side organized? Please tell us about service careers.
Typically, in French cuisine, the director is at the top, below that is the maître d’hôtel, the head waiter. After that, workers are split into chef de rangs or sommeliers. That’s why the maître d’hôtel should be able to do the work of a sommelier. Within the wide range of service work, there are sommeliers, servers, and staff who separate the dishes. However, I think there are very few restaurants that the roles are completely divided like this.
Servers ultimately hope to become directors or general managers, right? Can you tell us in detail about the work of a director?
The service policy of French restaurants serve as a global standard, so a director has to educate and train the staff, as well as take responsibility for managing sales. It’s different in the case of an owner-chef, however.
The service department is also in charge of planning and managing fairs for customers to boost sales.
It’s a very versatile task.
I think that’s the case in any industry. The further up you go in position, you start to engage in work beyond service. Responsibilities include cost accounting, personnel expenses, general expenses, and event promotion.
There are proposals from the chef’s side, but ultimately it is the service side that takes in and facilitates those ideas.
Planning events to attract customers is a part of your job. What has been the most memorable event for you so far?
It was in my seventh or eighth year of work. I was in my late twenties and had been in charge of the banquet hall for about three years. That event had a huge impact on me.
We were going to have a summer event, turning the banquet hall into a beer hall and I was appointed in charge of planning. It turned out to be a huge failure. The plan itself wasn’t bad, but we weren’t able to attract much customers and there were hardly any reservations.
The same event was planned for the following year. At that time, the company told me that since I failed last time, it has to go well.
I was surprised that the failure was blamed on me. Looking back now, I think I was planning the event half heartedly the first time. I wasn’t enthusiastic about it and wasn’t ready to take the blame for it.
The second time around, I planned out the event carefully so as not make the same mistakes as the previous year. I realized that we didn’t have enough announcements about it the first time, so I made sure to promote it in such a way that we got enough reservations. For example, we had special gifts for early bookers. Finally, 70% of spaces were booked before the event. It was a great success.
Looking back at it now, it was the kind of promotion technique I could have come up without too much effort. The first time we had the event, I didn’t have the awareness needed for someone in charge.
Afterwards, my attitude changed completely. I realized that since I was put in charge, I had to commit to the goals, be aware of my responsibilities, and incorporate that into my attitude towards work.
After struggling in the competition, he was off to France to experience authentic service
In your 15th year of work, you went to France to train. It seems to be an unusual thing to do for that time.
Right. A lot of chefs went abroad, but I had rarely heard of service staff going to France to study.
However, at the time, although French restaurants in Japan did have French chefs, I remember feeling like the service was not yet mature. It had a kind of banquet-like style.
I had wanted to go to France to study authentic service. Then, in 2000, I came out second in the Coupe Maitres de Service competition. I had tried to enter it for three years before, but didn’t make it through to the first round. I was happy to be in second place, but i was also wondering why I did not come out first. I realized that I had to learn about authentic French service. I convinced my company to let me go to France and told them I was determined to win the following year. With that, I went to France to study for three weeks.
For two weeks, I went around Michelin-starred restaurants. I was able to directly experience the atmosphere, service, and culture. For the final week, I trained at the three starred Michelin restaurant, Le Grand Véfour. It was a very valuable experience.
What changed after you returned from France?
Not only did I learn about authentic service style, I was able to build my knowledge about wine producing areas and famous Michelin-starred restaurants. This enabled me to have richer conversations with customers. The customers were also able to give me information about these topics.
Nowadays, we have all kinds of information at our fingertips with the internet. At the time, the internet was still in its infancy and people were the best source of information. There were some customers who went to France every year, and they would tell me about the restaurants with the best service. It was a great way to learn more.
The following year, I was finally able to win the competition. One journalist told me that my customers played a big role in my win. That’s exactly how I felt. I realized that this achievement had a lot to do with the customers who nurtured me.
When I won, I held a celebration party at the restaurant. I invited regular customers, people involved with the competition, and fellow participants. About 70 people showed up. That was when I truly felt glad to have chosen service.