By Jrm

April 18,2016

What is great service and how do you become a great waiter?

We caught up with restauranteur and consultant Erez Gordon to get some tips of the trade. Erez, originally a Melbournian but based in Sydney since 2011, is the proud owner of Surry Hills neighbourhood restaurant Bishop Sessa. Like many of us in the Hospitality industry, his career started off as a side gig and soon turned into a love affair. With an impressive resume including Terence Conran in London, being Maitre d’Hotel for Jacques Reymond and General Manager of The Botanical, Erez has extensive knowledge and understands the importance of great service. Where did your Hospitality career start? I studied drama & literature at Uni and was in need of a job on the side, so a friend got me in as a bouncer at a pub in Port Melbourne.  It had recently done a multi million dollar make over and looked amazing but still had all the wharfies expecting 60 cent pots of Carlton Draught – not wheat beer from Western Australia at 95 cents a pot. I wasn’t much for fighting so I learned to use the gift of the gab to clean the place up. I then started helping out behind the bar and on the floor. I was there for a couple of years and learnt a lot, it was a great introduction to the industry. While trying to pursue a career within the theatre world, I ran a theatre company and managed a bar at the same time, it soon became too much and I realised I had to pick one or the other. Soon after that I went to the UK and worked with some great people. It’s always been important for me to work in an environment where I can be challenged and learn new skills, so I was attracted to people who were willing to give me time and teach me. There are a lot of bosses and business owners out there that would happily teach their staff new skills, but their employees don’t express the interest to learn – So speak up and tell your manager if there’s something you want to learn and develop!  What was it that first excited you about the industry? I really enjoy managing the experience at the table for guests; flexing my ability to make sure that their experience is seamless and that the timing is right. When you do it right, your guests will walk away being genuinely happy. It’s quite seductive, having a stranger tell you how much they enjoyed your service and what you’ve done for them, what a wonderful time they had. Working in a team with likeminded people where you all know what you’re doing, where everyone is helping each other out and you only have to give brief eye contact to know what needs to be done to create smooth service, that’s a great feeling. At the end of a busy shift you’re full of adrenaline and you just want to celebrate. To get that kind of excitement everyday at your job, that’s pretty special. That lifestyle is unlike anything else in the world; it’s open, it’s free. It’s hard not to get hooked. You worked at Jacques Reymond’s 3 hat restaurant for 6 years. What is the most important thing to think about when maintaining 3 hats? Detail!  Nothing is too small, every detail counts. You have to pay attention to the detail everyday, everything comes under the microscope and you have to engender that in all your staff because everyone has to pull in the same direction. If not, it’s going to jeopardise your standards. It’s incredibly tiring, that attention all day everyday. You have to be on the lookout, you have to care and it’s important that your staff care and want the same thing. I often say “The fish stinks from the head” When you go into a restaurant and the waiter is rude, I pretty much guarantee that the manager or the owner is rude, because that’s what they’re shown is okay. A really nice person doesn’t survive in that environment, and a very rude person doesn’t last in an environment where everyone is really nice. Lack of care on the floor is a lack of care in the kitchen and a lack of care in the office. So when they care about you on the floor and show attention to detail, you know they must care about the food and their staff. So if you want three hats, the guy at the top must want three hats and the people under him must want it too, so you can all work for the same goal. It needs to be driven from the top.
Bishop Sessa interview JRM
Bishop Sessa, photo-urbanwalkabout
When you moved to Sydney, you first took over Bistro Bruno in Balmain and then opened Bishop Sessa. How did you decide what kind of restaurant you wanted to run? Well up until that point I had done a lot of two and three hat stuff and that requires high investment. I wasn’t really in a position for that, but I also wasn’t interested in that type of dining. I generally feel that the detail required for a three hat restaurant is interesting, but it’s not real life. It’s a kind of artificial atmosphere – nothing is that perfect – nothing is that great all the time – nothing needs to be that precise. When I dine out I don’t want to feel like I’m in school or like I’m being lectured, and that I have to sit up straight and use the right cutlery. I was much more interested in dealing with people like people are, and creating a genuine dining experience. So I was thinking, what do I want when I go out for dinner? I want great food, a great wine list and great service. My aim was to create honest, tasty, high quality food with genuine passion and craft. And without being too complicated, make the flavours more understandable and the ingredients more recognisable. Eating out at a high end restaurant is an intellectual experience, a dish is served to you with 100 ingredients and you are meant to say “WOW!”- but it doesn’t feed the soul. I want to serve my customers beautifully sourced and produced ingredients, full of flavours, where every mouth full makes you go “WOW!“ and you forget about your food, you enjoy your company and the wine, you relax and get comfortable and all of a sudden you go “Ah yes, this is awesome!”  That’s the kind of dining experience I want to create. What three characteristics do you look for when hiring staff? Communication: The best attention will be undone by poor communication Genuine eagerness to work: I don’t want people to come here just to earn money, its important that my team are enjoying their jobs. Work ethic: Skill set is secondary to this, work ethic is more important, then I can teach them the skills. What makes a great waiter The ability to prioritise. A waiter’s list of tasks is as long as your arm and the order of doing things changes by the minute. Good staff know how to re-prioritise their tasks to maximise efficiency, they must ask themselves, “What is most important for the business and what is most important for the customer?”, and then be able to do as many jobs as possible while maintaining a graceful and controlled air, pretending they have all the time in the world. With the influence of social media, do you think that your relationship with guests has changed? Not one bit. The only thing that has changed is that I now know what guests are saying about me. Before they where saying it but I never found out. With social media I am now a witness, yes they have a bigger audience but I’m part of that audience so in many ways that is actually useful. You are quite active in the restaurant media world, for example you recently spoke out about banning ‘No show customers’.  You appear to have become a bit of a spokesperson for restaurant owners. Has that surprised you? Yes and no. Yes because I sometimes wonder who am I to speak out on these subjects? But on the other hand I have broad experience in the industry and I’ve worked as a consultant for many years so I know what I’m talking about. What happens is that you get interviewed once and you might have commented on something that stuck out. Then Editors remember that you have an opinion, have the credibility to back it up and aren’t afraid to articulate it. They’ll keep coming back to you for comment, that’s been going on for almost 15 years now. What is the best way of attracting new business? Oh..that is the million dollar question. Word of mouth.  The most difficult thing is to get customers to walk in the door the first time, and the second most difficult thing is to get them to come back. Never take a customer for granted, never assume that they will have a good time and that they will come back. I have one golden rule: I don’t care what happened, if we did something wrong or not, make sure that when customers leave this restaurant they will want to come back. The word of mouth is so powerful, the best way of driving new business is to make sure that your current business is well looked after.