Esher Williams talks Skills for Service
Hospitality Consultant, Trainer and Lecturer, Esher Williams has worked for the top tier of the industry, such as The Dorchester Hotel, L'ortolan Restaurant and The Fat Duck. Her unique syle and approach to the highest standard of working practises, guarantees service excellence.
Why do you think good service is so important?
Service is the factor that can make a difference between a good experience and a great experience. The people that you have within your service team and the way that they behave is a crucial means of differentiating in a competitive market.
Service is about feelings and emotions that are at the core of everyone. If you, as a server, are able to tap into those you are in a position to take a hospitality experience to another level.
I have worked in establishments offering all levels of service and agree that not all businesses need to offer five star or three Michelin star service. They do however have to make their environment as conducive to their service objectives as possible through training and the culture adopted.
How important is the relationship between chef and service?
At the beginning of my career I worked in few environments where the relationship between the kitchen and front of house was far from healthy. I’m glad I had those experiences as it has instilled in me the importance of strong relationships throughout an organisation, especially businesses that are focused on providing hospitality to their customers. How can we offer to look after others if we can’t even look after ourselves?
I am pleased to say that more and more operators are recognising the need for congruity throughout their business however some just scratch the surface in their efforts to achieve it. I believe that relationships throughout a business are vital to its success. From the very top and throughout all departments.
It still disappoints me when high profile chefs make derogatory remarks about the front of house. It is unnecessary and creates a completely unhealthy culture. I believe it’s time to move on and reach a place where we are all confident in our roles and can show empathy and humility for those working within our business.
What will you be focusing on at Skills for Service?
Without giving away all of my content I intend to offer an insight into high end standards of restaurant service and customer service.
I have some top tips on creating a learning environment in the workplace.
I shall explore how describing dishes to customers can maximise sales and enhance the reputation of the business. Additionally how training plays a key part in building these skills, increasing product knowledge and building consistency.
I intend to highlight the need to develop expertise to meet rising customer expectations and the value of retaining staff through the commitment to training.
What was it like working with Heston Blumenthal?
Working with Heston was such an honour and a part that I learnt so much. I remember when I was studying for my degree sitting in the college library and reading about the Fat Duck. It was around the time that they were gaining three stars and ranked number one in the world. It seemed like a world so wonderful but yet so far away from little old me. Little did I know that three years later I would be a part of the magic that is the Fat Duck Group.
Joining the team made all of my dreams come true. I remember on my trial shift being extremely emotional about what I was seeing. One of the dishes made my eyes fill with tears as I could see the amount of detail and intricacy that had gone into producing it. The level of service and the detail involved
I was very privileged to work on several projects closely with Heston. Even after four years I am still in awe of his drive, vision and tenacity. You would never quite know what he would come up with next. Heston has a marvellous way of keeping his team on their toes in that way.
Heston has always believed in training and development of his team. Establishing the Learning and Development department within the group provided massive benefits for the business and became a vital element in attracting and retaining the highest calibre of employee.
I learnt so much from my time at the Fat Duck. Never settle for less than the best. Take the option that will produce the best results, not necessarily the easiest and most of all don’t give up.
I hear you have been working at the Clink - a fine dining restaurant in a high security prison - what was that like and why did you decide to do it?
I met some of the Clink team at an event in London and they asked me to come to the restaurant to see what I thought about their service and provide feedback. I went along quite unaware of what I was going to encounter.
The first time you visit the Clink, which is situated at HMP High Down in Surrey, it is quite overwhelming. Nothing prepares you for the experience. Your emotions go from not being quite sure why you are there to being so very surprised by what you are presented with. Once you are past the huge walls and security checks you are lead to a very plain looking building which is home to a far from plain restaurant. Glass tables, stylish decor, furniture made by inmates and a hive of activity.
I love the fact that inmates are being given an opportunity to better themselves and gain qualifications in the hospitality industry. I like it when you see serving prisoners looking after the general public, sharing their story and connecting in ways they have never experienced. Inmates realise that people do care about them and are interested in helping them to develop.
I was a pretty unruly teenager and it was working in this industry that taught me respect, discipline, focus and self awareness. Once you get to know the team at the Clink you are able to share their journey through the good days and bad. Watching them grow as they learn more.
I work within a team of trainers who ensure service levels are kept to a high standard and that progress towards the City & Guilds in Food and Beverage Service is always maintained. Once the inmate is due for release we then prepare them for a position in the hospitality industry and assist them in finding and securing a job and accommodation.
I believe you have also worked at The Dorchester what makes that hotel so special?
I love the Dorchester and all that it stands for. It is the ultimate in guest experience. There is nothing that hasn’t been thought of and all of its systems and procedures are aimed at providing an individual service to each guest.
You have worked with Alan Murchison who is presenting to the chefs at the conference, what do you think makes him such a success?
Alan is one of the most driven people that I know. It almost borders on obsessive. He has a way of rubbing his passion off on other people and getting them on board with his vision. The amount of regular customers that he has and loyal team members is indicative of this.
It was with Alan that I learnt about running a restaurant. He allows you to have as little or as much involvement as you wish. I believe this helps him retain key team members and encourages others to come back. Once Alan is comfortable with you he will delegate parts of the business to you, enabling the growth of the business.