Petit dejeuner (small meal of the day, literally, small lunch) is served at Le Grand InterContinental Hotel in Paris.
Let me set the table for you in your mind’s eye. Six huge bowls of fresh fruit ripened, cut into bite-sized pieces, garnished with mint leaves, bread seven kinds including croissants that make you stop each time you take a bite kind of pinch yourself that it’s real. Plates and plates of designer prepared meats, fish and cheeses. Creps, eggs, sausages, bacons, and tomatoes under the silver tureen covers to retain their heat and freshness. Cereal, milk, yogurt (in it’s own glass refrigerated case), and fresh juice of every variety. Oh, and coffee, tea, and hot chocolate that’s so wonderful, it must be drunk and savored a sip at a time. Get the picture? Hungry? Louis XV would look at this setting and approve. This is breakfast in paradise.
People from all over the world speaking all kinds of languages are eating and talking about their plans for the day. The breakfast room is in an atrium that has a glass ceiling. When you look up you see the inside walls of the hotel built in the 1830’s age of elegance and the Paris sky. Today it’s cloudy, but no one seems to care. I know I don’t.
Back to “petit dejeuner.” The service is better than the food. There are service people everywhere. Moving quickly. Smiling. Resetting food plates, filling cups at tables. Hovering and serving. My mate comments, “no one says a word, and everything just shows up just when you need it. No one is interrupting us.” “That’s called silent service,” I replied.
“Try talking to someone,” I suggested. “Will they speak English?” she doubted. “See for yourself.” She raised her hand and someone darted to our table. “May I have some more strawberry jam?” she asks. “But of course, I’ll have some for you in a second, madam,” said the waiter in perfect English. And in a flash an assortment five of jams arrive. Cool.
I was tempted to ask for a new car.
Our conversation is self-interrupted as we exchange “this is so good” between bites of food and sound bites of talk. But the service has my full attention as the crowd begins to grow at the buffet. No matter how much people traffic there is, no server seems ruffled.
I called over the Maitre’d. A young good looking man. Slim and perfectly dressed. He walks fast as he approaches, and waits until spoken to before talking. “Is French your native language?” I inquire. “No I’m Dutch,” says Marcel Van Rooijen with a smile and standing up straighter as he says it.
“How many languages do you speak?” I ask. “Just four at the moment.” He tries to say modestly with pride.
What makes the service here so good? I asked. “We want to serve. It’s a personal commitment.” says Marcel. “If you don’t want to be of service, you don’t belong in this business.” Way cool. He smiles; we chat for a while about our respective countries, and he must depart to seat arriving guests.
Wanting to serve what a concept.
Now I was hungry for food AND information. I asked Marcel for a few quick reasons why he thought European service was superior. I got more than I bargained for:
Service people want to serve. They have the attitude that it’s a profession, not a job. This is the responsibility of the server.
We try to give more than they pay for. There is an obligation for everyone to get what they pay for. But the server can add extra. This is the responsibility of the server.
We try to make the customer feel important. For example, in this restaurant, the Maitre’d takes each order. This makes the customer feel that the “boss” is taking care of them personally. This is the responsibility of the server.
It should feel like it’s a pleasure to be here. Everyone who stays here or eats here wants to have a great experience. This is the responsibility of the server.
There is no “forced” service. People speak when spoken to. No one would dream of saying, “Hi, I’m Bill and I’ll be your server today.” (barf) This is the responsibility of the server.
There are no interruptions. The server waits until the customer’s conversation stops to speak. This is the responsibility of the server.
There’s a difference between a paycheck and a desire to serve others. The server takes the responsibility for the success or failure of his service. That is not a paycheck for working. That’s a self pride for a job well done.
All these answers while I drink the coffee and eat the food. I love learning and I love eating. Life is too good.
I want to interview Marcel again. I motion him to come over. He runs toward our table. A guest intercepts his path and begins to run his loud angry mouth. I’ve run out of space. Marcel’s interview next week. Bon appetit.
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