227 Byres Road
Glasgow, G12 8UD
Tel.: 0141 334 3811
Nubar Gulbenkian, in his time one of the richest men on the planet, was of the opinion that the ideal number at a dinner was two: himself and ‘a damn good waiter’.
There are those in the restaurant trade in Scotland who feel that he might struggle to find his ideal dining partner these days, so acute is the skills shortage in the industry.
Customers today are sophisticated travellers, and, having enjoyed being waited on by skilled and professional restaurant staff abroad are increasingly disinclined to accept shoddy and indifferent service back home.
We employ 45 people in Paperinos West End, our newly opened restaurant in Glasgow, another 25 in our other outlets and, almost without exception I knew each of them before I took them on. But, even with this flying start, we were struggling in our first week, because they had not yet been trained up to the standards I wanted for our new venture.
The simple fact is that, like most restaurateurs, I want to employ people who care about what they are doing, whether they are students or professional staff. I have a low tolerance threshold for floaters who think work is part of their evening’s entertainment.
The problem is: where do we restaurateurs find such people? Personally, I advertise through professional websites, such as Glasgow barjobs.com and use my own contacts in the trade to find out who is available.
There are very few college courses for waiting staff and even then I’m sorry to say, I would only consider using the skills they impart as the absolute basics for a professional waiter. Call me pernickety, but I want to train them my way, and that means a lengthy period of further in-house training before they can be put in front of the public.
So what makes a good waiter? The fundamentals, I think, are self-confidence, good personal appearance, good people skills. But, as well as that, a waiter needs to have eyes in the back of his or her head, and to know almost intuitively what a customer wants before he asks for it.
He or she has to be alert at the same time as being relaxed, knowledgeable without being supercilious, a salesman without being an irritant and an expert not only on the restaurant’s dishes but on food and wine generally. This can only come from a thorough basic training constantly reinforced by experience.
The upside for trained waiters is that, in most parts of the world, their skills are in constant demand. But they also enjoy what only a few other professions can provide, the freedom to travel, to see the world – and get paid for it.
It is a fact often bandied about the restaurant business that there are more than a million waiters and waitresses in the United States alone, so the opportunities are immense.
Paperinos has two students on secondment at the moment from a hotel school in Pesaro, in the Marche region on the Adriatic coast of Italy, one of whose professors I got friendly with after meeting him on holiday.
The school at Pesaro is renowned for producing people who go on to be maitre d’s in some of the best hotels in Europe and waiters who view what they do as a profession rather than just another job. The professor has agreed to continue to send us people on secondment and I have to say that I wish that kind of training was available on catering courses in colleges in this country. It would make my life a lot easier.
Some credit must go also to the new breed of celebrity chefs who, whatever you may think of their on-screen behaviour and language, have done a great job in raising the profile of the catering and restaurant trade. Some of them have expressed an interest in establishing schools to instil the kind of standards they want, and this can only add to the aura of glamour which they bring to the industry. But how long, do you think, before we showcase our first celebrity waiter?
Stefano Giovanazzi is a director at Paperinos West End