I’ve been working front of house for nearly a year now. I’ve written about eating in restaurants for yonks but never before considered the difficulty involved in the day to day running of one. It’s been a steep and fascinating learning curve.
Shortly after employing me, Oisín Rogers, general manager of the Guinea Grill, gave me Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table. In this book the New York restaurateur focusses on the one key component to making a restaurant successful: hospitality.
This comes in many guises; from the warm welcome you receive to the goodbye that is so often missed when you leave. From acomodating unusual requests or catering to guests’ every need. Nothing is too much trouble. I’ve been taught hospitality is at the core of what we offer at the Guinea, and quite rightly so.
So what kind of hospitality should one expect in a restaurant awarded 3 stars in the 2019 Michelin guide and once voted no 1 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List?
Not a lot it seems…
Our visit to Osteria Francescana in Italy’s Modena (a short 20 minute train ride from Bologna) starts off with a queue. Every diner in this tiny restaurant has the same arrival time so you wait in line till you’ve checked in and then taken to your table. You then wait untill everyone is seated before getting a drink or any nibbles.
The room is filled with interesting modern art. So interesting it seems the waiters would rather look at that than us. Describing a dish as “Ooops! I dropped the lemon tart” while looking bored and disinterested kills the buzz.
It’s that very dessert which is the most famous item on the menu. Chef and owner, Massimo Bottura, created the dish when his sous chef, Taka Kondo, genuinely dropped a lemon tart before serving it.
Other dishes have equally intriguing names: “when my mom met Bocusse’, ‘we are still deciding which fish to serve!’ and ‘Autumn in New York as journey of the eel’. All thoroughly tasty things to eat.
A plate of Parmigiano Regana five ways, which offers the local cheese served at varying temperatures in varying textures, is a marvelous couple of mouthfuls. A small mound of pasta in a sea urchin sauce blends Italy and Japan in exquisite fashion. This is good food, let down by a lacklustre front of house.
Osteria Francescana is lacking generosity. At Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris, you’re given a box of Alain Ducasse chocolates as a parting gift. A little something for when you get home. At Eleven Madison Park in New York, you’re sent on your way with homemade granola for tomorrow’s breakfast. At Osteria Francescana there’s none of that. You’re not even given a copy of the menu, which is always a welcome momento.
Would we go back? No