Four years ago, when Gavin Cardoz started working at Indigo in Colaba, serving food and wine as a 22-year-old, he didn’t know his basil from his broccoli. Today, Cardoz not only knows the taste, texture and history of the ingredients that the modern European fine-dining restaurant uses, but also how various dishes are prepared, how to pronounce their often-foreign names and which wines to recommend with each.
“I know my cigars, too, even though I’ve never smoked one,” he says.
When he joined, Cardoz had no formal training in hospitality, so the restaurant enrolled him in a five-day crash course at the Institute of Hotel Management in Dadar. After that, he started in the kitchen, working closely with the restaurant’s chef, as all freshers do, learning about cooking techniques, garnishes and ingredients.
“During the two-week training period, new waiters taste each dish on the menu to understand the textures, flavours and ingredients,” says Cardoz.
Fine-dining restaurants have realised that getting great dishes to customers is just half the job; they must help get customers to the dishes — help them navigate the menu and make them feel that they are making an informed decision when they order.
“When the chef creates a new menu, the staff goes through two days of tastings and does exercises in which they have to guess the ingredients or the cooking technique,” says Brijesh Pande, general manager for the Mumbai operations of Impresario Hospitality, which runs European restaurants such as Salt Water Café and Smoke House Deli. “They need to know whether a dish is blanched, poached or oven-cooked and how that influences the flavours, or why a grilled pomfret dish has rosemary-and-thyme seasoning.”
The real challenge, however, is understanding wine.
The chef also teaches the staff how to pronounce the names of dishes correctly. “We hire English-speaking staff, to begin with, so this is not that much of a problem,” says Pande. “But there are some words that are commonly mispronounced. I’ve noticed a lot of people stumbling when saying ‘capellini’, a thin variety of pasta that we serve.”
The waiter needs to know when to offer help, but not be obtrusive. “Some waiters are attentive to the point that they can get annoying,” says Sonal Rakesh, a social media marketer.
While restaurants usually do not require the staff to have specific
qualifications, hospitality graduates and those with experience in a place devoted to the same or similar cuisine have an edge.
But since most fine-dining restaurants have extensive training programmes, what they do look for in a new recruit is a cheerful, enthusiastic personality, say recruiters.
Fine-dining restaurants make an effort to give their regular customers special treatment so that they keep coming back. A manager will typically study the reservations list through the day to identify the regulars and alert the staff.
“You have to remember their preferences,” says Cardoz. “For instance, some of our regulars order the same thing each time and like to sit only at a particular table.”
Like many other fine-dining restaurants, Hakkasan and Yauatcha in Bandra have comprehensive databases with detailed profiles of loyal clients, even photographs where possible. “The waiter has already read a report of what the customer usually orders and can make personalised recommendations accordingly,” says Jeetesh Kaprani, vice president of operations at Ka Hospitality, which runs the Mumbai outlets of the Chinese restaurants headquartered in London.