SPOTLIGHT ON SERVICE

Paul Ainsworth at Number 6: Good service is about 'care, communication and balance'

Paul Ainsworth at Number 6: Good service is about 'care, communication and balance'

Alex Tozer, restaurant manager at Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 in Padstow, winner of the National Restaurant Awards 2015 Service Award, talks through the restaurant’s relaxed and informal approach to service as part of our Spotlight on Service series.

Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 is situated in a Georgian townhouse in the Cornish town of Padstow and while the restaurant holds a Michelin star and provides a sought-after experience to its guests, its service aims to reflect its location.

“I would describe service here as very homely, friendly and caring,” says Tozer.

“If you have a friend coming round you’ll give them a big smile when they arrive, you’ll say hello, ask how they are, take their coat and tell them to go through to the kitchen or lounge and you’ll make them a cup of tea.

“We may not know everyone’s name that comes through our door, but we want to make it feel like they’re walking into a friend’s house when they do.”

Communication

When guests arrive at the restaurant they are warmly welcomed and shown to their tables, but Tozer, who spent a year running a student bar and six years front-of-house at Tanners restaurant in Plymouth, before joining Ainsworth, says good service starts before they set foot through the door - at the point of booking.  

“Our reservations manager is actually the one who sets the tone for that service,” he says. “More people now want to book online, but we do want human interaction, so if someone books online they’ll get a phone call from Angela (reservations manager) and she’ll try and get as much information about their forthcoming visit.”

Tozer believes the key to providing the best possible experience for those dining at Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 is by staff then using that information to enhance the guest’s experience. While the impression given is that service is friendly and informal, the way it happens is through attention to detail. 

“It’s how the team uses the information that really takes things forward,” he says. “We also ask front-of-house staff to continually pass on feedback as it comes and note it down so we can act on it for that visit and any future visits.

“Our ultimate aim is to fulfil every single need a guest doesn’t even know they have. It’s a balance of making sure people are looked after for every minute they’re here - from when the bread arrives through to the chocolate fudge at the end of the meal – but without smothering them.” 

Balance

Balance is a word Tozer is keen to emphasise in his approach to service and seen as crucial to providing the best possible experience to guests. The restaurant manager is keen to highlight front-of-house careers but says the section falls down if it doesn’t have the support of the kitchen.

“I do strongly believe that, although it’s great to put a spotlight on service and turn the balance back from food, the two areas have to go hand in hand for somewhere to be successful," he says. "The second you start to differentiate is the moment that it falls apart. Everything at Number 6 is about the entire experience, nothing takes precedence. Service has to live up to the food and the food has to live up to what we’re doing in the dining room. We put pressure on each other all the time to ensure that happens."

A good balance can only be achieved, however, if that caring ethos is applied. 

Tozer says: "Great service is achieved by having a good balance of food and service, but the important thing is that everyone - from the head chef to the kitchen porter to the restaurant manager and food runner – cares. It’s about everyone caring about that person who walks through the door and making sure that they have a great night. Great service for us is only constituted by caring about your customers and genuinely wanting them to have the best experience they can. If you’ve got a team that are slightly ambivalent about it then it will fall apart."

Staff

As restaurant manager Tozer oversees a team of eight front-of-house staff, including two assistant restaurant managers and four chef de rangs.

He believes only opening the restaurant five days a week ensures consistency of service.

“You’re covering days off if you open for more which means there isn’t that consistency,” he says. 

However, hiring people with the right qualities in the first place is key. Front-of-house staff at the restaurant are principally hired on personality rather than skills or knowledge with a three-step process (telephone conversation, interview and one-day trial) used to make the final decision.

"We hire mainly on personality and the first thing we look at it is whether they can old eye contact and shake hands when they come through the door. It sounds very simple, but ultimately they’re going to be dealing with people, so they have to be able to hold eye contact throughout the interview."

When people are given a job, Tozer ensures that good communication is instilled in them. He sits down and talks to staff before and after each service and if there is a problem it is dealt with.

Having a small team means he can make training and support bespoke to each member, he says. 

"As well as having the right personality there needs to be a flow of service," he says. "Some people find it easy, others need a bit of help, so we design tools that will make it better for them.

"One member of staff had just come from university and this was her first experience working in this kind of restaurant. She had great inter-personal skills and was great with customers, but logistically she struggled to keep up what was happening in her section, so we built a table matrix for her. She just ticked tables as she went and that tool made things easy for her."

"Most people have it within them to provide good service and to look at the industry as something. The idea of making someone’s evening or weekend really special is something you can take a lot of personal joy from. We can be a big part of someone’s life and that’s a lot of fun." 







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