Reopening a restaurant after renovations is tough work, especially when that restaurant is as storied and beloved as Auberge du Lac, in Hertfordshire, England. The restaurant, located inside of the Brocket Hall event space, reopened on February 8th just in time for Valentine’s Day. In addition to being well-known for their seasonal, farm-to-table menu, Auberge du Lac is also known as one of the most romantic restaurants in the area. “It’s mostly due to the set up and the grounds that we have around the building and the restaurant,” says Guillaume Pages, manager of Auberge du Lac. “The view of the lake and the open windows everywhere also help,” he laughs. The restaurant been voted ‘most romantic’ by OpenTable diners.
Since the reopening, Pages and his team have been working to maintain the ‘romance’ of Auberge du Lac’s reputation. “We’ve been getting lots of beautiful feedback since we’ve reopened and it’s my job to make sure we’re living up to that reputation,” Pages says. Here, he shares ways that he and his team make sure they’re creating the romantic environment that their guests have come to expect.
Prioritise personality instead of steps of service
Auberge is a fine dining restaurant meaning that guests want a certain caliber of service. “There’s an element of service that guests expect when they come in,” Pages explains. As the manager, he tries to make sure that his staff is aware of this but not focused on it. “Sometimes in fine dining, people try to hide behind standards of service,” he says. “I try to invite my team to be human first.” While there are certain gestures that are hallmarks of fine dining service (changing flatware, linens, etc.) those gestures are supposed to be secondary to the personality of the team that’s executing them. “If you know your job then each member can bring themselves and their personality and we can differ from anyone else.” When your staff can be who they really are while providing excellent hospitality, that’s when a meal becomes memorable.
Prepare as much as possible
“Surprise is the enemy of hospitality,” Pages warns. As a manager he tries to stay ahead of any guest requests, service issues or anything else that could put a dinner service off track and tries to prepare his staff to handle these instances as well. “It’s all about preparation,” he says. “When you’re a manager you want to be as on top of everything as possible and you always need to think ahead two days or so to be prepared for any situation.” Having a knowledgeable and well-trained staff also helps him be prepared and able to anticipate challenges. “Here, I’m lucky to have an experienced team that’s worked in Michelin starred restaurants so they understand the type of service that I’m looking for.”
Connect BOH & FOH
The success of Auberge du Lac is largely due to how back of the house and front of the house work together, Pages says. Chef Matt Edmonds is the restaurant’s new chef in charge of creating tasting menus and dishes that match the romantic atmosphere. “I’m extremely pleased to have a chef that has all of the right elements of running a great kitchen,” Pages says. While front and back of the house have very different roles in creating an excellent guest experience, it’s imperative that both teams be on the same page and that largely depends on the chef. “It’s great for the front of house to understand the philosophy of the chef and the menu,” he continues. Chef Edmonds is happy to explain to front of the house the ingredients and techniques that he used to create the menu. “It’s absolutely great to have a chef that’s willing to share his knowledge and his passion with the team.” Open communication between the two teams equals a better experience for the diner. “The connection between the front and the back is really good and we all work as one.”
Each diner is an individual
“On a day like Valentine’s Day we’ll be a little more attentive but still respect the intimacy of the table,” Pages says. To create a romantic atmosphere, Pages encourages his staff to read signs from their guests. “I want them to be attentive but not intrusive,” he says. “Some couples may want to be left alone, while others want to talk to their server.” It’s all about giving guests what they’re looking for and providing care. “It’s mostly about putting a lot of love into service,” Pages says.