Interview: UK Restaurant Manager of the Year David Hennigan on making guests feel special

David Hennigan, the 2010 UK restaurant manager of the year, sums up excellent hospitality as ‘creating memories’ for diners.

When a honeymooning Australian couple visited David Hennigan’s The Crown at Whitebrook as part of their tour of the best restaurants in the UK, they were treated to such outstanding front-of-house service that they told Hennigan: “This will be the overwhelming memory of our honeymoon”.

The Academy’s 2010 UK restaurant manager of the year was touched both by the strength of their compliment, and the fact it was a reflection on the usual standard of service at his establishment. He recalls: “we weren’t doing anything different [during service] that evening”.

He also says that the couple’s feedback was so moving because it is the ultimate aim of a restaurant manager to provide an experience that will live on as a treasured memory.

“When someone comes from the other side of the world and tells you that your service has built a memory that will stay with them forever, associated with their marriage, that means a great deal,” he says.

And it doesn’t take too much, he insists, to provide that level of welcoming service. “It’s the little tiny details that make the difference,” he explains. “Opening the door for the guests and picking up information during the telephone reservation. Engaging with the customer even before they get there – so we can suggest menu options that fit with their dietary requirements, for example, or welcome them with Champagne and a card if it’s their birthday.”

Hennigan believes that, as humans, we all have a need to feel significance in our lives, and the secret of great hospitality is to satisfy the guest’s desire to be recognised as a significant individual. The way to achieve this is for the dining room staff to truly engage with the customer.

“Staff must judge when to speed up the service or give diners the privacy and distance they require, and when to slow it down and give the guest more attention and conversation.”

He continues: “It’s about being there for the guests and acting for them – not necessarily on request but instead anticipating their needs and noticing when they will want something.

“The uniqueness of a dining room experience is that things happen for you, and a guest shouldn’t ever have to look round trying to find a waiter.”

  • The Crown at Whitebrook and Celtic Manor in Monmouthshire is situated in the beautiful Wye Valley, just an hour from Bristol and Cardiff.
    T: +44 (0)160 0860254

Prepared to go that extra mile to give guests a memorable evening? Contact the Academy of Food and Wine Service about front of house careers and training by calling 0208 661 4646 or click here for details.

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