Interview with Albert Quay, Maitre d' of Millesime, Solaris Dutamas
Albert, prior to Kuala Lumpur, you worked in Singapore. Tell us about your time there. How is the market or expectations alike or different to KL?
Way back on May 22nd, 1990 in Singapore, is when my journey in the F and B industry began. Starting with the Movenpick Restaurant of Switzerland. I apprenticed under Mr. Poh Say Eng who was previously the Maitre d' of Shangri-La Singapore. Rising from the rank of trainee waiter to Supervisor, I had a great time building my career in this Industry despite working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week with little or no time off. I did all of this in order to fast track my knowledge and experience in this business. The market expectations were and still are higher in Singapore than in KL. With many more travelers and expatriates as your customers, you can't afford not to be at the highest level of service if you want their business. This, I feel, is the main difference with the Malaysian market. Here, it's generally more laid back and customers are less demanding and in turn the level of service is less exacting which is not always a good thing.
I read somewhere that you were voted Best Maitre d' in Singapore. What is that about?
The actual title if you can call it that, was "The Indispensable Maitre d' of the year”. This was given to me by the then editor of The Singapore Tattler in 2003. It was a very pleasant surprise when I received the call from the editor, telling me that I had been selected to receive this award. It was very nice to be recognized for doing something that I love.
What do you believe makes a great maitre d'?
I've always believed, that to be a great Maitre d', one has to have the ability to recall the likes, dislikes and peculiarities of regular guests on your finger tips, to go beyond the expectations of the guest, to be a good host and a person who cares. From the moment a guest walks through the door, we have to be always thinking ahead, anticipating the guests wants and needs. It is about the whole experience. Guests don't just come to eat, they come for an experience. The devil is in the details as they say and the Maitre'd is all about details. Considering no detail too small - dietary requirements, special occasions, the general mood of the guests as well as the kitchen staff, yes the kitchen staff. As we are the conduit between the kitchen and the guests, we have to be attuned to both internal and external situations. If you look at the great restaurants of the world, it can never be just about the chef or the service staff but always about the team. As the Maitre d', I am the front man but I always need the team!
How heavily does service weigh in when compared with food and ambience with the success of a restaurant?
I think good service is the exclamation point, without it, the sentence is left hanging...
How did you get into the industry?
It has always been a dream of mine since I was a little boy watching the service staff at hotels whenever my father brought me there to dine. When I was old enough, I patronized The Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur, thinking to myself how cool it would be to serve customers as well as I had been served. When I finished school, I applied and joined, where else... but the Shangri-La. Unfortunately, all I was offered was a position as a part time staff in the banqueting department due to the fact that I had no experience or F and B qualifications. So, after a short stint there, I bordered a train myself for Singapore, where I had heard that though the standards were high in Singapore, they needed a lot of staff and thus opportunities were far greater.
I recall very clearly flipping through the want ads every morning and seeing countless ads reading "experienced F and B staff wanted." Though disappointed, I didn't give up and eventually I was recommended by some friends to Movenpick restaurant. From a trainee to eventually the Maitre d', I am very proud of my achievements and though I moved on to other restaurants, I will always be thankful to my Swiss training at Movenpick. It is all worthwhile when I show a guest to the door and they say those magic words “Albert, thanks for making our evening an enjoyable one!"
You must have seen a lot of things in your time in this profession. Any 'nameless' stories you might share with The Yum List?
Actually, not much to tell as restaurants tend to be more sedate, just the usual lovers’ quarrels, proposals and celebration of birthdays and anniversaries. Though, I must add to be a great Maitre d', one must always be discreet! Many a guest will have different "dining partners" and as such being discreet and mindful of that fact is always a must.
Albert, thank you for a peak into the life of a top maitre'd'!
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