Dimitri Bellos, Restaurant Manager, The Fat Duck

The  Staff Canteen

Dimitri Bellos is the Restaurant Manager of Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck which regained its three stars in the Michelin Guide UK 2017.

Raised in Corfu, Dimitri moved to Dublin at the age of 18 to study. In 2008 he moved to London where he found himself working at two Michelin star Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley as head waiter. Two short years later he was appointed Restaurant Manager where he remained for just over five years. In 2014 he joined Heston’s Bray restaurant, The Fat Duck which was declared the Best Restaurant in the World in 2005. The whole operation moved to Australia in 2014 before returning after an extensive refurb in September last year.

When The Staff Canteen caught up with Dimitri we learnt about his travels to Central America to learn more about coffee production, giving his staff drama training and why he doesn’t like the word pressure.

Counting sheep
Counting sheep

How did you get into the industry?

My parents have owned and run a 70 (40 out/30 in) seater restaurant in Benitses, Corfu since March 1997 which is where I took my first steps in the hospitality industry at the age of 14. When I look back at those early years, working with my family was a huge influence in shaping my career in service.

From early on I was left to run the service side of the restaurant which was an amazing learning curve at such a young age. When I finished school at the age of 18 I left Corfu and moved to Dublin to study. I always kept in touch with the industry working at various outlets and levels.  I also worked at some high end boutique hotels, which was when I started thinking more seriously about restaurant management as something that I wanted to pursue as a life choice.

What made you choose to move to the UK?

My parents used to live in London. I was actually born in Belsize Park, NW3. My mother is from Ireland and I have relatives in London so I visited the UK quite often. I love London and the unbelievable variety of restaurants you can find here. In 2008 I moved to London from Dublin because at the time it was the obvious destination for me to progress in my career and to learn. That’s when I started as a head waiter at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. Two years later I was appointed restaurant manager.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your role at The Fat Duck and what it involves?

At the moment I am responsible for the front of house team and will also be managing the guest relations and tailor made departments as all three teams are merging which is a really exciting for us. Together with my team we are here to make sure service runs smoothly, to take care of our guests, to organise training and make sure everyone is on form and sharp. I would say that my top priority is to take care of my team and to constantly look into new service ideas.

Info bar         

Worst behaved customer you’ve ever served?

There’s nothing worse than customers that use foul and abusive language, when they start to disrespect you as a person – that’s where I draw the line.

Top 5 service experiences

Geranium in November 2014

Vendome in January 2014

The Fat Duck in July 2008

Eleven Madison Park in January 2014

Noma in November 2014

At the moment I’m spending a lot of time working on our coffee service and offering. Earlier this year I visited Central America to learn about coffee and to share my knowledge with the team. We were also looking to start working directly with farms and to serve tasty and interesting coffees in the restaurant. Visiting farms and meeting the people that produce coffee was a fascinating experience, humbling and eye opening.

Why do I have to choose between a variety pack and a full English_

Why do I have to choose between

a variety pack and a full English

We recently bought coffee directly from two fincas in Panama and we have started serving them in the restaurant, tableside.  One of my goals for this year is to make sure that as many staff in the team as possible receive a recognisable barista training, so as to offer our guests the best possible coffee and tea experience.

What is Heston like to work with?

I’ve always found Heston to be a very down to earth guy, and there are so many reasons to be incredibly impressed by him. What is great about the way he works is that he’s constantly interested in our opinion and what we think about our offering and whether we have any ideas to add that might help in improving certain aspects of the restaurant.  He’s very open minded and open to new ideas which I think is absolutely key.

Do you feel front of house can be overshadowed by Heston?

This all depends on perspective, it’s all down to each individual member of staff and how they choose to interpret the way people see the restaurant as a whole. If they choose to see themselves being overshadowed, that’s up to them, but pragmatically speaking, you can’t run a restaurant of The Fat Duck’s calibre without a highly competent front of house team. It’s a cliché however bad service can ruin a perfectly good meal. It’s imperative that kitchen and front of house work together as one.

How do you think relationships have changed between the kitchen and front of house team?

It’s certainly changed over the past few years, and it would be silly if it stayed the same. A lot of things have changed in the hospitality world – I think people have changed, a lot of younger people have started working in the industry bringing in new ideas and a different approach to food and service. Fundamentally, the key aspect of a successful restaurant in my opinion is that both sides need to respect and support each other - that’s the only way to create a great product and do so in an environment that’s friendly and progressive.

Do you think there is more pressure working in a Michelin-starred environment as opposed to one without a star?

I’m not a fan of the word pressure – I would say I felt more under pressure running my parents restaurant than working anywhere else. My parents taught me that you need to respect your guests - whether it’s a Michelin star establishment, a brassiere or MacDonald’s. The job of Front of House is to respect the guests and the business they bring and that should never change.

How important is training for you and your staff?

Just the tonic!
Just the tonic!

It goes without saying that training is very important and we do it on a day-to-day basis, not only to show the staff new ways of doing things but also to encourage news ways of thinking, such as our coffee program. We also do a lot of drama training, looking at speech and movement techniques to help improve the way we deliver the service, skills that will hopefully benefit the team beyond the four walls of the Fat Duck and wherever they may go on to work afterwards.

What type of characteristics do you look out for when recruiting?

We get asked this question by guests quite a bit. A very important characteristic, is how people carry themselves. People don’t necessarily need to have previous experience in Michelin star restaurants, but need to show an enthusiasm to learn, to identify themselves with the ethos and culture of the restaurant. And to remain humble, that’s also very important. We also work with a lot of young people from around the world and the fact that they are willing to leave their home and move to a different country and work with us in Bray is quite special in itself.

Having worked with some of the industry’s top chefs, who would you say inspires you and why?

Both Heston and Marcus inspire me for different reasons, they have different perspectives on the best way to run a restaurant but a similar vision, to provide the guest with a special and memorable experience. I’m also inspired by the people who work around me on a daily basis. My team definitely. I’m so fortunate to work with some extremely talented individuals, for example The Fat Duck Head Sommelier, Isa who is one of the best I’ve ever worked with and Jonny Lake our Executive Head Chef who is always there for me.

Damping through the boroughgroves

What are your thoughts on customers taking photo’s during a meal?

We’re all okay with that. We don’t mind guests taking pictures of the food, the interior or the staff in fact. It’s a really chilled environment in The Fat Duck. Photos are everywhere and as long as people’s Instagramming doesn’t annoy anyone then it’s absolutely fine.

Is the customer always right?

We are here for our guests and we like to make sure they are all having an amazing time, so we want to make sure they are happy which means being open minded. When certain requests cannot be materialised for whatever reason, it’s important to be frank and open with your guests. People appreciate openness, sincerity and clear communication.

What about future plans?

I see myself being at The Fat Duck for a long time. With all the things happening at the moment and the constant evolution of the concept it’s a very special place to be. You can never see the end of the horizon, it’s a forward thinking workplace and there are always new projects to work on. 

 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th October 2016

Dimitri Bellos, Restaurant Manager, The Fat Duck