Fred Sirieix, General Manager, Galvin at Windows, London

The Staff Canteen

Fred Sirieix is the general manager at Galvin at Windows, holder of one star in the Michelin Guide UK.

Born in France, he moved to the UK to work in some of the country’s best restaurants including La Tante Claire, Le Gavroche and Brasserie Roux before moving to Galvin at Windows eight years ago. In a distinguished career Fred has accomplished many things such as Manager of the Year at the Cateys awards, Personality of the Year at the National Restaurant awards and Educator of the Year at Imbibe awards. He appeared alongside Michel Roux Jr in the BBC 2 series, Michel Roux’s Service, and has his own website, The Art of Service. He has even brought out his own board game and boxed against Marcus Wareing. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out how he fits it all in…

How did you first get into the hospitality industry and did you always want to be on the service side?

I trained as a chef originally and just before I was about to go into the big, wide world and do my first placement, I thought, this is not going to be for me. I was in the kitchen at the time when I realised; I just didn’t see myself cooking my own food; I was very good at following recipes, but I wanted to do my own thing and I didn’t see that happening. I think being with people and having a bit more freedom appealed more. Once I’d made the switch I never looked back.

Could you give us an overview of your day-to-day role as general manager of Galvin at Windows?

I’m responsible for the bar and the restaurant, for the financial side of things, for hiring and training the team, making sure that the communication, the marketing and the promotion is right on brand; I’m responsible for the guests’ satisfaction; I’m basically running the business on a day-to-day basis and looking at future development within the business.

What are the most rewarding things about your role?

One of the great things is the development of the people you’re working with.  Michele Caggianese for example, who was the restaurant manager and is now at The Rib Room, won Restaurant Manager of the Year at the Cateys. This year Andrew [Sicklin], the restaurant manager, has been nominated Hotel Restaurant Manager of the Year. It’s great to be working with people like that – you start with them and they are waiters or receptionists, then you work with them and see them grow and develop; it’s great.

You’ve been at Galvin at Windows for eight years now; what is it that you enjoy about working there?

I enjoy the team; I enjoy the freedom to do what we do best; there is trust there and there is great freedom to be creative; that’s very important and a key aspect to the way you undertake training, the way you undertake marketing and promotion, and the way you find new ways to excite and satisfy the customers.

In your 22-year career how have you seen the relationship change between the kitchen and front of house teams?

In some places it has changed, in others it hasn’t. I like to have a real integration. It’s not ‘them and us’; it’s just ‘us’ – all of us together. But I hear stories about other places that are still back in the middle ages, where they see the kitchen and front of house being totally separate and one being better than the other, which is rather sad but unfortunately it’s the reality. 

Galvin at Windows

What can the industry do to change that?

I’m trying to do my own bit. I’ve created National Waiters Day which next year will be on 8th of June. It’s about recognising front of house and making sure it’s seen as a profession. It’s important that we educate people and train them well.

The other problem is that people in this country don’t even know that there are so many opportunities in this industry. I think we need to tell people about just how many opportunities there are, at a junior level but also at a senior level; that’s why National Waiters Day is there – it’s more or less a campaign of information. It’s also about good practice and about teaching young people coming up to work in the right away and be respectful of each other and to understand that it’s not just about a chef or a maître D’ it’s about working together so when they see something wrong they have the courage and confidence to say. 

Is it possible to put your finger on that almost indefinable piece of magic that gives a restaurant a special atmosphere?

It’s definitely possible. It’s about understanding your brand and understanding what you want your restaurant to be about – what is the vision for your business and what are your values? The restaurant needs to have a soul and everyone needs to know what that is. Once you know the pillars of your restaurant you can start to create a culture with your team. For example if I was opening a restaurant under a railway bridge in Shoreditch where I was serving pizza out of a wood oven, I wouldn’t be trying to create the same atmosphere as I do at Galvin at Windows because it wouldn’t be the right place to do it.

I could still give you that lovely feeling where you feel hospitality, you feel the warmth and the generosity of spirit, but it would be articulated in a different manner.

Who inspires you professionally?

Everybody and everything – I get inspired by the newspapers, by quotes that I read; I was really inspired by Chris Galvin when he spoke at the Cateys conference recently; I’m continually inspired by my parents and my chairman, Ken Sanker. I feel inspiration from all kinds of different sources; it’s all about how I take this inspiration and make it mine, how I manage to get these words into my life, whatever they are.

Antonino - Galvin at
Windows Sommelier

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a career in the food service industry?

The same advice as I would give to anyone starting any career – make sure you know what you want and give yourself the possibility to succeed; work hard and work smart and you will get there.

What’s the most difficult customer you’ve ever dealt with?

I can’t think of one particular incident but I think the people who are most difficult are the ones who act in bad faith; but at the end of the day, they are just human and we have to deal with them. I don’t let most things bother me unless they are abusive or physically threatening; it’s just about dealing with the situation and trying to make the customer feel happy; they are the ones paying your wages and they have to feel happy; it doesn’t matter what I think, it’s what they think that matters at the end of the day.

Want to be a general manager like Fred? Head on over to our jobs board for current positions. 

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th February 2014

Fred Sirieix, General Manager, Galvin at Windows, London