Giancarlo Princigalli, Restaurant Director, Alyn Williams at the Westbury

The  Staff Canteen
Growing up in Milan, Giancarlo Princigalli began his promising career in the hospitality industry at the tender age of 14 working part time in the kitchen of a local restaurant. Now at 38 years old Giancarlo has worked with some of the industry’s top chefs in some of the most well-known restaurants in the world including Gordon Ramsay at Gordon Ramsay’s Holdings and at Petrus with Marcus Wareing. He is currently the Restaurant Director for Alyn Williams at the Westbury where he has resided for the last six years. When we caught up with Giancarlo we found out why becoming 30 was a career turning point, why even the most difficult of customers can sometimes turn out to be your most loyal and how he sees his relationship with Alyn more like husband and wife rather than co-workers. AW interior 7 low resWhy did you move to London and what made you want to be part of the hospitality industry? I went to catering college back in Italy. When I was a little further along I had the chance to come to London to work at the Savoy because one of my school mates was working there at the time. Out of chance I just gave in my CV and before I knew it, after I finished the maitre d’ course, I began working at the Savoy. That was 16 years ago now. What made you want to become a restaurant manager? When I decided I wanted to work in hospitality I knew I didn’t want to be a commis waiter forever. Whatever job you choose to do you want to be the best you can. Once you conquer the next step you want to move on to something else, you want to keep pushing yourself to see what you can achieve. Can you give us an overview of your job role. My role isn’t limited to one particular area, it’s pretty much looking after everything, from the reservation office to PR and marketing alongside our PR company to training the staff and looking after the budgets. It’s giving good service on a day-to-day basis. It’s a pretty hands on role. We read if you didn’t become a restaurant manager by the age of 30 you would have changed careers, so what would you be doing instead? I don’t know, you always set targets for yourself to achieve certain things - turning 30 for me was a bit of a turning point in terms of what I wanted to achieve. I probably would have done something in the industry, maybe something at the catering college. You have obviously worked with a lot of top chefs and at big name establishments, did those experiences help you get to where you are today and what was your time like at these places?FOH alyn williams low res They teach you discipline, focus, an eye for detail and condition. Every chef I worked with from Marcus Wareing to Gordon Ramsay, all the staff were eager to succeed in their careers. When I look back at my colleagues they have all gone on to open their own restaurant or become the general manager or restaurant manager for another restaurant. I would not be where I am now if I had not worked with these people. I had an amazing time and I would not change it for anything else. It was not the easiest time but I think what you get out of it in the long run you can’t put a price tag on. A lot of people, especially chefs, put in all the hard work when they are young because they have the energy and the stamina and reap the rewards later on down the line. So it was always an industry you knew you would go into then? It was something I always liked, originally I was planning more towards the kitchen but I don’t see myself as a chef, I’m more of a people person, I like being on the floor and speaking to people. Luckily enough the catering college in Italy gives you an overview of the different areas in the industry so you can choose what you want to do so I decided on front of house. You have been working with Alyn Williams at the The Westbury for a few years now, what is Alyn like to work with? Alyn is like family, we have been working together for about 10 years now because he was the head chef for Marcus at Petrus and I was the restaurant manager back in 2006. quote giancarloWe both left Marcus pretty much one month after each other. After leaving Marcus I was looking for a job and Alyn offered to go work with him, so it was a no brainer. It was a great opportunity to work with someone I knew, we’re like husband and wife! It’s good to be able to talk to each other because sometime chefs will have strong opinions or influence on what you are doing front of house whereas at the Westbury it’s pretty much 50/50. We all pass on our opinion from the front of house up to the back of house so it’s very much on an equal level. How do you work together on menus and wines?  It’s a team effort, when we change the menu everybody gets involved. The wines are very subjective so what will work for one person won’t necessarily work for everybody so if between the six of us four of us suggest something we will look into it. I think Alyn’s point of view and mine are quite similar.
Info bar  ‘Kitchen Nightmares’  Sometimes you have guests with allergies, we had a couple of guests come in with an allergy card and there were about 35 items on the piece of paper they couldn’t eat! If you know in advance you can deal with it but to do it on the spot sometimes it can be a bit challenging. Top service experiences The Ledbury restaurant in London is on my list, it’s all about the experience for the people that work there. I’ve just been to the pop up restaurant, Alinea Madrid which was a great experience all round. It’s very different to what we do here in terms of service and I would have to say it was probably ten times better than what I expected! El Celler de Can Roca was a great dining experience too.
We do wine pairing and half the fun of changing the menu is changing the wines to go with the food. It’s always nice to get a different opinion though because a different palate will come up with different flavour combinations and that’s because you have more people involved, not just the one person. It’s very much a team effort, you’re only as good as your team and vice versa. Do you feel that the FOH is often over shadowed by the chef? The service is as important as the food, people will want to come back to a restaurant if they had a good meal but even more so if they had a good night. So I don’t think the name of the chef will ever overshadow the front of house. It might be the reason why they would come through the door in the first place but it won’t necessarily overshadow the restaurant. People will want to go to Gordon Ramsay or Claridge’s because they follow the Michelin Guide and they will want to try his food but the next time they go back will be because they had an amazing time, not because of the name. What's been the most difficult customer you've ever dealt with?  I don’t think you can really classify that, I mean everybody is challenging in a sense. We are all different with different points of view especially when it comes down to food and wine. It’s all so personal. I don’t think it’s difficult guests I think it’s more challenging guests. I think the most challenging thing is when guests refuse to like anything you put in front of them. You can offer them whatever you like but they’re still not happy and it’s frustrating because youTreacle tart,orange,mascarpone low res have gone that extra mile to make sure they have a good night but they just don’t want to enjoy their evening. One of my friend’s managers used to say ‘kill them with kindness’. As long as you accept the criticism or complaint you can always sort things out. It’s best to take a deep breath and just face it because as long as that conversation goes both ways you can almost always sort it out. Sometimes the most difficult customers turn out to be your most loyal after you get a conversation going because they know they can trust you by how you handled the complaint or situation. How important is it to retain some of the key skills such as finishing dishes at the table rather than just having everything plated? I like table service especially when you have a fine dining restaurant with not many tables like us. It’s nice to be able to do those little extra touches on the table and I think it makes it more memorable for the guests because when you create a memory it’s more likely the guests will want to come visit you again. It doesn’t need to be something difficult or completely original it can even be just plating something in front of them. At the moment we do a few things to create a bit of conversation and use our knowledge about what to do. We even finish some of the dishes at the table. I think the UK does it a bit less compared to some places in Europe, I think a lot of places like Spain still do quite a lot of table service. So I really enjoy doing the table service and I think we should be doing it more but sometimes some situations don’t allow you to do certain things like being limited with space. When you walk into the room everybody turns round to see what you are doing and it adds to the dining experience. Orkney scallop,Mylor shrimp,cucumber,caviar Chantilly (2) low resWhat should a young person expect from a career in food/drink service? A lot of fun and a lot of hours. I enjoy every single bit of it and I think it’s something you do if you are really passionate about it. It’s like every job, the hours you put in don’t count. It’s kind of selfish because you are satisfied to see other people happy and having a good time. It comes with a lot of stress and I’ve seen people come in who are perfectionists and want everything spot on for every single service. Young people need to be passionate about what they do because it is not just your typical 9 to 5 job. They need to put in a lot of hard work at the beginning and knowledge is just as important as your technical skills. Personal skills and interacting with people is very important, you need to be able to read the guests. What advice would you give to any young person thinking of embarking on a career in food/drink service? For young people wanting to embrace this industry I would just say enjoy it and have fun because it’s a great industry but don’t take it too seriously.  What we do is not that complicated and sometimes we take things in the restaurant industry a little too seriously, sometimes we need to take things with a pinch of salt and just have more fun.    
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th March 2016

Giancarlo Princigalli, Restaurant Director, Alyn Williams at the Westbury