Mourad Ben Tekfa, restaurant manager, Le Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

The Staff Canteen

Mourad Ben Tekfa is restaurant manager at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons which holds two stars in the Michelin Guide UK.

Mourad Ben Tekfa, Master of Culinary Arts, first began his career at Le Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in 1994, since then he has left to hone his skills but he’s always returned to the five star hotel. He is now restaurant manager after succeeding Alain Desenclos in 2010.

Mourad first started in the industry working as a part-time chef in a small family-owned Spanish restaurant during weekends and school holidays. He then offered to step into the front of house as a commis waiter in a luxury hotel in Monaco. Since moving to the UK he has worked at L’Ortolan with chef John Burton Race and Hambleton Hall with chef Aaron Patterson.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Mourad about his role, keeping traditional table service alive and working with Raymond Blanc.

Paul Wilkinson Photography Ltd.
Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons

Give us an overview of your role at Le Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons?

Ultimately I’m responsible for all food and beverages service in the premises. I am also in charge of recruiting and training strategies for the restaurant as well as all the procurement of food and supplies. Translating Raymond Blanc’s vision into something tangible and maintaining the world class reputation for food and service that he and my predecessor, Alain Desenclos, have created back in 1984.

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

They have changed for the better. There is a deep understanding that we all work for the same people: our guests. With this in mind and shared among all the team members, the management of natural contradictions and conflicts is made much easier. Raymond Blanc has had the knack in gathering talents that have been working together for a long time now and this is definitely a plus when it comes to understanding one another.

Is it fair to say that the kitchen and restaurant teams are now simply one food service team?

Paul Wilkinson Photography Ltd.
Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons

Yes, in the sense that we all have the same objective in mind; that is to make our guests happy by delivering day in day out what they are expecting from an experience at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and by always trying to push the boundaries of excellence. We are just different facets of the same unit.

What made you choose to become a restaurant manager?

I have always worked in the catering industry and the world of restaurants and hotels has always attracted me. I grew into it and took all the opportunities that were given to me. I never wished to do something else. Hard work, dedication to your craft and a deep sense of what I was doing was right led me to what I am now. I can’t say it was planned though! It’s down to sheer perseverance.

Do you feel that the restaurant manager is often overshadowed by the chef? In owner-operator restaurants most people know the chefs name but not the restaurant manager.

When you come to work at Le Manoir, you know from the start, who you are going to work for. Raymond Blanc is the boss and made Le Manoir what it is. Having said that, I believe that there is always space for anyone to shine. There is no reason why at the same time you are enjoying the culinary delights from the chef or pastry chef in a set menu, you are not able to enjoy the art of service given by a professional team. I think it does go hand in hand and there is nothing stopping you making a name for yourself. In fact we encourage this at Le Manoir.

Raymond Blanc

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of embarking on a career in food service?

Aim for the stars (challenge yourself). Learn and persevere and also be consistent.

Who inspires you?

I get inspired by all sorts of things. The people who are working around me, often my peers in the industry but also through reading or situations that make me think and review my positions. Films or characters also contribute in keeping me driven.

Is the customer always right?

The customer is not always right and we all know this, but the art of the front of house team and manager is to treat them as if they are, and to assess the situation as we go along. We also have to always keep in mind that the customer is paying our salary so our endeavour as a front of house team is to find a common ground where guest’s expectations are met and you have the feeling of having contributed to the guest’s happiness.

Worst behaved customer:

Someone made sexually charged comments to one of my head waitresses, that really upset her. He got banned from the premises and was asked to write a personal letter of apology to the individual involved.

Top 5 service experiences:

  • Le V in Paris
  • The Ritz London for LES ARTS DE LA TABLE MENU
  • Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
  • Waterside Inn
  • La Salle des Etoiles in Monaco

What do you think of online review sites such as Tripadvisor?

Like them or hate them they are here to stay. In this global era in which we live, there is no escaping the judgement of your customer or guests. Comments are immediate and public. As a business we have a duty to take them seriously and to respond accordingly when needed.  Reviews can at times, make very difficult and frustrating reading either because of the tone or the exaggerated way that the experience is portrayed but also because they are often made posteriorly to the experience. This therefore adds to the frustration from an operator’s point of view; it denies you as a professional the very reason why you have decided to embrace this career: the ability to turn a purely physiological need into a memorable experience. When something goes wrong, if you are good you want to be given the opportunity to really show what you are made of.

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

At Le Manoir, we have cemented our reputation as a place of celebration, any kind of celebration (birthdays, anniversaries, business deals, diplomas and so on). People who lead a busy life and who only get a chance to meet over a lunch and a dinner take this opportunity to take pictures of the place and the company they are with. So taking photos is normal and natural. The way we see the table has evolved with the years and we even take the pictures for our guests.

How important is it to retain some of the skills such as table service in the restaurant rather

Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons
Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

than just having everything plated?

We are all the same and we all like to see a true professional going about what he does best. Skills at the table contribute greatly to the WOW factor and as leaders we should train and keep these traditions alive. Sometimes it is not always possible but at Le Manoir with each season we have at least one dish prepared in front of the customer: pigeon en croute, chicken en vessie, turbot or rib of beef for two, without forgetting the cheese trolley or the decanting of wines. There is plenty of activity in the dining room to satisfy any guest. Let’s not forget that the ‘theatre’ of the dining room is a place to see and to be seen.

How do you and the chef work together on menus and wine pairing?

The choice of dishes and wines on the menu is decided by RB, Gary and Benoit and Arnaud (Director of Wine).  However, myself and members of the restaurant management team get the chance to taste the new dishes before they are put on the menus and we comment, we ask questions, look at the appropriate crockery and cutlery. Arnaud will work with his team to find the right wines to match the dishes on our set menus and will often share with the chefs afterwards. We often do this during our fortnightly meeting where we sit for an hour to discuss all things related to the kitchen and the restaurant.

Benois at Le Manoir
Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

Besides this, I am sending two different members of my team every day before service at lunch and dinner to stay on the pass while the chefs are doing their testers. It gives them the opportunity to taste and learn about the dishes and give them the confidence to talk about the dishes to their colleagues and guests alike.

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

It is true that you may come across some very demanding guests but if they choose you it is because they think that you can deliver. Very often the difficulty comes more from the fact that as a team, we have not read the situation carefully. So in a way we only have ourselves to blame for the difficulty. However, rather than the guest, it is more the situation you are in that may be very difficult to deal with. The first thing that springs to my mind is a phone call I had to make on my return from my break to a family who had just left the restaurant and to whom the wrong cake had been given. To add insult to injury, one member of that party was extremely allergic to nuts and was carrying her epi pen with her all the time and they had been given a cake containing nuts from another table.

Le Manoir exterior
Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

Fortunately, when I called them they had decided to stop at a friend’s house before heading home, which meant that they had not had the chance to share the cake yet. Of course, I had to apologise profusely for the mistake. Hopefully they were very thankful for the concern taken and the daughter enjoyed a cake made especially for her at a slightly later date.

>>> Read more from Are You Being Served here

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th May 2015

Mourad Ben Tekfa, restaurant manager, Le Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons