Where It All Begins

Bussers run the show at Brasserie L’Oustau. This entry-level position is one of the most important jobs in the entire operation and critical to providing constantly smooth and professional service overall. They must understand the importance of their responsibilities, be hyper-aware of what the most important thing is that needs to be done at every moment and then do it. Constantly moving, they are relied upon to be where they should be at all times.

You may never even notice the bussers at Brasserie L’Oustau because they’re constantly on the move.

Running a brasserie isn’t just about making food. Diners have an entire army of people working for them who have nothing to do with food preparation, but they’re the ones the customer is most likely to meet. These are the workers who at the end of the day are going to make the place sing or make it crash no matter how good the food is coming out of the kitchen.

When you dine with us shortly after you’re seated your water glass will be filled by a busser. Your busser may then bring your bread and butter, present your amuse bouche, supply appropriate tableware, bring your order from the kitchen, clear the dishes away and keep your water glass filled. Their responsibilities extend beyond your visit to include resetting the table with new linen and tableware, refilling sugar containers and salt shakers and pepper mills, polishing silver, wiping glassware and folding napkins, keeping the water pitcher filled… and that’s just the start of the list of what they are expected to do.

We interviewed two people recently, one a young man looking for a steady evening job while attending college and the other a recent high-school graduate. Neither candidate ever worked in a restaurant before. Both are bright, pleasant and very enthusiastic. Both have been hired.

Good bussers don’t stay bussers for long if they want to move up; it’s a quick promotion to server, hostess or sometimes even prep cook. With the promotion would come a higher salary and the possibility to benefit from the support of a busser.

Please know that your quiet busser will be given a percentage of the tip you leave; the server could not possibly be as good as they are without their help.

The Art of Being Seated

Let’s imagine that you’ve entered Brasserie L’Oustau for an early dinner and see there are many tables still unoccupied. You walk to the podium, tell the hostess the number in your party and that you have no reservation (it’s an early dinner, after all). The owner Michel Boyer and hostess take a quick look at a computer screen, murmur a few things to each other, confirm, ask you to follow one of them and you begin your journey into the maze of tables. What just happened? Why are you being led to THAT table?

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Welcome to Brasserie L’Oustau!

The computer display at the podium has a simple layout of all the tables and indicates which are currently occupied. Upcoming reservations are listed and tables for larger parties have been grouped. The servers have been assigned specific areas of the restaurant where they will be responsible for all those tables for the evening.

With that internal information, certain things are evaluated at the time you arrive such as which sections aren’t busy at the moment, which sections aren’t expecting reservations soon, which sections need your table to distribute the customers evenly, and which table is the “best” in the section that rises to the top. If you have a preference for a location (as in the front room, rear or upper dining area) you should feel comfortable to mention it as soon as possible.

The best table in each section constantly changes based on real factors: there are children (in your group or next to a table), the number in your party, the mood of your group (soft conversation or more jovial) and so on. Each of the criteria is assessed in the few moments Michel and the hostess consult the seating chart. Ultimately a table is chosen where they think you’ll be most comfortable based on your request, what they know about the available tables and what they perceive about your party.

There are other and more specific facts that could also determine which should be your table. If you’ve dined with us before and ask for a favorite server, he or she will be assigned a specific section where you will be seated. Also, in order to be able to seat walk-in parties of four or more, two tables for two will be left open next to each other as long as possible.

But even if there are many open tables it’s possible the restaurant will delay seating anyone without a reservation to accommodate meal prep timing in the kitchen. This is when you might be asked to wait in the bar for a few moments until your table is available. It is in no one’s interest to have too many customers ordering at the same time.

By now you understand that your table selection is a somewhat complicated process.

All that said, on the way to your table you might see a different one that you would prefer. Unless it is being held for a reservation arriving soon, that table will be yours. The ebb and flow of seating assignments will adjust to your request, and we wish you “bon appétit!”

OpenTable Reservations

A Napkin is Very Intimate

It sits on your lap, touches your mouth and greets your greasy fingers with abundant appetite. A linen napkin is soft and pure and willing to embrace and forgive; its whole purpose is to absorb your every gastronomic misdirection, absolve you and hold all evidence on a folded square of fabric then removed.

If you’ve never considered cloth napkins before perhaps now you can; the quality of your dining experience really does depend on them.

Even before you sit at a restaurant table the napkin influences the impression you have of what is to come. The napkin may be folded like a swan gliding on a plate-lake in one restaurant, a tulip bursting from a water glass vase in the next, or lightly nesting the flatware in a simple fold in yet another.

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Glassware, linen and tableware – silverware, candle, salt and pepper, etcetera – are all an indication of the type of meal to come. Casual dining might have paper napkins around a simple fork and knife on a bare table; fine dining could poise soft linen in tall stemware at place settings of 6 or more pieces. In all cases your expectations of the meal begin with the napkin.

Brasserie L’Oustau folds its linen napkins simply to reflect the casual and respectful spirit of the brasserie. We take you to the table where you will settle and easily enjoy your dinner and our hospitality. There is no pretense or posturing about our brasserie experience and the simple napkin fold indicates you are at a comfortable restaurant with good food, service and community.

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The simple fold of the linen napkins at Brasserie L’Oustau make it easy for diners to settle themselves and continue on to their biggest challenge: deciding what to order from our extensive menu.

There is one exception to our “keep it simple” paradigm; the bread basket nestles sliced baguettes on linen with an “artichoke” fold. Sometimes we like to shake things up a bit.

http://www.napkinfoldingguide.com

Waiter! There’s a Dog In My Soup!

Many travelers to France would confirm they’ve seen dogs practically eat off the plates in restaurants throughout the country, but dogs in the US are almost never found inside restaurants. Surely Americans care about their dogs as much as the French, but is our anxiety about germs the cause or is there something else that keeps our pooches locked in the car or at home while we are dining out?

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Ella was allowed in the restaurant for this photo shoot on a day we were closed. A woman, thinking we were open, entered to have lunch and under her arm was a beautiful long-haired dachshund! It happened that she was visiting from France.

Both countries prohibit animals inside restaurants by law; only service animals can legally enter any restaurant. You might find a hand-bag-sized pooch on a diner’s lap discretely taking bits of food by hand, sometimes large dogs snooze below a table or keep watch at the door, but it is always at the discretion of the restaurant owner who would face fines if discovered by law enforcement. Restaurant owners in France are more lenient to allow dogs at the inside tables, but it is as illegal there as it is in the US.

Blame it on the local health ordinances. Or if you prefer, give credit to the local health ordinances. Although a clean and well-trained dog might be welcome in most places, an untrained dog can cause too many safety and hygiene problems in areas that are crowded with customers and their food, and at times even a well-trained dog can become unruly in a busy and noisy place. More restaurants in France are starting to prohibit dogs inside perhaps for the same reasons as in the States; a serious problem is more likely to occur or a customer to complain when a dog is involved.

In France and many areas of the US dogs are legally allowed at outdoor dining tables if the restaurant owner agrees to it and only if the tables are accessible without passing inside. Brasserie L’Oustau is fortunate to be in an area of Vermont where we can welcome dogs to all our outdoor tables, provide them with a bit of shade and a dish of water, and send them on their way with a home-made organic Bon-Bones™ treat! So be sure to bring your “Fifi” or “Olivier” when you come to enjoy a thoroughly French meal on the terrace at Brasserie L’Oustau.

http://www.bringfido.com/restaurant/state/vermont/
http://animals.howstuffworks.com/pets/pet-travel/pet-friendly-restaurants.htm
http://suite101.com/article/with-a-dog-in-france–travel-hotels-restaurants–sightseeing-a263216

Hospitality Isn’t A Simple Act

Trying to explain hospitality isn’t easy and I’ve been stubbornly working for many days to discover this. I could look up “hospitality” in the dictionary or talk to a professor in the Cornell University hospitality program, but one answer wouldn’t be enough and the other would be too much for this arena. But hospitality is one of the most important considerations to Brasserie L’Oustau’s operations; providing a high level of hospitality is what makes the difference between acceptable and exceptional service, between a satisfied customer and one who will return again and again.

The goal of hospitality at Brasserie L’Oustau is to make you feel as though you’re a member of a special club, respected as soon as you walk in, and by the time you leave we want you to feel thoroughly cared for and satisfied with everything about your meal. We want you to return so we will know more about you to provide better service, such as who is your preferred server, if you have menu favorites or allergies and what table you would enjoy most.

When Michel Boyer opened Brasserie L’Oustau de Provence in early 2012 he brought more than a new restaurant to Southern Vermont; he introduced diners to a level of hospitality developed during decades of hotel and restaurant management around the world, most recently at Brasserie 8 ½ in New York. For nine years previous he was General Manager for food services at the New York headquarters for the United Nations. He proved his ability to understand and respect many different cultural hospitality paradigms and how to provide them through rigorous employee training and supervision.

Michel is keenly aware that the essence of hospitality is respect, both internally and outwardly to all customers. Our core staff members bring talent, enthusiasm and commitment to their positions and treat one another and their jobs with respect. These things bolster the positive attitude of all employees and set the foundation for any personal and professional interaction throughout the day. The culmination of this attitude occurs when we serve our customers with care and attentive respect.

A top hospitality employee has many characteristics which cannot be taught: warmth, optimism, curiosity, honesty, empathy, respect, diplomacy, sincerity, ambition, responsibility and accountability. We are able to hire talented and committed staff following rigorous interviews, screening and intuition. Michel’s intuitive abilities have been developed after years of extensive observing and evaluating the potential in many candidates. Being very selective assures that our customers have a consistent fine dining experience, and only people who complement the team and our service paradigm can do that.

Hospitality is the ancient practice of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm,  friendly and generous way. Brasserie L’Oustau hospitality makes those ancient practices real for today’s guests.

http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/RL/00437

“Oo la la L’Oustau!”

We were blessed with this title on a web review from a very happy customer, and we love it. It has the twinkle that gives many things French a flirtatious character, a “joie de vivre” that contributes to a love of good food and wine… But I am getting distracted from the subject of this article.

What is an oustau (pronounced “oo-stow”)? Simply, an oustau is a Roman-era style French house found primarily in the southern region of Provence. What makes it unique from other building styles is that it is a large and rambling structure that grew to house the landowner, the laborers and their extended families. The eventual shifts of population, urbanization, politics and agrarian methods would make this style of living obsolete, but many of the stone structures themselves have remained intact. Perhaps the best publicly-accessible example is the Relais & Chateaux hotel Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux de Provence. The remaining oustaus have been purchased over the years by wealthy individuals or corporations.

Oustau de Baumaniere, a Relais & Chateaux 5 star Hotel in Provence, France.

The kitchen and dining rooms in an oustau would have been used as the central meeting areas where inhabitants would prepare and share food and conversation. Diverse families would become one community around the table. For our restaurant we wanted to combine the good-natured casual quality of a brasserie with the communal spirit of the oustau.

The name Brasserie L’Oustau captures the essence of what we wish to provide our customers — a place where everyone can gather around a table to enjoy life and the community a good meal encourages.

http://www.oustaudebaumaniere.com/index_uk.html

Staying On Course with Comment Cards

Blogs and review sites are a wonderful way to find restaurants by reading notes from people who have actually eaten at them. However, they’re the worst ways for a restaurateur to discover that a customer has been unhappy with their experience. It’s too late for the restaurant to correct a problem immediately and directly with the customer, and the review might make potential customers less inclined to go to the restaurant at all.

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Michel personally reads all comment cards at Brasserie L’Oustau.

Like many fine restaurants, Brasserie L’Oustau offers all customers an opportunity to leave ratings and comments about their experience with us, either by name and information or anonymously. Our comment card is included in the bill folder at the end of the meal where there will be a pen as well. There are 9 rating scores, a few specific questions and an opportunity for personal comments which might take no more than a few minutes to complete.

All comment cards are important and taken very seriously; the praises help us know what we’re doing right, and the suggestions can lead us to make further improvements. It isn’t important for us to know who left the comment (although we appreciate that information) but it is important that we continuously get direct customer feedback; customer expectations are constantly evolving and we will stay ahead of the curve only as long as our customers keep us informed. Thankfully, well over half of our comment cards are returned with notes for all variety of reasons, and each is helping us make Brasserie L’Oustau a better restaurant for everyone.

With decades of experience in the hospitality industry, Michel Boyer opened the doors to Brasserie L’Oustau with the power of knowledge and self-confidence. The comment cards help keep our doors open to everyone expecting the finest dining experience. We thank all our customers who have or will complete a comment card at Brasserie L’Oustau, and we look forward to your return.

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