Perched on a ridge overlooking Taal Lake is Gorio’s Roadside Restaurant. Only a month into its operations, it’s clear that the husband-and-wife tandem behind Gorio’s values good service. And rightly so.
Sanj Licaros, who also owns The Daily Butlery, completed a 10-week intensive course at The International Butler Academy (TIBA) in a small town called Simpelveld in the south of Netherlands. “The school is in an old monastery so it was a really beautiful setting. You have your own rooms and it has a Downton Abbey feel,” says Sanj.
The school trains students the intricacies of buttling—from house management and table setting to choosing the right wine. They also teach etiquette and protocol and how these can make or break deals or careers. “Studies have shown that more than 60 percent of what is believed about us is based upon visual messages. The gift of good manners is a life-long head start,” its website states.
A well-trained staff can sustain a restaurant’s reputation
Gorio’s isn’t a fine dining restaurant by any stretch of the imagination (they call the cuisine “gourmet comfort food”) but Sanj finds practical ways to include what she’s learned at TIBA to her staff. “For me there’s always the fundamentals, the basics. For instance, you serve food to the left and clear on the right. This allows you to be more open to the guest like you’re hugging them and prevents you from accidentally hitting them.”
This rule also makes hygienic sense in that the server’s hands can be reserved for clean dishes of food and one hand for clearing the table.
Sanj also believes that servers are intrinsic to marketing given that they are the best advertisements in uplifting a restaurant’s food reputation. Hence, the need for the staff to taste and appreciate the food themselves.
“That was very important for us because that was the only way for the staff to get to know our food. They would be able to relate to and talk about it with our guests. They’re not only servers but they’re also in some ways salespeople,” explains Sanj.
When developing the menu, chief operating officer Marc Licaros recalls, “I remember us thinking, ‘Why don’t we just serve food that we like to eat?’ This way we don’t have to imagine what people would want.”
The realities of butler education
Despite the captivating promise surrounding butler school, Sanj was also taught the delicate art of hiring and firing staff. And sure enough, she was able to apply both at Gorio’s.
“At TIBA, our focus is on private homes so more on familiarizing positions for hire, creating a daily and monthly schedule to know the number of staff needed and positions that need to be filled,” says Sanj. “Then creating an ad for hiring a certain position. We used a similar process for Gorio’s.”
“Firing staff is hard but necessary. We talk to the person on the expectations of the position that have not been met and give them a chance to correct their performance. They are also asked if they wish to stay. More often than not, they tender their resignation. That is why it is very important in the beginning that the team knows our core values and what our brand stands for,” explains Sanj.
The level of detail to their service means paying careful attention even to their toilets. “Toilets are the most unsanitary area of a home or establishment. We try as much as possible to keep it clean and sanitized since most of our guests are coming from a road trip. They will appreciate a clean toilet when they arrive at their pit stop or destination. I learned to make sure that the powder room or toilet should always be guest ready.”
Serve as you’d like to be served
For the staff to better understand and empathize with guests (and for management to learn where to improve on), Sanj conducts role-playing scenarios to further train them.
“First we establish a service we need to work on, for example taking orders. So we do role playing and take turns playing both customer and staff,” says Sanj.
“It is helpful because I see what needs to be worked on. When the staff play the role of the customer, they see how it is to be a guest and how they should be properly served. Then we find ways on how to execute it properly and smoothly. It is important to equip staff with fundamentals in dining service so they can be flexible in serving guests.”
Being a butler may sound fancy to some (and true enough they are expensive to hire), but if you were to reduce it down to its core, it’s all about showing respect to another person as much as it is respecting yourself.
Quoting Ritz-Carlton co-founder Horst Schulze, Sanj says, “‘We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.’ How you see yourself is a reflection of how you treat others.”