The sparkly-eyed maître d’ in the First Dates restaurant has captured the nation’s heart with his famous blue suit and French drawl. We met him for a quick catch up ahead of the publication of his new book, Secret Service: Lifting the Lid on Front of House (published 19 October). Read on to find out about Fred’s favourite London restaurants, his thoughts on Brexit and the time he met the Dalai Lama.
Words: Eamonn Crowe
Apart from Paternoster Chop House (where First Dates is filmed) and Galvin at Windows (where Sirieix is maître d' in real life) what’s your favourite restaurant in London?
There are two London restaurants that I really like. The first is El Pirata in Mayfair, which is a very traditional Spanish tapas place, and the other is Le Gavroche; I’ve worked there and whenever I go, I just love it.
What would be your death-row meal?
I think I’d have some grilled prawns with lots of rock salt and olive oil on top to start, then I would have a big steak with some French fries and a green salad, and I would finish with some vanilla ice cream…then you could kill me.
Why do you think First Dates has been such a hit?
I think the show is so popular because it’s about all of us. It’s a very genuine, very kind programme that we can all relate to. We’re here to put people together and I’m really privileged to be there and see all of that happen.
What is your book, Secret Service: Lifting the Lid on Front of House, about?
It’s basically a memoir of my career and looks at what I think is important in restaurants and by extension, what I think is important in business. The book explores how people can use service like a religion in order to better serve people for the good of yourself, your customers and your staff. Since my arrival in London, the industry has evolved so immensely and it’s sad that we’ve come to this point where Brexit will potentially undo all the good work that we’ve done.
How important is good service when dining out?
Good service is very simple: it’s about how you make people feel and creating bonds with them. Service can make or break a meal because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good the food is, if you make people feel bad that is what they will remember. My top tip is never to leave a customer alone with their thoughts, as you’ve got to be there every step of the way, but without being too intrusive or disturbing them – in and out like a ghost, not seen, not heard, that’s what people want.
Who is the most famous person you’ve served at Galvin at Windows (pictured)?
So many people! I guess Daniel Craig was a big one, he was a really lovely guy. I also met the Dalai Lama once – what a man, he had this aura behind him that was just amazing.
What advice would you give to singletons looking to find love?
I think the most important thing is that you’ve got to be open. If you’re not open to love or its possibilities, then it’s not going to happen. You’ve got to believe in it and you’ve got to try. Socrates said that the pursuit of virtue is the meaning of life, and I think we have to pursue goodness in life. Love is a religion in itself.
You set up National Waiters Day in 2012, why?
I started it because the industry needs to be celebrated. Being a waiter can be a fantastic career and give you the opportunity to travel all over the world, but people don’t know that. My idea was to create a movement which would help us spread the word and make people understand the opportunities available in this industry. It’s about saying ‘yes I’m a waiter, but I’m proud and I am finally being recognised’ – this is what is important for people.
How do you feel about diners taking pictures of their food for Instagram?
I think it’s fine. I have no worries about what I do, and I want people to come and enjoy it, so if they want to take pictures of it, that’s great. I do worry about people taking too many photos though and that detracting from their experience. I see some people who come in and take so many pictures that they don’t even talk to the people that they are with!
What are the dos and don’ts of restaurant dates?
I wouldn’t order something that’s too difficult to eat, like spaghetti or crab that you have to share, things like that. I also wouldn’t get too drunk, as going home in an ambulance is never a good look. The most important thing is making sure that you pay attention to your date as opposed to everything else that’s going on around you.
Find out more about Paternoster Chop House here or Galvin at Windows here.
And if Fred has got you in the mood for love, click here to see our list of London’s most romantic restaurants.
This article was published 13 October 2017