Thomas Bianco, manager of the Sofitel Phnom Penh’s Italian restaurant, shares what he has learned about service
FOR Thomas Bianco, manager of the Do Forni Italian Restaurant at the Sofitel Phnom Penh, the secret of good service is having the intuition to distinguish how to provide different kinds of guests with the best experience.
The skill is also one of the hardest things for the Sofitel brand ambassadors to learn.
Bianco, 22, is one of the youngest and friendliest managers in the Sofitel complex, greeting the guests at the Do Forni entrance with a complimentary glass of prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine.
“In general, Khmer people like to have a waitress near the table to take care of their group, whereas foreigners tend to like attentive, but more distant, service”, Bianco says.
“The most important is to try to guess what the guest wants to have, and exceed their expectations if possible.
“If you see they don’t like to be served a lot, you can give them a larger glass.
“With couples, you have to leave them alone a little bit because you don’t want to interfere.
“And with big groups, sometimes you have to be careful, because they might not want you to listen what they are saying.”
One of Bianco’s observat-ions is that Khmer people like to be served very quickly and to have all the plates served in the middle of the table so they can share every dish, in line with the local custom and tradition.
The trick for Bianco is not only to recognise and distinguish between different types of guests and their expectat-ions, but also to train the Khmer staff to do the same.
“It’s a big challenge to handle the team. I’m really patient, and it’s important to talk to people one on one.
“Sometimes people don’t understand or I am not explaining sufficiently well.
I don’t want to scare my ambassadors. When the restaurant is busy, it is much more difficult to be patient.”
But Bianco is not the type of guy to lose his cool.
“Hospitality is the thing I like most,” he says.
“The first thing is to see what the guest wants. The leisure people, they love to have the staff speaking with them about Cambodia, they love it. But business people just want the food to be served.”
Another trick of good service is to stay in a place where you can see everyone.
“Never turn your back on a table,” Bianco says.
Bianco grew up in Angers, about 300 kilometres from Paris, a region famous for castles. Both his parents are French teachers. He’s the eldest of three children. His brother Etienne, 18, is studying cinema school in Paris. His sister Octavie, 16, is still in high school.
“My parents pushed me to read a lot of French literature,” he says.
Bianco studied at business school in Lyons for four years, earning himself a master’s degree in marketing and communications.
Before he arrived at Sofitel, he worked in Ho Chi Minh City at Victoria Hotels and Resorts. From there, he joined the Sofitel Dalat Palace on a six-month contract, but then decided to work on a project involving an opening and moved within the Sofitel Luxury Hotels.
Dalat is a famous place for honeymooners in Vietnam and even though the hotel was small, only 40 rooms, it was charming and Bianco loved his brief time there.
Bianco arrived in Phnom Penh in mid-October last year just as the hotel was gearing up for the opening, one of the most exciting times in a hotel’s life.
“It was a tough time at the beginning, compared with Saigon. We were challenged to open as soon as we could. I remember when we opened La Coupole, we finished the room in the afternoon and opened in the evening.”
Bianco remembers working at a restaurant in France and hearing one of the managers yelling. That’s something he never does.
”This is where you are tested. If you scare someone they will try to avoid you.The hard thing here is to try to be nice, but not too much, because you lose control as well.
“I’ve had the comment already that I was too nice. Since I came here it has been friendly, having people smile. I’m pretty happy, and we have a nice time.”
At Do Forni there are six people on the restaurant staffand five people in the kitchen led by Tuscan chef ManueloPintore.
Bianco recommends the Tuna Carpaccio, and the fantastic array of Italian sourced produce from salamis to meats as well as the mushroom soup.
The Do Fornirestaurant has an interior seating capacity of 62 and can accommodate up to 80 people including seating on the terrace outside.
“For me I am very happy; this is not in France, that’s the first thing, and I love Southeast Asia very much. I love the food and I love the restaurant.”
Some day in the distant future Bianco would like to open a French restaurant, with a warm atmosphere inside and take care of regular guests that he knows and have good relationships between the waiters and the guests.
It would be not too formal and serve typical French meat, fish and fondue dishes.