Diego Masciaga started in his career of service, waiting and hotel-keeping at the age of 14, a career that saw him looking after one of England’s finest hotels and restaurants for more than three decades. He learned a few things along the way.
Diego Masciaga, the former GM of The Waterside Inn in Bray, England, is regarded by many as the consummate hotelier.
Now retired but lending his knowledge and experience on a consultancy basis, Masciaga recently attended the Independent Hotel Show to talk about his experiences and understanding. But once a hotelier, always a hotelier, so no beans were spilled as to guests’ behavior, peccadilloes and other behind-the-doors shenanigans.
The Waterside has only 11 guestrooms, but it also has a three-star Michelin restaurant managed by one of the foremost families of cuisine, the Roux Family. Masciaga spent more than 30 years balancing and delighting thousands and thousands of discerning guests and diners.
He said he has seen the British rediscover food.
“When I started at Brae, the restaurant was only small, but what really has changed are the guests, staff and cooking, but more importantly expectations have changed, and that makes all the rest of it change,” Masciaga said. “Yes, follow trends, but always remember the classic, which is not the chandelier, not the tablecloth, but giving the guests not what they want, but what they never dreamed of.”
Consistency within change is the key, Masciaga said.
“Three Michelin stars for 33 years? To get them is hard, you have to put everything in, but to keep them is even harder,” he said. “It is about consistency every day. We have changed many chefs, waiters, doormen, but you have to be on the floor every day, and you have to keep your team happy every day. Never accept to cut a corner.”
Masciaga said tastes have changed, but so has the amount of time people spend eating out.
“There will always be special occasions, so classic restaurants will never disappear,” he said.
Masciaga is a firm supporter of the Gold Service Scholarship, which, according to its website, has been established to “inspire, educate and nurture the (United Kingdom’s) finest front-of-house talent.” But he, too, is cognizant of the antipathy many have in the U.K. to working in hospitality.
“Service is not a profession in the U.K., it is a job, but this (initiative) is British, and the scholarship winners are, too,” he said. “They are not French, they are not Italian, but they provide great service. It is a career-recognized profession, and I am very proud of that.”
Masciaga came to the world of hotels from an early age.
“When I was 14, I had little choice, either to be a farmer or work at Fiat,” he said, referring to his origins in Italy.
“Waiters are seen as servants, but this is wrong, but a waiter who is professional, I know what I can do with them,” he said.
Masciaga said he worries about where the next generation is coming from.
“Over the last 15 years, we have had a lot of young people coming from Europe, but we will soon be left with very, very little,” he said. “A restaurant can be the very best, but without staff we can do nothing.”
He said superior service is worth paying for, and that includes efforts to retain great employees.
“If a staff member asks for more (salary), yes at the moment the business will give it to them, and the only way to keep those staff is if the management is out there with them,” he said. “Attitude is where it comes from first. If a key member of staff always is on the floor with them, you can pay lower wages as the staff is motivated every day, and they know they will learn something.”
Masciaga has some tips to recruiting the best.
“I call applicants. At what time? At nine o’clock (in the morning) always,” he said.
His thinking behind this move is that the applicant at this hour will be sleepy, but if the tone of voice does not change, that is an indication to Masciaga they really do not want the job.
“I also am a great believer at looking at the eyes, at the body movement and by a firm handshake,” he added.
Guests should not be overly mollycoddled either.
“Everyone should have the same amount of carpet,” he said. “One minute per table, not five minutes, not 10, the same.”
Resolve problems with humility and common sense, Masciaga added.
“Someone shook the champagne before they gave it to me to open,” he said. “I had nowhere else to put them, and the champagne dripping off the ceiling and the ladies beautifully dressed. In this situation, be honest and humble. A smile is 50% of the service. And they become your best guests, as ultimately it comes down to trust. And never show off in front of your guests. No to the Armani suits, the Rolex watches. My suit comes from Marks & Spencer, and it is a perfectly nice suit.”
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