When we think about the English capital, lots of things come to mind immediately: Big Ben, the City, Tower Bridge, the double-decker buses and red phone booths.
And we’re going to London now with Virginie Vaillant’s Success Story to visit one of the most iconic hotels, the five-star Dorchester Hotel. Virginie attended Vatel in Lyon and did her Master’s at Vatel Los Angeles in 2011.
For the past two years she has been the Events and Reservations Manager at the famous Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester Restaurant.
Virginie, you really liked the balance between theoretical aspects and practical work at Vatel. Could you explain why? How did this help you?
After I graduated from high school I didn’t even want to continue my studies with a purely academic program. I needed a more “hands-on” education. And Vatel’s mixture of theoretical and practical courses was just what I was looking for. I came to an Open House Day, and really felt right at home. I had already worked a bit in banquet service with a caterer near my home town and I really loved the fact that I was a part of the organization making sure that different events, like weddings, anniversaries or other special events went smoothly.
The three years I spent at Vatel Lyon taught me a lot, especially in personal relationships. I met extraordinary people, both at school and during my internships, and I’m still in contact with most of them. I really remember the practical application weeks where the days were long, but so much fun! The school’s philosophy fit me love a glove and I’m still persuaded today that to be able to manage people, you have to have done their jobs on a daily basis.
First year Vatel students have an internship in France and their second year internship is abroad. Where did you go and what did you do?
From internship to internship, I “earned” stars.
For my first year I went to the French Var department, to the Hotel Les Moulins de Paillas three-star hotel in Croix-Valmar, in the Front Desk & Services department. In my second year I was in the F&B department in the Lindos Mare four-star hotel in Rhodes, Greece and in my third year I was the Assistant to two Groups and Special Events Operational Managers at the five-star Majestic Hotel in Cannes.
Then I decided to complete my education with an MBA in Vatel Los Angeles where, for a year, I mixed theoretical courses at school while working in the management team for the catering services at the Sofitel Los Angeles. This extra year abroad for me was a very important choice, as I wanted to improve my English while giving my resume a more international outreach.
And then what happened?
When I came back from LA, I had very firm ideas about what kind of job I was looking for. This allowed me to be hired in Paris as the Assistant Banquet Manager at the Hilton Courcelles four-star Hotel. But I still wasn’t completely satisfied.
And that’s where the Vatelien network stepped in. I met one of the contacts of a friend who also graduated from Vatel and who was working for Alain Ducasse Enterprise. This person then sent my resume to the head office, and I was invited for a job interview.
So I got my ticket for London where I had several interviews before learning, a few days later, that I had been hired for the job I wanted. I think that the fact that I had worked both in operations and in offices really made the difference. When I finished my studies at Vatel, I already had quite a bit of professional experience thanks to my internships and practical application courses at school, but I was the only one! Lots of others had a Bachelor’s Degree but with no professional experience at all, something that employers don’t like.
The average age of the managerial teams in the Alain Ducasse Restaurant is only 30. That is because Alain Ducasse Enterprise understands that it is to their advantage to hire young employees and train them in use their methods as soon as possible. This is the same frame of mind as at Vatel, where, in the very first month, we begin our professional application work in our School’s application structures.
This was really hard when I started out, but right away I was seduced by this venue and I was quickly accepted by the other team members.
Could you tell us more about this venue and your fellow team members?
“Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester” has three Michelin stars in the legendary Dorchester Hotel. Alain Ducasse is one of the best known chefs in the world, with his three 3-star restaurants in Monaco, Paris and London. He is not only recognized for his unparalleled French cooking, but has also developed innovative restaurant concepts, reflecting international influences. A chef and a designer, he manages his teams and is the source of most of his recipes, the restaurant’s atmosphere and design, the way the kitchen is organized and all the table arts.
We have a team of 45 to 50 employees for the restaurant itself. I have the opportunity of managing a small team of five: three people who work in Reservations and two full-time Hostesses. Each day we respond to all guest requests, whether they are individual ones or for groups. We have three private areas in the restaurant where we can seat up to 30.
The “restaurant experience” starts off by the reservation, and because of this, we try to highlight each and every detail. We are here to take care of our clients, and we try to customize their service as much as possible. It’s our job to make sure that when they arrive at the restaurant, they’ve already got an excellent image of the service they will be receiving.
I’m also in charge of relationships with some of our partners, including private concierges, hotel concierges, sales representatives, etc. It’s my job to ensure the future of these partnerships and make them as interesting as possible for both parties to meet the restaurant’s objectives.
And last but not least, with my team members, I participate in drawing up our restaurant strategy. We all work together to take advantage of everyone’s different skills. Team dynamics are extraordinary and I sincerely believe that this is because we all share the same passion for our jobs.
What advice could you give to Vatel students who would also like to work in London?
London is a very competitive city and your professional network will make a big difference here. You have to be curious, willing to discover the many hotels and restaurants that open every month. It’s a very dynamic market and you have to be interested in current and fashionable trends. In the restaurant, we always strive to question ourselves and improve the customer experience.
Thank you very much Virginie for this great advice. And to conclude your testimonial, could you give us a glimpse of what the future holds for you?
I’d like to keep working in this company: my job has already changed quite a bit since I started, and I know that I have lots of possibilities of climbing the corporate ladder. I work more and more with the Communication and Marketing Managers, and together, we try to expand the commercial activities of the restaurant. I hope to soon participate in new group projects. I’ve never participated in opening a restaurant before, and this would be a very interesting challenge.