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Inside Signatures: A Debut Day in the Life of a Server - Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa (3)

Last week, on Valentine’s Day, I was chosen as one of the four servers for the Valentine's Day Dinner Event at Signatures Restaurant, hosted by Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa. While I had prior customer service experience, this marked my debut in the F&B industry, especially in a high-end restaurant setting, which certainly set my nerves on edge.

Our shift as servers commenced at 11:30 in the morning. We met with Chef Vincent Koperski, who served as the server manager for the evening. He provided a comprehensive 4-hour training session for us, the student servers. Among us were four female servers and one male student responsible for facilitating communication between servers and chefs, as well as coordinating the timing of dish orders.

Chef Vincent patiently outlined the evening's proceedings, from table setup to folding heart-shaped napkins, detailing each dish to be served, the sequence for serving customers, explanations of dish compositions, and addressing any queries we had. Memorizing the specifics of each dish within a short timeframe was challenging, but we were permitted to refer to cheat sheets, which proved immensely helpful.

Although this was my first direct interaction and collaboration with Chef Vincent, I must commend him as one of the finest leaders I've encountered. His adeptness at handling stress without a hint of arrogance was remarkable. In instances of mishaps or mistakes, his focus was on immediate problem-solving, followed by insightful lessons on how to handle similar situations in the future, all without expressing any frustration towards team members. Furthermore, he displayed genuine concern for our well-being, reminding us to stay hydrated and injecting moments of levity to alleviate our nervousness.

Training concluded by 3:30, following which we were granted a "one-hour" meal break to unwind and enjoy sandwiches prepared by superior-level students. Rather than solely resting, we utilized the time to review our notes, meticulously inspect table setups, replace any utensils at risk of oxidation, ensure uniform distribution of purse stools across all dining rooms, and perfect tablecloths. Attention to detail extended to maintaining ample supplies of spare utensils, napkins, sugar varieties, lemon slices, and assorted milk types to accommodate special requests. At 4:30, we convened in the kitchen to sample demo dishes prepared by Chef Yannick Anton's team for mains and Chef Yann Le Coz's team for desserts, both comprising superior cuisine and pastry students respectively.

Menu - Valentine's Day | Signatures Restaurant

The evening featured a sumptuous four-course meal, with all three dining rooms within the Le Cordon Bleu building—Signatures, Declaration, and the Bar—fully booked for Valentine's night. My primary responsibility was serving in the Bar, where despite fewer tables, attention was heightened, particularly with a table of seven patrons and two guests with gluten allergies requiring special care. I was a bit shy at the beginning, scared of interrupting the guests' chats and didn't speak loud for the first 20 minutes. But once I saw the guests' expressions of appreciation after I introduced the dishes, I immediately put on a big smile, and switched on my confident mode for the rest of the night.

In addition to adhering to the menu, servers were tasked with ensuring water was always half full consistently in front of each customer, promptly clearing plates and utensils after each dish, and managing the timing between courses to avoid rushing or undue delays. Remembering customers' food allergies and cross-checking with the kitchen for accurate dish preparation was paramount. Furthermore, adherence to serving etiquette, such as serving on the right side of each customer, offering chair assistance to ladies, and prioritizing female guests for dish service, was diligently observed.



As our final patrons departed satisfied by 10 pm, we congregated in the kitchen to partake in leftover food and desserts, which tasted even better fueled by our post-shift hunger. This extraordinary serving experience was both humbling and enlightening, affording me the privilege of collaborating with top chefs in a high-end restaurant setting. While I remain a novice, this invaluable experience undoubtedly enriches my journey in the culinary realm, particularly as I embark on my future baking endeavors.

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