What the Butler said | Sodexo prestige
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What the Butler said


After studying hospitality at university in Cairo, Osman El-Tahlawi began as an apprentice at the Nile’s Shepheard Hotel where he started on a career to become one of the UK’s finest and most respected maître d’s.

OsmanOsman has devoted his entire working life to people, ensuring that their every need, under his watch, is catered for. The pleasure he derives from guests enjoying themselves is palpable.

“I really enjoy the people interaction, I think you have to in any customer facing role. I feel so lucky to have met so many wonderful people and to have been part of their experiences, whether that has been guests at the Waldorf or patrons at Royal Ascot,” said Osman. Osman’s passion for people means he will never settle for anything other than complete customer satisfaction, down to the finest detail, and from that goal he effectively works backwards to ensure that will be the case.

Since arriving in the UK in 1972, Osman has worked at The Savoy, Waldorf and Grosvenor House Hotel before joining Sodexo Prestige in 2000, where he has overseen distinguished guests at Ascot Racecourse and the Chelsea Flower Show, amongst others. Osman now spends his time between being the maître d’ at The Grillat the Montcalm Hotel, run by Sodexo Prestige, and being the company’s private dining manager at events such as the London 2012 Olympics and Royal Ascot. He has served everybody from the Queen to Muhammad Ali, from Russell Crowe to Princess Diana, although Osman insists that regardless of the guest, the approach always remains the same.

High Standards“I will not accept anything less than the highest standards in our rooms. If we are working at an event like Royal Ascot I will visit the boxes the day before the event begins to examine the layout of the room and ensure any major issues are addressed. I’ll then iron all the tablecloths, as I like them done in a certain way. On the day I will be there several hours before the guests to make sure that the equipment, staff and uniforms are right, and that the temperature, seats, tables, carpet, cutlery, walls and presentation are exactly in keeping with the event and my vision for the room. A briefing with the waiting and kitchen staff ensures that we anticipate any special requests or scenarios, as it is inevitable that we will get some off-script enquiries,” he said.

With more than 40 years of experience serving the world’s rich and famous it is little wonder that Osman has had some demanding clients, but he is quick to point out that the more difficult the client, the greater the opportunity for job satisfaction.

“I do not mean to sound arrogant or complacent, but I know that my team and I, from the chefs to the waiters, do a great job. Our rooms will be immaculate, the food delicious and the service exemplary and I always enjoy a challenge. I recall a time at the Waldorf in the 1980s when Robert Maxwell required two bottles of vintage 1962 Dom Perignon champagne otherwise he would leave the hotel. In the 1980s, London wasn’t quite the culinary and gastronomic centre that it is now and this champagne was incredibly rare. We searched across the UK and although it took two days we eventually found it at another London hotel. He was delighted and it was hugely satisfying for me and the team to be able to fulfil his unusual request.

“The client’s happiness is always my number one priority. I cannot let them leave the restaurant or the event unless they are happy. A lot of the time they can be wrong on issues but you have to make them feel like they’re right. I remember another occasion at the Waldorf when a guest wanted a double Louis Tres Cognac with ice and coke. The wine waiter refused to serve it because it was almost criminal to ruin such fine Cognac with ice and coke but I had to overrule him because the customer’s experience was paramount.”

It has been a particularly busy year for Osman. As well as looking after the Queen at Royal Ascot and a dinner for her at Windsor Castle to celebrate 300 years of Royal Ascot, there has been the little matter of the Olympics, where Osman was also looking after the Royal family as well as international heads of state and other dignitaries. “The Olympics was spectacular with an incredible atmosphere and so many important guests, but my favourite event of the year and possibly ever was the Royal Ascot 300 year anniversary dinner at Windsor Castle. There are occasions when everything harmonises for a perfect event and this was one of those times; the room was spectacular, the food was incredible and our staff were impeccable. “Serving the Queen is always the highest honour. She is so polite, warm and easy going and always grateful even though she requires the minimum of fuss – just a nice slice of tongue and a few potatoes.”

Ascot Authority BoxSince 1972, Osman has seen many trends and innovations in food and drink but thinks some things will never change. “The need for high quality service and staff remain the same now as it was in 1972 when I started. All careers are tough at the beginning as you find your way, but if you put the effort in I guarantee that working front of house in a restaurant or in a hospitality environment is fantastic. You meet all sorts of people and it’s a job of continual rewards and satisfaction. Every minute of the day there are different people; different requests and you never know what is coming from one moment to the next. It’s so exciting!”

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