CUSTOMER SERVICE: Why I Hope Gordon Ramsay Never Opens a Restaurant in Paris


This is a post from my personal blog, Leslie, Life and Paris - but because the topic is customer service, I thought I'd share on this site as well. Enjoy!

I don't like Gordon Ramsay.

No, it's not because of his over the top, oh-so-offensive persona on his television shows.  Nor is it because he swears so much and is so willing to be abusive to those around him.

Or not quite.  Because it was a form of that abuse - in a policy sort of way - that led me to my conclusion and the fact that, for years, I've boycotted his restaurants.

And have told everyone I could that they should, too.

Here's why.

A few years ago I was in London on vacation, staying at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair and, basically, doing myself proud.  This was the longest, most luxurious vacation I'd ever given myself and I was pulling out all the stops.

Place Vendôme, Paris
As part of that adventure in the luxe life, I had contacted the concierge at the Connaught prior to my arrival to make arrangements for theatres, dinners, a tour of the Houses of Parliament (little did I know that a few years later I'd be asked to give testimony on small business development there!) - and even a personal automobile tour of the central boroughs of London with one of the better-than-best "Blue Badge" tour guides.

I was beyond excited.  This was the London trip of my dreams.

One of the restaurants for which I had dinner reservations was a Gordon Ramsay property.  This, I was assured by my helpful concierge, was going to be the dining experience of a lifetime.

It was - but not in the way I expected.

I arrived at the restaurant, seriously duded up (St. John, doncha know). I figured it was up to me to live up to the experience and represent myself well. After walking through the bar, I reached the maitre d's stand and, while he was taking care of the couple ahead of me, I took a look into the restaurant.

What struck me immediately was that there was what could only be called a "line-up" of single women at tables for two, all sitting facing out toward the entrance.  Some of them had books or magazines.  Others were simply trying to look as if they weren't being stared at by everyone who walked in the door.

There was an empty one of those tables at the end - and, while I noticed it, I didn't really pay it any attention.  I was too busy looking at the rest of the restaurant (white linen, gleaming silverware and glistening glasses), the servers (very elegant in their black and white) and the diners (tables of single men, couples and larger parties) dotted throughout the rest of the restaurant.  It was lovely - and it smelled good, too.

The maitre d' - a small, slight man - came back and asked my name.  I gave it to him and he responded that, yes, he had my reservation and that I should follow him - at which point he turned his back to me and walked quickly and directly to that last empty table in the line-up.

That wasn't okay with me.  Not by a long shot.

It's hard enough for women - particularly women of a certain age - to take themselves out to eat alone.  Especially in fine restaurants.  From diners to dining establishments in the US, there's that built-in, always to be expected, slightly pitying, definitely demeaning, "Just one?" that we can expect - always followed by some version of the same by the server as they decide whether or not to remove the 'extra' place setting you'll not need.

At Gordon Ramsay's prices and on the trip of my dreams, there was no way I was going to be put in that box - especially by some little, snooty guy who I probably could have beaten up without trying very hard.

Instead, as he stood over the table waiting for me to conform, I very quietly said, "This table is not okay with me.  I don't want to sit here."

Looking and sounding highly affronted, he sniffed (seriously - he sniffed) and then said, "Well, then, where would you like to sit?"

I took a moment to look around the restaurant again, selected the table I wanted and walked over to it.  He followed and, as he joined me, I said, "Here."

Huffing out a clearly offended "Fine," he waited for me to sit, gave me the menu and then, after slightly tossing his head, he huffed away.  (It was very dramatic in a musical comedy sort of way - which I don't think was his intent.)

Reception Room, Hotel de Ville, Paris
I opened the menu and, even as I was wondering whether the food would be better than the dining experience so far, my waiter appeared, greeted me, asked me if I'd like a drink or bottled water and then left me to my study of the menu.

A few moments later, he came back with my sparkling water and a lovely plate of appetizers.

This was a surprise to me as, of course, I hadn't ordered anything yet and it was quite a bit more than an amuse bouche to awaken and prepare my taste buds for the treats to come.  This was a veritable sampler tray.

As he put it down before me, he said, "This is from the staff.  We're so proud of you!  The host is always putting single women at those same tables and we always feel so bad for them.  You're the first woman who's said no and insisted on a different table!"

And that set the tone for the rest of the dinner.  Not only did I have what I ordered served beautifully,  but, somehow, there was also a little something extra that was given to me by one of the chefs or the staff - always with the same message.  They were so proud of me.

So was I.

And that brings me back to Gordon Ramsay and why I hope he never opens a restaurant in Paris.

One of the great joys I discovered upon coming here is that it is perfectly normal and acceptable for women to eat alone at any time of the day in any cafe, bistro or restaurant.  No matter how casual or formal, all diners are treated the same - male or female, single or groups.

It's a joy.

So, while Ramsay has two restaurants outside Paris and is just about to open one at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel, I hope that that's as close as he ever gets to the real thing.

Because what I know from all my years in business is that the little wimp of a maitre d' would never have gotten away with his dismissive and demeaning treatment of women if it weren't perfectly okay with his bosses - the restaurant's owner.  And that's Ramsay.

Let him keep his chauvinism and his cooking out of this town - because, as good as his meals might be (and my dinner was delicious) - he has no idea of how to create a civilized dining experience.  At least not one of interest to any woman of taste and style.

Like me.