A day in the life of Christine Larroucau might involve fielding last-minute parties of 10 with no reservations, dashing to the store on a cold day to buy blankets for the patio, or pushing tables together for a “party of four” that suddenly tripled in size. While there’s no typical day for Larroucau, general manager at David Chang’s Majordomo in Los Angeles, the underpinning of all these efforts is the same: a conscientious commitment to giving every guest the warmest welcome possible. “It’s the same way you’d welcome someone into your home,” she says. “You’d be totally ready to provide them with something. Same with restaurants: It’s about being prepared and anticipating their needs.”
Larroucau has spent the last 16 months fine-tuning the service at Chang’s first restaurant on the West Coast. Key to that process has been empowering her staff to identify and make those small, thoughtful micro-gestures that comprise good service: a bowl of soup on a cold day; a demitasse of yogurt after a particularly spicy entree. We chatted with Larroucau, alum of Eater’s 2018 Young Guns class, to see what she’s learned in the last year and a half — and what she’s still learning.
Eater: How would you describe your personal philosophy about the guest experience?
Christine Larroucau: Hospitality is about making people feel welcome and taken care of — I tell that to my staff, and to the people I’m interviewing. We want people to feel welcome even if they haven’t heard of a certain ingredient, or a wine, or something else that’s unfamiliar. It’s our job to make that experience more comfortable and more exciting for them. For me personally, experiences where I discover a new wine that I like, or where there’s a service element that was unexpected and delightful, that creates a lasting memory. If we can do that, then I think we’ve done our job.
What conversations do you have with your staff about this?
With the staff, it’s about giving them the tools and empowerment they need to look after people. We sit down together and think about what guests are going to ask for. And we never make it a situation where the guests feels uncomfortable having to ask for something. So we either provide it right away, or are very quick to offer it. I encourage them to think about those things. Don’t just assume that the way I told you to serve a table is always the way to do it. Each guest is going to be different. They need to read the guest and feel out what they need, and be willing to try to accommodate that, or check in with us to see if there’s a way to make them more comfortable.
That takes a lot of improv skill.
It does. We try to keep an open line of communication with our staff, so we sit and we talk as a group every day. It takes time, but it’s important. As a management team, we ask for their feedback. What did they experience the night before that’s something we can learn from and share with each other?
Any examples that come to mind, in terms of those teachable moments?
One that has stuck with me, and was a great learning moment for the staff, was when we opened last January. It was cold, and I was freaking out — half our restaurant is outside. I went out to the store and bought blankets before we opened for service. We were building heaters for the patio. We were doing everything we could to make people feel comfortable. Dave was there, and he said, “Why aren’t we bringing hot soup to the people outside?” And I was just like, “Why didn’t I think of this?” So, the staff saw Dave and I passing out soup to people, unprompted. It’s just about finding ways to acknowledge that we’re looking at and considering how comfortable guests are.
You mentioned empowering your staff to anticipate someone’s needs and act accordingly — can you share an anecdote that illustrates that?
Early on, we had a spicy dish on the menu, and we also had a cocktail with a yogurt component to it. One of my servers said, “Christine, I’m going to bring this lady a little bit of the yogurt drink because she just ate something really spicy and she’s having a hard time recovering.” I was like, “Absolutely. I’m glad you thought to come to me and say, ‘This is what I want to do for this guest,’ rather than leaving the guest on her own.” She brought it over without the guest asking for it, and it showed the guest that the server was looking after her. I’ve worked at places where you don’t feel like you have the power to do these ideas, or to try something outside of the ordinary. So, it’s about showing the staff that all of us — me, Dave, the chefs, other management — are always looking for ways to do more. And that they, too, should be thinking that way.
Have you had any particularly challenging guest interactions since opening?
We’ve been fortunate to not have too many crazy guest experiences. Every kind of situation does come up, but at Majordomo, people have been pretty well-behaved. You’ll always have people who come in and have been partying beforehand. The best approach with that is just making sure they’re okay and offering whatever we can to make them feel better, but also make it clear that we obviously can’t serve them [alcohol]. Offer some bread, water, coffee. … It’s always in the guest’s best interest; we’re here to look after them, but we want to make sure we’re doing that the right way.
The other challenges that come up are things like seating arrangements, or trying to increase party sizes. Even if I know in the back of my mind that there’s no chance, I’ve learned it’s best to always try to at least look into it for them. We owe them the consideration of trying to accommodate. If you show that you’ve tried your hardest and exercised every possibility, hopefully the sincerity of attempting to fulfill their request doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s always worth the effort to try.
How has your service philosophy evolved since opening?
Empowering my staff to step outside the box and find ways to look after guests has become a stronger point of my own philosophy of hospitality and how I manage a team. It’s not always saying “yes” as much as coming up with your own ideas of how to look after them, and presenting that to the guests rather than being reactionary. That’s gotten a lot stronger, working with Dave, opening this restaurant, and having the opportunity to create the standards and customs of how we as Majordomo will define ourselves.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.