Interview: Restaurant Spring’s Daniel Rose
Spring’s Chef-Owner Daniel Rose sits down with me to talk about one of the most surprising challenges he faces in running one of the most popular restaurants in Paris – visitors are complaining about the number of Americans & English being spoken.
Wendy: When visitors say they want an “authentic Parisian” dining experience, do their expectations match up with the reality?
Daniel: 28 million people a year pass through Paris and there are 2.2 million people living here (not including the suburbs.) With respected media like the New York Times with 4 million+ readers, plus the food magazines and bloggers writing about chefs & restaurants in Paris, the reality is you aren’t the only person reading those articles.
On any given day, an authentic Parisian experience includes the Parisians sharing their city and restaurants with people from all over the world.
Wendy: Great point. (Using calculator….) That means 12.727272 international visitors per each person living in Paris. Throw in the math from how many people (both Parisian & international visitors) are reading about the most popular restaurants and it is no wonder visitors are sitting next to people who aren’t French.
Daniel: Think about it Wendy, you’ve been here a long time. When is the last time you ate somewhere in Paris completely off of the radar, with only French-speaking clientele?
Daniel (continues): People finding a remote gem in a hidden corner of Paris where they’ll have a meal and only interact with the French just doesn’t exist any longer.
Seriously, when is the last time you or I ate somewhere completely off of the radar? Not in this age of Social Media and instant technology.
Nowadays, places are open for only 3 days and featured in the top media outlets around the world.
If you are reading about a cute little wine bar on a canal, you won’t be the only one reading about it in order to seek it out.
So then how can someone be surprised or disappointed that there are other English speakers in the room and servers who have had to learn some English to help them?
Wendy: So how does that make you feel when people make comments about how many English speakers and international visitors there are in your restaurant?
Wendy continues: For instance… I had a quick look online to see what people were saying about Restaurant Spring, and the overwhelming number of customers complaining about international visitors, in fact, were international visitors.
Most comments say “Utterly Brilliant” or “American Success Story in Paris” but then phrases such as “Not bad, but not recommended for people who are looking to go to a very French place …” start showing up.
Daniel: That is a point I cannot control, the number of Americans, the number of Australians, the number of Spanish. Not even the number of French, which by the way, we have a lot of! It is impossible.
Some people very well might say, “That is fine but I only want to go to a restaurant with only French people.” But the question then becomes, “How are you going to find out about that restaurant?”
The very way they’ll find out about it is the very same way that everyone is, reading about it.
Although I understand, they don’t want to think that they are in a restaurant for only (as you say “McDonald tourists“) – but where is the shame in hearing about a restaurant, making a reservation and then sharing a meal together… regardless of who is sitting next to you?
Wendy: But they are knowingly booking a reservation at a restaurant that was conceptualized and being run by an American?
Daniel: Correct. But I do hope that people will want to come to Spring to have a good meal and great service…not simply because I am an American!
Wendy: I sometimes wonder too, if their disappointment is cultural. One of the other standout comments was, “We are foodies from Napa, and the sommelier was ridiculously snooty and said, ‘We don’t do California.’” Couldn’t his comment be taken that expecting California wine here in France is in fact ridiculously snooty? I can’t even imagine how this poster would feel if visitors went to Napa and asked for French wine.
Wendy continues: So you should have only French people, but California wines? I can see how it is impossible to please some diners.
Daniel: We’re just trying to do a good thing, if people like it, we are thrilled.
Wendy: …and if they don’t?
Daniel: As you said, it is impossible to please everyone, but we really do listen and try!
Our greatest pleasure is giving excellent service - Daniel Rose, Restaurant Spring
Wendy: Does the amount of international press & the resulting amount of clients change the way you cook?
Daniel: A little, there are so many people that won’t eat pork that we actually don’t serve main courses of pig.
Wendy: I saw one poster who wrote, “The chef served pigeon! Pigeons are flying rats!” So, if they are complaining about the restaurant not being “French” enough, this goes back to cultural differences. A French restaurant should have cow brains, liver, kidneys, tongue and pigeon.
Daniel: We do offer riz de veau and pigeon, but I also have to come up with alternates for things they are not comfortable with.
Wendy: Even though it is widely publicized that you have a set menu? Customers still want you to recreate dishes last minute…out of thin air?
Daniel: We hope that they tell us, that their concierge tells us before they come in that they have allergies or can’t “stomach” sweetbreads. Then we will do everything we can with notice to make sure they have a great meal.
Wendy: But does this mean that your restaurant is changing what it is to please finicky eaters who are also asking for a “French” experience? I can’t imagine my local French bistro filled with mostly Parisians making any of these changes even for regular customers.
Daniel: Our core spirit has not changed, and won’t. As for our restaurant not being “French” enough…all of our recipes are based on the legendary Escoffier’s recipes, with our interpretation. The products are French. The wines are French. The technique is French.
Wendy: What about service? Has your service had to adjust as well? In most “authentic” French restaurants that are not fancy Michelin temples, service even for French customers is ridiculously lacking.
Daniel: Absolutely. In terms of our service, our greatest pleasure is giving excellent service, even if it means going outside the actual dining experience and the food on the plates.
Wendy: For example?
Daniel: A customer approached a staff member during dinner hour and told them that they had made a reservation in another restaurant.
Wendy: They double booked?
Daniel: Correct. The customer couldn’t remember the name of the other restaurant, and wanted our staff to call their concierge for them and tell the concierge to cancel the other reservation.
Imagine the customer’s reaction if we told her that we have to stop taking care of our other customers in order to help her? She’d have been insulted and gone onto the Internet to complain that our service was terrible.
Wendy: Not to mention, the customer put the concierge in a terrible position of having to cancel another restaurant last minute hurting his/her reputation with future bookings at that restaurant and at the same time, left the other restaurant with empty seats. Oy.
Daniel: So we said yes, and helped the customer out. When people complained they couldn’t get through for reservations, we hired someone solely to do reservations. We call our clients taxis, we try to give them menu substitutions if they have food allergies, etc. even if in the end, it costs us money to do it.
But, this is what we do because this is the kind of restaurant I want to have.