Why La Mar in Atlantis The Royal prioritises service as much as, if not more than, food

Staff should do right thing at right moment for each guest, says general manager who won Michelin Service Award

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The third edition of Dubai's Michelin Guide is set to be unveiled on July 4. Alongside the coveted stars and value-for-money Bib Gourmand category, anonymous inspectors also dole out accolades for impeccable hospitality.

The current holder of the Michelin Service Award is Tomislav Antonio Lokvicic Silva, general manager of La Mar by Gaston Acurio, a Peruvian restaurant in Atlantis The Royal. The Guide says the award is given to “a restaurant personality who has a genuine passion for service, and ensures all customers feel special and enjoy a truly wonderful dining experience”.

Here, we chat to Silva about the experience diners are given at the celebrated restaurant.

People expect perfection
Tomislav Antonio Lokvicic Silva, Michelin Service Award winner

He notes that, while the quality of food is the biggest consideration for many dinners, it is not the priority for everyone. Often the service takes precedence, especially in five-star destinations where “people expect perfection”.

Silva says: “The whole experience can be ruined at the last minute. Consistency must be applied from the moment guests call to book a table, down to when they are getting into their cars to leave.”

He says that “the majority of the time, a mistake is what's going to stick in the minds of guests, because they are only expecting to have a good experience”. The need to maintain high standards is particularly acute “at this level”, he adds, referring to the Dubai hotel's stellar status – Atlantis The Royal is home to several Michelin-lauded restaurants, including Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Ariana's Persian Kitchen.

“When you are at a high-end, ultra-luxury resort, people almost wait for you to drop the ball,” Silva says with a chuckle.

What does stellar restaurant service look like?

Silva has decades of experience working in Michelin restaurants around the world, giving him a taste for top-notch service. He believes that “51 per cent of the experience is the service, and 49 per cent is all of the rest”.

He adds: “No matter how good the food, the drinks or the ambience are, when something goes wrong with the service, it can ruin everything. If a server forgets a dish or it gets delayed, or if the restaurant takes just an extra few minutes to bring the bill to the table, it can aggravate the guest experience.”

When we see a reservation, we Google it to see a little bit of the guest's background
Tomislav Antonio Lokvicic Silva

Service takes different forms, Silva explains. In fine dining restaurants, for example, there is a strong emphasis on technical precision – from serving plates at the perfect angle to the synchronised clearing of tables.

Silva describes the aim of La Mar as being “more about doing the right thing and not always what is precisely by the book”. More often that not, good service is about “reading the room”.

“If a couple are celebrating their anniversary, for instance, you don't want to interfere with them too much and maybe interact a little bit less. It's really all about doing the right thing at the right moment for each guest,” he says.

Diner comes first

While there are technical considerations for restaurants seeking to elevate the dining experience (La Mar spaces out its cutlery to the last millimetre), Silva says staff need to connect with diners to ensure the restaurant offers the most ideal experience. That connection begins as soon as a waiter approaches a table.

“The waiter must be at a comfortable distance and those first few moments are crucial. He or she must try to get a guest's attention, make them feel at ease and let them know: 'I'm here for you.'”

The most common initial interaction between diner and server is queries about the cuisine or specific dishes, and Silva says restaurants should be able to make diners feel comfortable to ask whatever questions they have without fear of judgment.

Diners might also ask waiters to recommended dishes, which Silva says is a sign of trust. Restaurants such as La Mar typically have a strong training regimen for servers to fully understand the menus, and to be able to identify what a particular guest might enjoy most.

You want to be attentive without overstepping
Tomislav Antonio Lokvicic Silva

Silva adds that the team sometimes go the extra mile to help improve the dining experience. “When we see a reservation, we Google it just to see a little bit of a guest's background,” he says. “It's not about being nosy whatsoever, but about being prepared on how we should approach them.”

But Silva warns that, while connection is important, staff should not become “too personal” with guests. “It's easy to get too comfortable and cross that line. You want to be attentive and have a connection, but without overstepping,” he explains.

The personality of a server also plays a major role in communication with guests and “you can't buy or teach that”, Silva adds. While technical skills are important, the restaurant manager also looks at passion and attitude when choosing who to hire.

What makes connection even more important, Silva says, is that it might make any mistakes a little more bearable for guests. The La Mar general manager admits it's difficult to achieve perfection, but when servers are on a guest's good side, it can improve their experience and, in turn, their feedback and desire to return.

“The guests would normally forget about simple human errors when they have a connection with their waiter – whether it's not filling an empty glass right away or drinks taking a few extra minutes to come to the table,” he adds. “It's because finding a server they can trust means they know they will always be well taken care of.”

Updated: May 13, 2024, 8:00 AM