Isabelle Heirbaut, restaurant coordinator
A day in the life
Isabelle Heirbaut is restaurant coordinator for Hélène Darroze at The Connaught and the first point of contact for most guests, whether they are making a reservation or arranging a private event. She joined the restaurant three months after its opening, in October 2008. Before that, she had been head waiter and head of front of house at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s.
Where did you first get the idea to pursue a career in hospitality?
I was born in Belgium, and my parents had a restaurant near Antwerp. It had previously been a café, and after they took it over, it became one of the best restaurants in the area. They weren’t chefs – both of them worked front of house – but they were good at home cooking, especially my father. So I chose to study hospitality at college in Belgium, with internships in the Netherlands. In my final year I went to train at the White Hart Inn in Suffolk, then run by Michel Roux. It was where he sent staff from the Waterside Inn to train, and I learnt a lot among them. I spent two-and-a-half years there, doing a bit of everything as there were also six guestrooms. I then stayed on in England, because I like the British culture!
What have been your roles at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught?
I started as head waiter and became first maître d’ and then assistant manager. Then I set up a new system for taking reservations in-house, which has been very successful for the business. I now manage all the reservations and guest relations. In addition to this, I’m the main point of contact for private events, so if you wish to organise a party at the restaurant, I will be taking care of you, and of planning the event.
How does your day start?
I start at 9am, checking the inbox for requests that have come in overnight. I get about 50 enquiries a day, and constant emails. I then do confirmations for the next two days by email, phone or text – we send everyone a confirmation 72 hours before their booking. We then cross reference the names with the hotel database to find out as much information as possible, so that you know who the guests are when they arrive.
What about requests for private events?
The other part of my job is events planning. If you’re thinking about organising a special lunch or dinner, either for your family and friends or your work colleagues, I’m the one you talk to. I have lots of ideas to share, but we also listen carefully to what our guests are looking for. You can take the restaurant exclusively for up to 60 people. It’s amazing to have a two Michelin-starred restaurant to yourself, with a special appearance from Hélène. Or you can book our private dining room overlooking the wine cellar, the Sommelier’s Table, which seats up to eight for an intimate lunch or dinner. Then we also have access to the Regency Room and the Carlos Room in the hotel, which are ideal for parties of up to 30.
How do you organise events?
This process is absolutely as bespoke as we can make it, because each event is completely different from the next. We have one-to-one discussions with the client about the menu, and then Hélène works around the ideas in her style. Sometimes I sit down with Alex and Albin, our chefs, to develop special menus – we’ve worked together for a long time. I’m also the point of contact for flowers, place cards, timings and any special touches – they know they can talk to me anytime about anything. What’s nice is that we’ve now started to get lots of repeat guests for private hire – two companies are up to their fourth one, and another has done three.
Does that bring your day to a close?
No! I also work on the marketing and PR side – so I liaise with the teams over newsletters, brochures for private dining, leaflets, social media including Instagram and stories for our PR company to promote.
Why do you think Hélène Darroze at The Connaught is so successful?
Hélène inspires loyalty among the team with her approach, her management style and her philosophy. She works with feelings and emotions, and she’s not afraid to try something new. At tastings, it’s interesting to hear her views. She tastes something and knows immediately what works or doesn’t. But she’s always willing to listen to ideas. She has also tried things you don’t see anywhere else in London, like the ‘marble’ menu, where you choose the primary ingredients you’d like to eat by placing a marble with that word on it into a solitaire board – you then have to trust the chefs! It’s a complete novelty but once explained to the guests, most people love it. We once helped a couple get engaged when we produced special marbles that spelt out ‘Will’ ‘You’ ‘Marry’ ‘Me’.
What’s the biggest challenge in your job?
Probably when people call and ask if they can just have a steak. I will then describe the whole experience and what it means to dine in a two Michelin-starred restaurant that’s a destination in its own right. I can normally talk them into coming!
What do you love best about it?
I’m never bored. It’s always a challenge and fun.
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