Feature Story – Fratini’s Restaurant

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Photography by Greg Chin

Besides great tasting food, good service can make such a difference when dining out – it can turn a mediocre dining experience into a truly memorable one! Small gestures such as the waiter remembering your name and your favourite dish or that you’re a vegetarian – can go a long way to forming lifelong relationships with customers. At the well-known Fratini’s Restaurants in Brunei this is exactly what service means – service goes beyond simply delivering plates from kitchen to table; guests get a completely welcoming experience from the moment they walk in the door. Everything is well planned and diners are treated as hospitably like guests who are welcomed into a family home. To find out more about the importance of customer service in the restaurant business we spoke to Fratini’s Food & Beverage Manager Mr. Jojo Hernadez, who is a veteran in the food industry and has worked at Fratini’s Restaurant for the past 20 years. He explained that, “Fratini’s has built a reputation not just for serving delicious Italian food but also for its efficient approach to service. The kitchen and the dining room can’t be separated – they work in harmony because there can’t be great food without great service, and Fratini’s trained wait staff are as vital as their talented chefs. It is this complete experience that continues to make Fratini’s Restaurant popular with generations of Bruneians.”

“Know the menu inside out and work as a team player with the kitchen”

In Brunei the food scene evolves quickly and is sometimes hard to keep up with. One minute it’s all about the restaurants in Gadong, the next, diners are being wooed by the cool new cafes in Setia Kenangan 2. New eating places keep things constantly fresh. So how does Fratini’s maintain its edge in this type of changing and competitive environment?  Jojo explained, “At Fratini’s Restaurant we pride ourselves on offering our customers an extensive menu of Italian dishes that are freshly prepared with quality ingredients. But just as importantly, we focus on our customer service. Whether customers visit any one of our six restaurants in Brunei or our branches in Malaysia or in the Philippines, we want them to feel welcome – so we do our best to treat them with respect and care whilst providing an impressive meal, so that they’ll come back to our restaurant again and again.” He continued, “In this economy, we understand that satisfied customers are vital to our business. So we make it our mission to do things right from the start. From the time a customer walks in the door to when they leave, my staff and I try to keep their needs at the forefront of their dining experience. Our waiting staff are put through a thorough training program as we believe that training is one of the most important contributors to success, especially in the restaurant business. The new employees learn about the importance of personal hygiene and appearance; about basic manners and etiquette; they are also taught about the sequence of serving food and about timing; and of course, they have to learn about all of our dishes on the menu and know what ingredients are in them. Our goal is to ensure that they are knowledgeable so that they can recommend the right meals to satisfy the preferences of different customers.”

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Rack of Lamb

Jojo certainly has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the challenges involved in waiting tables. Before coming to Brunei he worked as a waiter in Manila. When he arrived here at 23 years old, his first job was at a restaurant in Kuala Belait. He worked there as a waiter from 1989-1996, he said, “My first employer in Brunei taught me about the value of hard work, gave me good advice and treated me like part of his family. And it was while I was working there, that I met and served the gentleman who is currently my employer at Fratini’s. When the restaurant in KB closed down, he offered me a job at Fratini’s and I graciously accepted. I started at Fratini’s as a waiter and have since worked my way up to the position of Food and Beverage Manager. I have always been very passionate about my job and have taken great pride in being part of the team at Fratini’s. This company has treated me like part of their family, and in return I believe that it is my responsibility and duty to give our customers the best service possible. I am now 50 years old and my aim is to share my experience and knowledge with the younger staff members. I tell them that if they learn to take pride and pleasure in serving, and are passionate about their career, they’ll go far.” Jojo was keen to emphasise that a good waiter has to be many things all at once -: efficient and speedy, but also precise; attentive, but not overbearing; presentable, with excellent personal hygiene; know the menu inside out and work as a team player with the kitchen; be mindful of the various dietary restrictions and lifestyles of customers; and most importantly, a good waiter needs to be able to listen and communicate well, so that he or she can confidently sell the full dining experience that the restaurant has to offer.

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Photo courtesy of Fratini’s Restaurant

Many local restaurants face the challenge of having a very quick turnover of staff, but Jojo believes that in addition to financial rewards there are certain other intrinsic rewards which can be used to help keep employees satisfied and committed. For example, employees can be given the opportunity to learn and grow, both personally and professionally; if they learn and develop they can be given more responsibilities; if employees think that their job performance really makes a difference in the restaurant’s ability to provide an excellent experience to the customer, then they will feel good and take pride in their job and their restaurant; as well as all of this, employees must feel a sense of belonging to their company. As a Manager, Jojo recognises that his role involves inspiration, challenge and strategic vision. He has to create a shared purpose among his kitchen and waiting teams because this can effectively foster motivation and can help them to work together more effiecintly. He sincerely believes that it shouldn’t matter what a customer is wearing or whether he or she is paying five dollars or five hundred – good service should be consistent and the customer should never be disappointed.

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Fratini’s Restaurants throughout Brunei have a very loyal customer base—some people drop in regularly to enjoy the delectable lamb dishes or to savour the decadent deserts like the tiramisu or chocolate pudding. Others satisfy their hunger for pasta and pizza on the popular promotion days when they either get attractive discounts or go for the irresistible buy one get one free offer. But Jojo Hernandez knows that, “Serving our customers with tasty Italian food and treating them like VIPs is crucial if we want them to keep coming back in 2017!”

This article was published in the Jan-Feb 2017 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!