Meet Fred Sirieix. Best known as the face of Channel 4’s First Dates, he’s a French Maître d’ with a big heart and an even bigger personality. As well as appearing on many TV shows, he has worked at many of the UK’s best restaurants and is currently the General Manager of Michelin-starred restaurant Galvin at Windows in London’s Mayfair.
Fred is a client of Progeny and has been working with his financial planner, Dominic Lobo, for nearly ten years. In this interview between Fred and Dominic, Fred discusses his passion for service, his experiences in television, his charity work and his finances. He describes how he manages to prioritise, the value he places on fitness, and what he wants to leave as his legacy.
Dominic Lobo: Fred, you are one of the most recognised and influential figures in the UK hospitality industry and are passionate about the delivery of excellent service. You’ve said before that it was your parents, who both worked in healthcare, who inspired your passion for service. What is the most important lesson they have taught you?
The most important lesson that my parents taught me is that it’s all about the patient. The patient comes first, second and last – that’s what it’s all about. Customer service is exactly the same; it’s what I do in my restaurant, looking after my customers. There are no two ways about it – if your customers are happy then your business will thrive. This is how people and businesses are successful. There is no other way to do it.
You started your career in the hospitality industry attending catering college, training to be a chef. What made you switch into front-of-house roles?
I think it was a career that suited me more. It suited my personality and my social side. I also think it’s much more creative and it’s more exciting. I haven’t regretted it since I made the move.
You’ve worked in and managed several top-end restaurants with some of the UK’s most well-known chefs, including at the Roux brothers’ Le Gavroche (the first UK restaurant to gain three Michelin stars), Sartoria, and now Galvin at Windows in Mayfair. What has been your favourite role, and why?
I’ve liked all of them for different reasons. In every role, I was at a different stage in my career. Each allowed me to enjoy the moment but also propelled me to the next role. My current role at Galvin at Windows is the most enjoyable because it’s the one I’m doing right now. It’s such a varied and interesting role.
More recently, your Gallic charm has spread to television, originally with Michel Roux, training and coaching disadvantaged youngster into service roles, and now as part of Channel 4’s hugely successful First Dates. What was it that attracted you to TV work?
It was my charity work that got me into television. The BBC wanted to do a programme about the charity that I started, Galvin’s Chance. In TV, it’s about the people that you meet and the reputation that you have. You need to work with good people. If you do a good job then good people will want to work with you. It may not be that you’re the perfect article, but you’re good enough. As long as you can listen to people who know better than you, they will direct you and help you along the way.
You mentioned your charity – Galvin’s Chance, which supports young front-of-house staff. Through the BBC programme [Michel Roux’s Service], the nation saw your passion for teaching and mentoring young people. You’ve also created a cocktail competition for young bartenders (the Galvin Cup), and more recently you launched the Right Course, which aims to get young offenders into careers in hospitality. What drives your passion for working with young people?
I had a very happy childhood and I’ve always had a happy, lucky life. I think it’s important to give back to people who maybe haven’t had that. That’s it. It’s important to not take what you have for granted.
As Maître d’, you are responsible for making sure that couples find love in the First Dates restaurant. What attracted you to this role?
I mean, who wouldn’t be attracted by this role?! You would do it if you had the chance Dominic! It’s brilliant! What a job!
What’s been the most fun you’ve had in a TV role?
They’ve all been different – the fun is different. Gordon, Gino and Fred was fun. First Dates is very funny too. I’ve done a show on BBC2 which is not out yet which was a lot of fun to film, with various different chefs.
You’re a busy man – you frequently appear on TV, you’re the General Manager of Galvin at Windows, and you have many charitable pursuits and other projects. How do you manage your time and priorities, and how do you decide what to focus on next?
It’s all a question of learning to juggle. It’s about working with the right people who allow me to concentrate on what I’m good at, and they can do the stuff that I’m not good at or I’m not interested in, so I don’t waste any time. I’m good at delegating.
You’re a keen boxer and clearly keep very fit. Why is sport and fitness so important to you?
Well, the Romans used to say “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. I think that it’s important to stay fit, to eat well, to burn more calories than you put in. I think life is a balance, and that’s what fitness gives you. It gives you a sense of satisfaction that you would never get otherwise. As hard as exercise can be, when you finish you feel good – you feel like you’ve achieved something.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever bought?
I don’t know… maybe some expensive shoes – some Louboutins for £700 or something like that. I think it’s crazy buying shoes for that much money.
Have you ever been really hard up financially? What did this teach you?
I’ve been hard up, but never on the street. Because of the way I was brought up, I’m always balanced. If I go down, I go down on one knee and I get up again very quickly. You’ve got to live within your means. My mum would say, “Fred, you’ve got to save more”. And I would say to her, “I don’t need to save more, I need to earn more”.
What are your financial priorities? How have I [Dominic Lobo at Progeny] helped you to achieve some of these?
My priority is to be in a place where I can get up one day and not have to go to work if I don’t want to. This is where you are helping me. You’re helping me to diversify my investments and advise me on the best course of action to achieve my goal as soon as possible. The rules about pensions, tax and investments seem to change all the time, so it’s good to have you guiding me and helping me to make sensible decisions. Also, we’re all going to die someday, and you’ve helped me put protection in place for my family just in case life doesn’t pan out as I hope it will!
Most importantly though, you treat me like I treat my customers, so I’m happy to place my trust in you on such important matters.
How do you see your financial priorities changing in the future?
I just have to make sure that I time my financial plans very well with my death! So that when I know it’s going to come, I just spend it all and have some fun!
What would you like your legacy to be, professionally and personally?
I don’t think about it Dominic, to be honest with you. I’m concerned about the moment, being good in the moment; I’m concerned with having good relationships with people, so that people want to do more with me. And then, when I die, I don’t know, they will think what they will think. I suppose I want my legacy to be that they think: “Fred was funny and a nice guy”. That’s it, that’s all I need. I’m just working to enjoy myself, really.
It goes without saying that I want to leave as much as I can to my kids. I want to see them being successful. And as much as I can leave behind in the bank for them, they can have it. If I haven’t spent it all, you know?
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