At the 2023 MICHELIN Award Ceremony, the gathering erupted in cheerful applause as a young Thai gentleman stood up and strode to the stage. Uthit Songtho became the first Thai recipient of the MICHELIN Thailand Service Award Presented by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Even with the most delicious dishes, a delightful dining experience is not complete without knowledgeable and attentive service. This excellence in service is something that Songtho instilled in the newly opened Baan Phraya so that not only did the restaurant achieve recognition in the latest edition of the MICHELIN Guide, but it garnered him the MICHELIN Thailand Service Award Presented by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
What did you feel when you found out you won the Service Award?
"I was excited, happy, and so very proud. This wasn’t something I expected at all. To be honest, I was also shocked! This award is not just about me. It is for the entire Baan Phraya team, from the kitchen to the front of the house, all the way to the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok Hotel team, who fully supported us. This success came about because we all love the same thing, and that is service. So, we are all very happy and proud about this award."
Do you think this Service Award benefits those in the service industry?
"I think this award is wonderful because it shows how important service workers like us are. And it is an incentive for us to perform even better, providing excellent service, and making customers happy."
When did you become interested in service?
"About 16-17 years ago, I started as an employee in the catering department at the Oriental right after finishing school. I remember serving at cocktail parties, weddings, gala dinners, and so on, learning about service as I went along. I did quit for a time so I could go be ordained, but then I came back to the hotel.
"A lot of things. Especially taking care of guests at our 'home'. If it is just one person, a couple, some friends, a big group, family, or business event – the service provided will have different details. This is what we need to learn to enjoy doing, as it is challenging as well. Also, it is important to have a good team that is supportive. This includes the kitchen as well as service staff. Working together to satisfy customers is fun and challenging work for us all."
"I think that before you can make others happy, you have to be happy yourself. If you aren’t happy, you can’t provide good service and make customers happy. I believe good service begins inside. If you feel refreshed and happy and you show it, the customers you serve will feel it too. I think this comes naturally to Thai people. This is the 'Thai hospitality' that we’re famous for."
What is “Thai Hospitality” to you?
"Thailand is the land of smiles, right? And we are known for being smiling, humble, and gracious, like when we 'wai' and pay respect. That is something we Thais do all the time, whether we are meeting our relatives, elders, or friends. We serve with a smile that comes from the heart, and when guests arrive, Thais will treat them like close friends or family. It makes them smile and builds rapport. That’s what happens here. If we think of them like family and treat them as such, then everything will be great. And they will experience our unique 'Thai Hospitality'".
What is your most memorable or proudest moment about your work?
"I have so many. For instance, this just happened recently at Baan Phraya – There was an elderly gentleman who dined here. We gave him our usual excellent service, but before he left, he told me, 'Thank you so much for taking such good care of me. I will definitely come back. Thank you, really! I’m so happy. I haven’t had such good service like this before.' For someone in the service industry like me, to have someone I’ve never met before say such lovely things like that, it makes me proud and gives meaning to what I do."
What advice do you have for those in the service industry?
"What I’d like to share with others in the service industry is: don’t wallow in feeling bad or slighted by customers, bosses, or anyone else. Use every experience, good and bad, as motivation to learn and improve, and be inspired by compliments to excel even more."
What do you think is the most important part about dining out?
"I think it’s about being in a social, friendly atmosphere. Like… eating out with friends you haven’t seen in a while, spending quality time with loved ones and family, or getting to know new people and sharing opinions and ideas. This is where service workers like us are important. We are the ones who help set the scene for these interactions to become special moments."
Daniel Calvert is Executive Chef of SÉZANNE, which was promoted to Two MICHELIN Stars in the MICHELIN Guide Tokyo 2023. Before moving to Tokyo in 2021, he lived and worked in London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong. We asked him about Japan, his experiences around the world and what he would say to young chefs.
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