Good food prepared by master chefs is a constant. No matter where you are in the world, you can find chefs who have perfected their favorite dishes.
But a true luxury dining experience is something special, and meeting such high standards of excellence requires everyone in the restaurant to master their craft as well.
There’s a great deal of work behind the scenes of every lauded restaurant, and that’s certainly true of Petrossian Boutique as well.
A much-lauded French restaurant and boutique with locations in Manhattan, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, Petrossian Boutique has been providing authentic French cuisine for more than thirty years.
We’re not here to talk about Petrossian today, but rather its Operations Manager, Marine Ploquin, and her journey to high-end hospitality, which brought her to Petrossian following years of study, training, and hands-on experience in the French traditions of hospitality, fine dining, and “l’art de la table”.
“Growing up in France, I always loved to cook. I was lucky enough that my family would take me out for dinner nearly once a week, and on special occasions, we would go to a high-end Michelin-star restaurant.”
These early experiences with fine dining sowed the seeds of Ploquin’s lifelong appreciation for good food and the trappings of cuisine and seamless service.
Now it’s time to chart the course of Ploquin’s career. It’s a story that should be especially relevant to anyone hoping to pursue a career in luxury dining, or really to anyone who has considered changing the course of their career for the sake of following their passion.
Back in college, Ploquin had a strong interest in cuisine and hospitality, but she felt compelled to study business and finance. In fact, her earliest jobs with hotels, including the Radisson Blu Palace Hotel and Spa in Belgium, the Beverly Hilton, and Hôtel Barrière L’Hermitage in France, consisted of finance and accounting work.
But these opportunities to experience the atmosphere of hospitality work made her realize that she also had an interest in aspects of hospitality beyond finance, aspects that had a direct connection to her love of good food.
Following her work with the Beverly Hilton, where she was awarded Employee of the Month, Ploquin met with representatives of Petrossian, including the General Manager, who decided that Ploquin would be a great fit for the role of Assistant Manager, a role she took on in 2018. By 2019, Ploquin had advanced to the role of Operations Manager.
During our discussion, Ploquin reflected on her early days with the restaurant, during which time she learned all about Petrossian’s products, including how to sell them, how to store them, and how to eat them. Another important component was learning how to expo food and exploring the French concept of l’art de la table (more on this later).
As Ploquin told us, there was a moment when all of these lessons truly clicked, and this moment cemented her commitment to working in fine dining, specifically in the French tradition.
“Everything just suddenly came to me, as if I had done it all before. It just seemed like common sense. As time went by, I was given more responsibilities, and I just loved my work. I knew I had made the right decision choosing to work in restaurants.”
This is a process that so many of us are familiar with. It’s simple enough to understand your passions, but carving out a career in which you can express and specialize in those passions takes time and commitment.
Ploquin’s story is proof that it’s more than possible, especially for someone who has developed their skills enough to become an expert.
The result of Ploquin’s years of hard work and professional development is an important place at the highest level of luxury dining, a seat at the table, so to speak.
But maintaining high standards is no small task, and Ploquin delights in helping Petrossian shine. Let’s look into how she handles the pressure.
Taking advantage of stress
In many professions, there’s a general belief that stress is inherently negative and that it leads to poor performance. Depending on the situation and the person in question, this can definitely be the case. If stress leads to panic, then the chances of making mistakes is high.
But within professions that naturally involve high amounts of stress, simply trying to avoid stress isn’t an option. Ploquin even argued that, when working in a restaurant, it’s possible to transform stress into a tool that inspires the staff to stay on their toes and continue delivering excellence.
“Working in luxury dining can definitely generate high stress, especially during service. There are ways to reduce that stress, but I believe the stress we go through during service is a good kind of stress. It’s the kind that makes us want to do it again the next day and be proud of what we provide to customers.”
This speaks to a healthy way of dealing with stress: noting the seriousness of the situation and using it as motivation.
But that doesn’t mean that Ploquin and her colleagues are improvising during the course of service. A restaurant needs to function like a well-oiled machine, and staying organized, in particular, is paramount to success.
There are so many moving parts in a high-end restaurant, and an Operations Manager like Ploquin needs to be aware of them all throughout the course of a workday.
Timing is especially important: knowing what needs to happen when and making sure that the staff stays in sync.
It all comes down to organization. Here’s what Ploquin had to say about her obligation to stay organized in her work and how that sense of organization can have a positive cascade effect.
“I believe it is unacceptable for someone in my position to be disorganized. If you are not organized, your days will be very hard to get through. You also can’t be working behind your computer when customers are in the house. Organization also translates through the staff and the phases of service so that every guest’s experience meets the same standards.”
On the topic of standards, it’s time to discuss another crucial element of high-end restaurant service: the French concept of l’art de la table.
L’art de la table
The literal translation of this phrase is “art of the table,” and it refers to how all the items on the table are placed through the course of a meal. This includes silverware, water and wine glasses, and of course the food itself.
Setting tables is the first step.
“The smaller fork goes on the outside, with the big one on the inside. Forks are on the left, knives on the right. The wine glass goes in the top right corner and the water glass is to its right.”
However, Ploquin extends the definition of l’art de la table to include various aspects of service as well, and her understanding of l’art de la table is essential to her work with Petrossian.
Ploquin is responsible for taking certain steps depending on a guest’s order and any special requests they might have.
For example, based on the guest’s order, Ploquin can pair the meal with the proper silverware and also suggest an appropriate wine pairing.
Serving wine involves a specific process of showing the label, quickly opening the bottle, pouring just enough for a taste. If the guest approves of the bottle following tasting, then it’s time to offer wine to the other guests at the table.
Ploquin is also able to offer French-style tableside service, serving each guest from the left and clearing from the right.
Ploquin has also taught serving etiquette to the staff.
“This helps the staff to better understand how to perform during service. Knowing how the food is made also makes it possible to answer a guest’s questions about different dishes.”
The ultimate goal of providing such refined and personalized service is to make guests as comfortable as possible while also providing them with a truly exceptional dining experience.
For Ploquin, l’art de la table is the culmination of not only her extensive experience in hospitality but also the longstanding traditions of luxury dining.
Despite everything we’ve covered so far regarding Ploquin’s hospitality expertise, she’s always striving to do more.
“I am constantly looking for ways to improve processes and standards that will make my work and the ones of my staff easier when guests are in the house.”
In action, this means being ready in advance for just about anything. This preparation might involve organizing and storing silverware in a convenient fashion or displaying by-the-glass wines in the center of the room rather than keeping them exclusively at the bar. It could also mean investing in useful equipment that cuts down on manual labor.
“It’s about listening to feedback from employees and guests. When you know what people want, you can work toward those goals.”
There’s always room for improvement, even for experts like Ploquin, and her passion for hospitality keeps her motivated to always do better, continuing the impressive career that’s been years in the making.