Earlier this year, Fred Sirieix returned to our screens with a brand new E4 contest series Fred’s Last Resort, a show where 12 young Brits compete for the career opportunity of their lives.
The hospitality hopefuls were placed in a five-star resort in the south of France, and learned all about the industry through a series of challenges that would test their limits and abilities. The winner would secure £10,000 and the opportunity to spend a year working in Accor hotels across London, working in a variety of roles at some of the most prestigious hotels in the world.
Orlagh Hartnett was crowned winner of the series, and has now started her own hospitality journey with a four-month apprenticeship at the renowned Sofitel London St James. Hotel Owner sat down with Fred Sirieix to find out more about the show, and the importance of encouraging young people in the industry.
Fred’s Last Resort is different to any show you have done before. How did the idea for the show come to be, and was creating a show that showcases the gritty reality of FOH hospitality important to you personally?
I have been in hospitality since I was 16 years old. And when I was at school, I remember having long conversations with all my fellow students about hospitality. In the catering college where I was, we were all trained to be in the premier league of restaurants in the premier league of hotels, and it was a quest for excellence. And so, I’ve always had this kind of fantasy to showcase the job and just to showcase how incredible the profession is. It’s a true profession that needs true skill, it needs people who are passionate, determined and very focused. So, this was the perfect opportunity to showcase it in that way, and you can see all those elements in the show.
The show sees a series of young contestants undergo various challenges to demonstrate their hospitality skills and capability. What particular qualities were you looking for when judging these challenges?
We were expecting just what we expected from the staff of the hotel. A vision in life, a clear set of values, a simple set of objectives, and above all else sticking to the golden rules of service and the principles of how to deliver great customer service.
The contestants are in their twenties and have varying degrees of experience – was it important for you that the show gives young people in particular this career opportunity?
Yes, absolutely! The recruits were all different. They came from different backgrounds; they were all very young. Well, younger than me! out of all the 12 recruits a few of them had never been abroad before. Then there is of course the fact that you come to the South of France, one of the wealthiest parts of the world, that is known as the playground of the rich & famous, you see it on television, you see it in movies… and this is where our recruits have landed for their Summer Season. So it’s quite amazing from a professional perspective, but also from a personal perspective, for them to arrive there and suddenly be in this dream environment to learn – and if this is the first time you’ve been abroad and you come to the South of France, it’s a memory you will never forget.
In what ways did you bring your own experience in hospitality to the show? Did you enjoy the mentor role you took on?
The vision that we had with the recruits was to deliver an amazing experience to each guest. That’s what it’s about, right? Delivering on your promise. I knew what I wanted., and I told them exactly what that was. And it was important to tell the recruits ‘This is good, this is not good’. I wanted to do more to help them so that they can deliver the best experience. But if I do it for them, it would have just defeated what we were trying to do. So I had to let them make mistakes because it’s only when you fall that you can get up in service. In hospitality, there’s no advanced level. It’s all about the basics. And the basics are the same anywhere you are. They are universal.
Orlagh Hartnett won the competition this year. In what ways did she stand out or particularly impress you throughout the competition?
Orlagh is a very deserving winner. She has a great future in hospitality. She was so good throughout the competition – passionate, determined and very focused. The first prize is a year-long work placement with Accor Hotels. It’s a great opportunity for her to further her career, to gain experience, to be mentored by professionals for a year and to work in a variety of different roles. It’s all about learning the scope and diversity of what hospitality has to offer. It’s a golden opportunity that, on top of the training she had with me on the show, will really set her up for her career.
In your opinion, what was the most challenging part of the competition? Were there any particularly stressful moments?
We had several events for the recruits to run. One of them was a 20th birthday party, they had to go and learn about wine, oysters and seafood and be able to communicate their knowledge in a confident and professional manner to the guests at the hotel. They had to organise a fashion show, they had to run a concierge service and organise luxury excursions for some special guests… They had to do all sorts of things, as well as run the hotel on a day-to-day basis: housekeeping, reception, reservation, etc. They had to cover every single role that there is to do in the hotel. So I was really stressed throughout because for me it was real. I was not doing a TV show. I was running a hotel with a group of untrained people and I wanted to deliver.
Would you say that filming the show was a rewarding experience all-in-all?
Absolutely! I had to take everything I’ve learned, all these transferrable life skills and translate them to these young people and take them on a journey. And I went on a journey too. It was quite an extraordinary experience – the pressure I felt on the first day, when the recruits came off the bus, you could see the look of panic in the hotel staff and the management. They all looked pretty frightened. That’s the beauty of the format, the stakes in this show are shared and they’re very real.
Do you think the show has helped inspire more young people to consider hospitality as a career?
Yes, I hope so. I think the recruits do very well. At times, they let themselves down, but that’s down to the fact they don’t apply themselves as they should which is a bit of a shame as it was a golden opportunity for some of them. Even if you don’t make it to the end and win the prize, there is so much to learn on a personal level but also on a professional level. All the skills that I taught them are skills that they can apply anywhere and so it’s fantastic for them.
In what other ways can young people be encouraged to pursue careers in hospitality?
The hospitality industry is currently in a tough situation because of the staff shortages. We don’t have enough catering colleges and we don’t invest enough in professional industry education. In the industry, you have to work with people who come in with no experience and you have to teach them everything from scratch. I think it will make people think about the hospitality industry differently and help people realise a bit more what it takes and, hopefully, they can see the range of the opportunities there are and the benefits of the industry.