At first glance Fred Sirieix is like every other restaurant maître d’: he welcomes guests, takes their coats and shows them to their tables. But Fred is the maître d’ at the First Dates restaurant, which specialises in serving its customers a “chance at love”, followed by “the possibility of happily ever after”. The Paternoster Chop House, near St Paul’s Cathedral in London, has seen both tears and disappointment, as well as love at first sight and proposals. But what has really made First Dates such a huge success is the 43-year-old Frenchman-turned-love-guru.
In between dates of varying success, the camera turns to Fred, who shares his musings on the developing romance, love and life. Musings inspired by Socrates, Shakespeare… and Thierry Henry.
“It just depends if people have that je ne sais quoi, if they find this va va voom together. When two beautiful people come together we are all waiting for this perfect Disney fairy tale where they live happily ever after and have chil- dren – but either you feel it or you don’t feel it.
“No man is an island… everybody needs someone to cuddle with, or to give them that little bit of love.”
And in person he is no less philosophical or romantic. Over cocktails at Galvin at Windows restaurant at the top of the Park Lane Hilton, where he works full time while filming on weekends, every question seems to come back to love.
Why did Fred want to be involved in First Dates? “I’m not desperate to be on TV, so I wanted to understand what was the vision, what were the values of the programme and where it is going. And so you meet people and then you have to have a little faith – you’ve got to believe. 2020 [the production company] say it’s about love, and people who want to find love, and that’s it! It’s the restaurant of love! Why wouldn’t I want to work there?”
Fred first appeared on TV in Michel Roux’s Service, which took young people and taught them the art of working front of house. Having grown up in Limoges in France – “It’s like the French Coventry, right? So when you say you’ve been sent to Coventry? Being sent to Limoges is the same thing!” – he started work in the indus- try at 16 and was soon offered a job by Michel Roux at La Gavroche in London, where he’s lived for the past 22 years.
What does he love about being a maître d’?
“The world is the way we make it, right? And it’s up to me to make that place the way I want it, and that place fundamentally has to be good. Socrates hailed virtue as the meaning of life and virtue means knowing what is good and what is bad. You need to know that first for yourself and then you can put it into action in a restaurant, in a business, or in a relationship. It’s a way of life – making people feel special, giving generously and creating a connection and a bond with people. The beauty of the world is the people that you meet. We’re not meant to be alone.”
Fred actually lives in Peckham, south London, with his partner and two children, but were he single, he insists, he would have no qualms about going on First Dates.
“Why not? What have you got to lose? You could meet The One! This show has affirmed my idea of love, of openness, of honesty, of really living for the moment.”
1. You’re never too old
It honestly doesn’t matter how old you are – whether you’ve been married 50 years or if it’s your very first date. Everybody wants love and romance in their life and to do something exciting once in a while. So why not take a chance, do something special and make someone — and yourself — happy.
2. Open that door
How do people you meet know that you care? Because you show it! So be polite. It’s good to have manners and to be aware of the other person. Be thoughtful and respectful of the person you are with and ask, “Would you like this? Would you like that? Is this good for you?” Open the door, hold out a chair: those are the little touches that really show you care, and make a difference.
3. Order for two
If you’re familiar with a restaurant and the menu, don’t be scared to take the lead and order for your date. “Close the menu, let me order for you, I know this menu very well.” There is nothing wrong with that, is there?
4. The food of love
If it’s going well, order some oysters. I love oysters. But be careful who you enjoy them with, because they have this kind of connotation…
5. Don’t use your phone
Why would you want to use your phone? For some people it’s an addiction. But put it away! If you’re waiting for a call from your mum because your dad is sick, I could understand, right? Explain – and once you have spoken to your date, that’s it. Then put your phone away.
Should you drink on a first date? Of course! It relaxes you, releases the endorphins, you feel cool, happy and ready for love. Obviously, don’t get drunk and end up rolling under the table – that’s not a good idea. Know your limits.
7. Go dutch
We’re not in the 1920s any more – women have jobs, men have jobs, we are all working and I think that we have to live in our times and move on from all these old expectations, you know? Divide the bill 50:50.
8. Kiss, kiss and kiss again
Kissing on the first date? I would! Why not? You can’t help it, if you feel the attraction. You’re having a conversation, you’re both into each other… Of course I would kiss. And more!
9. Take a walk
Dinner may be the perfect way to start a date, but then why not go for a walk afterwards? If you were in the First Dates restaurant in London I’d send you along the Thames river walk and past the Millennium Bridge. That’s very romantic. Or you can be brave and say, “Let’s go for a couple of days in Amsterdam.” Why not? Be spontaneous!
10. And if it’s all gone wrong…
If you find that your first date is going badly, just make your excuses very quickly. But you must always be polite – don’t upset someone by being blunt and horrible and go. It’s not their fault if they are not what you expected, so try to make a nice excuse. You could even send them a quick text afterwards, simply saying, “Thanks for dinner, it was fantastic.” That’s it.
First Dates in on Friday 12th February at 9pm on Channel 4