You work late and have dinner at the restaurant. What do you go for?
Late at night, I tend not to eat heavy. I would probably have sashimi followed by the spaghettini with prawns and chilli and garlic. That would do me, as long as I could get a drink.
And what would you like to drink?
I drink white wine at lunchtime and red wine at dinner, generally. But I might be tempted to drink champagne late at night. If I could afford it, I'd probably have a bottle of vintage champagne.
How decadent. Apparently the Queen Mother called 6pm 'happy hour' as that was when she switched from red wine to Dubonnet and gin.
Wow! That's hardcore! I knew that she had a predilection for Dubonnet.
Do you sell much of it at The Ivy?
None. I don't remember anyone ever asking for a Dubonnet. Princess Margaret used to come in quite a lot, though. But she would always drink Famous Grouse with soda or water on the rocks – even with dinner.
What makes a good maître d'?
I think first and foremost you have to have a basic love of humanity. You need to have an awful lot of patience. You need to have empathy, personality, warmth and a great memory for names – because nothing flatters someone more than you remembering their name. And I think you've got to be part psychoanalyst.
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People come in and you have to work out what they need to be made happy. You have to give them a diagnosis. If you're maître d'ing and you have three tables empty and you know you'll have six tables coming in from the ballet, you have to think which of these couples will be happy to have a drink in the bar? And who wants to just sit down and go? If you get that right, nobody feels like they're waiting.
Have you ever been so busy you've turned away big names?
It does happen. But my mistake is occasionally not knowing who somebody is. Like when they rang for a table for Beyoncé for six people. I'd been living in Spain for a couple of years and had no idea who she was. The staff all got very upset that I'd turned her away. I'm sure she had no problem getting a table elsewhere.
Mobile phones were banned until quite recently. What's changed?
If people want to consult their telephones, then that's fine. What's not fine is standing up to take a photograph of the whole table. That's disruptive. And taking photographs of other customers is absolutely forbidden.
Am I correct in thinking micro skirts used to be forbidden?
We've never stopped a woman coming in because she was wearing one. We just don't want too many – they shock people. But we don't let men in wearing shorts.
I was turned away from Brasserie Lipp in Paris for wearing shorts…
No! Oh, come on! It's the Lipp. You must know that! They used to have a sign on the wall in French saying, "Please do not feed your dog at the table," and underneath it said, "This is a serious notice." It was for all the old ladies who would come in with their little poodles.
So if Beyoncé and Jay-Z turned up – her in a microskirt, him in a pair of shorts – would you give them a table?
I think sometimes there are exceptions that prove the rule. I'd make a decision based on what was best for The Ivy. If it was going to make everyone's night, then I'd probably let them in. But if I looked around the dining-room and it was mainly rather crusty, suited and booted people, I might say, "Would you mind taking dinner in the members' club upstairs?"
Born in Gibraltar, Fernando Peire worked briefly for the French government before choosing a career in restaurants. He joined The Ivy as senior maître d’ in 1990, a position he held for eight years. He departed to relaunch London’s Quo Vadis, then worked as a consultant on a number of projects, including the Frontline Club. He has been director of The Ivy since 2007, and starred as ‘The Restaurant Inspector’ in the eponymous Channel 5 series.Reuse content