Thursday 19 October 2017

Robert Doggett of Trocadero - 'I've heard stuff that I should never know about people - but it'll never pass my lips'

Robert Doggett is the co-owner and maitre d' of the Trocadero Restaurant, which is celebrating 60 years in business. He started working there as a chef in 1985, but soon changed to front-of-house. Born in Slane, Co Meath, he lives alone in Milltown

Co-owner and maitre d' of the Trocadero Restaurant Robert Doggett. Photo: Mark Condren
Co-owner and maitre d' of the Trocadero Restaurant Robert Doggett. Photo: Mark Condren

Ciara Dwyer

A sliver of light comes through the wooden blinds, and I can tell if it's 8am or 10am. I'll turn on Sky News, which has the time in the corner. I look at it and think, 'I've got another hour-and-a-half to go', or maybe not. Then I wolf down some toast with tea. I live on my own in Milltown with a flat-screen TV, which is a great companion.

I have a wonderful three-mile walk into work every day. It clears the head. It takes 45 minutes. During that time, I make five phone calls, usually to family and friends. I do this because the minute I turn the key in the door of the Troc, there is a bombardment of emails, voice messages and people asking questions. And you're on. It's almost like being on stage with the actors.

Since last year, I decided to leave home a little earlier. Now, I stop for coffee and read the Kindle for 15 minutes. If you do something new all the time, it stretches your day. Also, I'm surrounded by a lot of people in work, be it staff or customers, so I quite like having a little bit of space to myself.

The Trocadero opened in 1956, but we postponed celebrating 60 years in business until this year. We thought it might get lost in all of the 1916-2016 events. I'm different things to different people, but my official title is co-owner of the Trocadero. I started as a chef in the kitchen. When I arrived in here in 1985, I was intrigued by the place. It was small and dark, and it had just been taken over by Rhona Teehan, who was well known for running Suesey Street nightclub on Leeson Street.

To drive up business, the manager, Dymphna Healy, brought in this collection of creative people - writers and songwriters. They seemed much more appealing to me than the kitchen. I started working on my nights off as a waiter. Soon, I was working seven nights a week. We'd tumble out of here at 3am, and end up in Suesey Street until 6am. The following day, we'd do it all again. I was working, but it was a night out.

The social life was fantastic. I started going to the theatre a lot, and I got to know a lot of actors. I've grown with them over the years and they have become firm friends. Years ago, there were about 10 photos of actors on the walls, and now it's something like 300. They only went on the wall if the people came in here. I often think that if I ever stopped working here, I might take up acting - just bit parts. Actors come here a lot. We are still open after the curtain comes down. It's probably the latest place in Dublin open at that hour. Years ago, we would have been open even later, but things changed. There have been recessions, but you just ride the storm. You've no choice. You just move on and get older.

We used to have a piano in here. I remember one night, we had playwrights Brian Friel and Tom Murphy and the actress Catherine Byrne. Brian was playing the piano, the cigar hanging out of his mouth, the ash about to drop somewhere. They were drinking red wine and having a great night. Somebody suggested getting a taxi, but when we phoned for one, we were told that we'd have to wait an hour-and-a-half. That was the way it was back then. The answer to that was to have another two bottles of wine. When the taxi arrived, they sent him away. They weren't ready to go home.

A couple of years ago, Sean FitzPatrick, the former Anglo-Irish banker, was in here having an early evening dinner. They were seated at the first table, beside reception. At the time, we had an ice-village display in the window. There was an old lady outside with a woolly hat and an umbrella. She was smiling sweetly at the window display until she spotted Sean. Then she lifted her umbrella and started banging the window with it. Other customers realised what was going on and said, 'Ask him to leave'. But he was a customer, just like everyone else. It wasn't my place to ask him to leave. They took the law into their own hands. One woman phoned a newspaper and there was a photographer here in no time.

I always greet customers with a smile. Everyone is the same, famous or otherwise. I try to be kind and to show a bit of empathy to people who aren't in a good space. It's very important to smile. If customers smile, we all smile and we have a nice day. It's very simple. I enjoy people and I have a natural curiosity about them. I love my job.

We have generations of regular customers coming in. Sometimes they like to share about how their granny is, and who is sick in the family. It's hugely important to them. To some people, the Trocadero is like a community centre. Discretion is a huge part of what I do. You develop trust with people over the years and they will tell you stuff. I've heard stuff that I shouldn't even know about people, but it'll never pass my lips to anyone else. I even have best friends who say, 'You never told me . . .' But it was nobody's business

Remembering names and faces is important. Years ago, I used to learn actors' names, as I'd keep the theatre programmes under the counter, but now I just whip out my phone and google them. The food is really good here, but it's just one part of it. It has a romantic atmosphere with all the red velvet and the soft music. It's very relaxing.

I'm single and that's fine. In a way, it's kind of nice to go home and pull the door behind you. Sometimes I think it might be rather nice to have somebody in my life, but then I look at some older couples who come in here. They sit and don't have anything to say to each other.

I get a taxi home. I watch TV before I got to bed. You've got to wind down. Sometimes I don't sleep well. Recently, I was awake worrying about seating arrangements for Christmas Eve of 2017. Then I remembered someone's advice - don't sweat the small stuff.

Trocadero, 4 St Andrew's St, D2, tel: (01) 677-5545, or see trocadero.ie

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