The maître d’ of a restaurant is a like a stage manager of a theatre production. The food is the star, the chef is the director and the ambience is the set. You can go to a play by a famous director, but if the stage manager is no good at his job, you’ll have chaos.
Though chefs have been elevated from backroom labor to headlining celebrities, the maître d’ is the unsung hero of a great restaurant experience. Bouley and Batali may be familiar names on TV and in cookbooks, but the unassuming maître d’ is often the diner’s first and last point of contact. It’s the maître d’ who transforms a great meal into an extraordinary night.
Call it craft, performance or science, maître d’s are masters of customer intimacy. In a world where a single city can boast hundreds of restaurants, their job is to make sure that people will return – and they do it by first by regarding people as friends.
There’s a lot we can learn from these ‘artists of the dining room’. Top class maître d’s are very good at reading people. They foster relationships through genuine conversation and are attentive to each individual’s needs. It’s not just about setting tables. To help create rapport through good conversation, Eric Rousseau from Relais Bernard Loiseau makes his staff read the papers every morning so they are up to the play with what’s happening. Attention to customers’ needs and a relentless pursuit of excellence are also skills synonymous with professional maître d’s.
Shin Miyazaki from Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Tokyo was crowned the best maître d’ in the world last year. "I practised every day for years, I'm hooked, and now I get this award," he said. "But this is only the beginning, tomorrow I go back to work to do my best."
Imagine if that was the spirit of every person in your company!