Restaurant Hosts & Hostesses

April 18, 2008

You only get one chance to make a first impression. It sounds trite, we've all heard it, but it's true. Unfortunately, it's a truism lost on many restaurateurs. I'm amazed at how many great restaurants have maitre'd/hosts who undermine the efforts of the chef, cooks, waitstaff...basically the whole restaurant staff. The problem is so widespread, maitre'd's are often the butt of jokes in popular comedy.

I've identified three major problem types:

1. The Indifferent. Recently, Sheri and I went into a restaurant, walked up to the podium where a host was looking through his booking book. It was lunch time and the restaurant was about 80% full. As we arrived, the phone rang, the host answered..ingnoring us and held an index finger up to my face. No eye contact, no "I'll be with you in a minute." After about 90 seconds, this guy simply waived his hand at a couple of empty tables...presumably for us to seat ourselves. Later, we practically had to tackle him just to get menus. Ironically, the meal that followed was fantastic and the waiter did a superb job. Other takes on this theme include totally absent hosts or ones who "talk among themselves" with co-hosts..sort of like Regis and Kelly.

2. The Snooty. There's a very good Greek restaurant in Palo Alto, that is also usually quite full. It's near a movie theatre and so a couple of times we went in after a show for dinner....without...gasp...reservations! Each time the hostess looked at us as though we had escaped from a chain gang. The second time, the hostess literally looked Sheri up and down from head to toe clearly to see if she was dressed well enough for a table. Now this is a nice place, but it's not The French Laundry (which has an extremely gracious hosting staff in my experience) was so insulting that we simply walked out and never went back.

3. The Frazzled. These are the overwhelmed, outta their league, infants that some restaurants decide to hire as the face of their businesses. They share all kinds of information about how busy they are and that some dishwasher didn't show up; all while failing to get you seated at one of several empty tables...or open an entire empty section of the restaurant.

Sorry for the rant, but having worked in restaurants, I know how much love, blood, sweat, and tears goes into creating a good dining experience. I just wish more places didn't start off on such a sour note.

To increase your odds of getting good service, here's a guide to tipping a maitre'd. For a whole lot more on the subject of service in restaurants, check out Waiter Rant.