Maitre D’ Job Description - Duties, Skills and Career
What Does a Maitre Do?
A maitre d’ is the person who runs the dining room operation in a restaurant. As well as managing the work of the front of the house brigade, the maitre d’ is also responsible for customer relations and for ensuring that a restaurant’s customer receive impeccable service at all times.
Maitre d’s are a key figure in an eating establishment. They are responsible for ensuring customers have the best possible experience at a restaurant and as such require a thorough knowledge of dining etiquette and protocol, strong managerial and interpersonal skills and a deep familiarity with the food service industry.
Maitre d’s have a vast wide range of responsibilities, including setting up and preparing the dining room(s) prior to service, handling reservations, welcoming and greeting customers and coordinating the work of the waiting staff.
But what does a maitre d’ do exactly?
When taking a phone reservation, the maitre d’ informs the caller if a table is available for the required date and time, asks if they have any seating preferences and, finally, records the details of the reservation. Before the restaurant opens to the public, the maitre checks that the dining room is ready for service - i.e. that the mise en place has been completed (e.g. plates, glasses, napkins and table and serving accessories), the dining area is clean, tidy and presentable and the lighting, music and any decorations, such as flowers and candles, are all present and correct.
When the restaurant opens, the maitre d’ greets customers at the entrance. As guests’ first point of contact, the maitre d’ plays a key role in ensuring that their initial impression of the restaurant is a positive one. He or she should welcome diners politely and professionally, check their reservation - if they have one - accompany them to their table and help them to take their seats. Alternatively, guests may be escorted to their places and seated by a host or hostess.
As the person in charge of presenting the menu and the wine list, the maitre d’ needs a comprehensive knowledge of both in order to be able to describe the dishes (e.g. their ingredients, organoleptic properties and origin) and suggest suitable wine pairings. The key to successful menu presentation lies in a maitre d’s ability to understand and interpret a customer’s requirements and to suggest dishes and wines that suit their tastes. The job of actually taking guests’ food and drink orders is typically performed by a waiter, together with the sommelier.
Where necessary, however, the maitre d’ may act as a waiter, for example, taking orders and serving food. More often than not, any tableside preparation of food - e.g. flambéing a steak or dessert - will be the prerogative of the maitre d’.
During service, maitre d’s are responsible for ensuring that dining room operations are running smoothly - e.g. ensuring that waiters are handling diners’ orders efficiently and professionally, that all tables are receiving prompt and accurate service, that dishes are arriving on time and that the general level of service is excellent. When customers have finished their meals, maitre d’s will seek to gauge their level of customer satisfaction, listening to any comments, feedback, compliments and complaints.
In addition to coordinating the activities of the dining room brigade from an operational point of view during service, the maitre d’ also has a range of organizational responsibilities, including scheduling the working hours and shifts of the restaurant’s hosts and hostesses, waiters, commis de rang (or commis waiters) chefs de rang, sommeliers and (where applicable) assistant maitre, assigning responsibility for specific sections of the dining room to the chefs de rang and overseeing the training of new recruits. The maitre d’ is also the point of liaison with the kitchen brigade and the chef.
Additional duties of the maitre d’ include checking that all service equipment (eg.cutlery, table linen, waiter stations and service trolleys) is in good repair and well maintained and suggesting service improvements to management.
Maitre d’s working in a hotel report to the Food & Beverage Manager, while in a restaurant, their immediate superior is the Restaurant Manager. They work with the chef and the sommelier to create the food menu and the wine list, pass on any comments or feedback received from customers regarding the food to the chef and consult with the sommelier on food and wine pairings.
Maitre d’s are typically found in medium to high-end establishments offering fine dining, including luxury hotels and restaurants, holiday resorts and cruise ships. They may also be employed to run banqueting or catering operations at weddings and other special events. Head waiters are required to dress appropriately for the role and setting and typically wear elegant attire that distinguishes them rest of the front of the house staff.
The working hours of a maitre d’ vary according to the restaurant, but they are generally required to work lunch and dinner shifts, and need to be available on weekends and public holidays. The job involves a lot of walking and standing and demands a great deal of energy, not to mention the ability to cope with stress and fatigue. More than anything else, perhaps, the job of a maitre d’ calls for the ability to remain calm under pressure and to deal promptly and efficiently with unforeseen events and inconveniences, such as a broken bottle of wine or long waiting times due to delays or mistakes made by the kitchen staff.
Maitre Duties and Responsibilities
The tasks of a maitre d’ include:
- Setting up the dining room and arranging / laying tables
- Welcoming / greeting customers
- Handling reservations and table allocations
- Coordinating dining room service
- Ensuring immaculate customer service
- Coordinating the activities of dining room staff
- Working with the chef and sommelier on menu and wine list creation
How to Become a Maitre D' - Education, Training and Requirements
Aspiring maitre d’s can attend a professional training course run by a catering college, cookery school or other training provider, where they will be able to acquire all the skills and proficiencies they need, including setting up the dining room, table setting, food service management, banqueting and catering, menu design (e.g. seasonal, thematic or international menus), food and wine knowledge and pairing and food hygiene and safety.
However, when it comes to learning how to welcome, manage, interact with and serve customers, while striking a good balance between personal style and professional protocol, there is really no substitute for on the job experience in a real restaurant environment.
Job vacancies for maitre d’s also require candidates to have a knowledge of the most common foreign languages, so that they can interact efficiently with international customers, as well as the IT skills needed to use table reservation and order management software.
What Skills Are Needed to Work as a Maitre?
The skills needed by a maitre d’ include:
- Dining room set up and mise en place skills
- Knowledge of the restaurant industry
- Menu creation skills
- Elegant and refined appearance and manner
- Professional and proficient customer service
- Leadership and decision-making skills
- Organizational and planning skills
- Ability to work well under pressure
- Knowledge of one or more foreign language
Maitre Career Path
The career of a maitre d’ often starts from the role of waiter - the lowest rank in the front of the house brigade. Subsequently, experience in the role combined with strong customer relations skills and organizational abilities, is likely to see a waiter gradually given increasing responsibility, as he or she rises up the dining room hierarchy. The traditional sequence of roles, in ascending order of importance, is: commis waiter, chef de rang, assistant maitre d’ (if the dining room is very large) and, finally, maitre d’.
As their careers progress, experienced maitre d’s may be called to work in increasingly prestigious or high end establishments, together with top chefs and sommeliers. Alternatively, they may choose to move into a managerial role as a Food & Beverage Manager or Restaurant Manager.
Finally, a maitre d’ may decide to opt for a complete career overhaul, going into business by him or herself and opening or taking over a restaurant or hotel.
Top Reasons to Work as a Maitre
A job as a maitre d’ typically involves working in medium to high end dining establishments - e.g. luxury restaurants and hotels, on board cruise ships and in establishments offering a refined, elegant ambiance. This aspect of the work makes it ideally suited to those with a passion for good food and gourmet cuisine in stylish, upscale surroundings.
Finally, given the need to ensure prompt, impeccable service at all times, regardless of the circumstances, another attractive aspect of the job of maitre d’ is undoubtedly the challenging, fast-paced nature of the work.