The 12 traits that make a great Maître’D Hotel
1) He is really relaxed
The Maître is not pretending to be relaxed – he really is relaxed. It’s personality mixed with experience, expertise, people and leadership skills. It reflects on guest and staff creating a relaxed more joy full atmosphere. That’s what we are looking for entering a great hotel. Guest and staff alike.
2) He smells you all and all smell him
He has a nose for staff guest, moods and situations and reacts right out of his guts They all smell him as someone they know, like and feel comfortable with. Most people can not explain how it happens. That’s fine with him and them.
3) He knows much more then the menu
The great Maître’s I have meet had a vast knowledge of everything that had to with their position. Menus, very advanced sommelier knowledge, techniques, skills, flowers, decoration and how to run a laundry were all included. He knows names, families and generations with their whims and pros. He doesn’t need big Data. He has more. But the great Maîtres are also knowledgeable in Arts, Theatre, Politics, community matters and many more topics which made them great partners for conversations. They are able to talk with all generations.
I remember one guest sitting in the restaurant pointing at the Maître and whispering to his son. “Now you see what I tried to explain you. That is elegance. Hard to describe , easy to show if you can find it. Its hard work. Power, energy, emotions, ”
5) He can take the pain
Being a waiter, cook and bellboy before, still working very long hours and having the scares of cuts and burns, blisters and back problems he knows the pain we often feel. It creates a bound to share pain.
6) Sales & upselling
How many trainings have I attended were upselling was explained and not understood. Not taught – in a lecture format you can only explain but not teach. Maîtres can teach you, show you and leave you shocked when they show with an ease how to do it. They sell and upsell without any pressure, not cheating the guest but creating the feeling of trust when selling with elegance. I once had a wonderful Maître who was selling fresh Norwegian lobster one night. A guest came and we all knew that this guest never touched lobster. The Maître looked at us and with a “lets see” moved to the table. The guest was astonished to see him with the lobster on a silver tray. “ You know I don’t eat lobster”. “If you don’t want this lobster I believe you”, answered the Maître. “It would have been a disrespectful crime not to offer it to you.” The guest who knew the Maître many years looked at the Maître and the lobster. “You honestly believe I will like it?” The guest took the lobster, really enjoyed it and on his way out told the Maître that he should never offer Lobster to him again – except if he has this wonderful Norwegian ones.
7) He makes them all believe
Maîtres are great actor without coming over as playing a role or pretending. They have this feeling and the personality to change and react to people and situations were everybody honestly believes them. Like great actors who get so much into their role in a movie or theatre that excites the audience.
The Maître deals easy with the choleric Chef in the Kitchen, the nervous manager pacing around him and the upset guest who didn’t get the room he wanted, crashed his car, left his girlfriend and doesn’t expect anything but misery from this restaurant today. The waiter with the toothache and the drunken Maintenance guy are also easily managed as well – comes in the package. He knows them all. He fixes them all – surprisingly to their satisfaction.
8) They smile inside and it shines out. They have humour.
All great Maître’s have and need a great sense of humour. Whoever worked in Hotel and restaurant business knows that this is essentials for survival. You are a Maître in charge – you can do with some more.
They are never this flat jokers but use humour in well measured dosages at the right time and with the right persons. Or they don’t - which is better with some people. They know who that is. Never offensive or out of place.
9) They could fight
They could fight with anyone but they know they could and almost never have to do it. They give this feeling – that’s what people smell too – that it’s a bad idea to fight with them. Believe me – I have seen it. It is! It gives their staff a feeling of protections. And rightfully – he will protect.
They are humble Managers and leaders without even caring what management means. Self praise is disgusting for them. They don’t need to boost about themselves – others boost about them and they even feel uncomfortable hearing that.They make others shine!
11) They respect themselves without arrogance
Self respect is a sign of dignity but also results in respect for others and from others.
12) The Maître knows the distance to keep
Might be the most important trait which is surprisingly hardly recognized. Your staff needs a healthy distance for their comfort so does the Maître. It allows for professional and personal space, respect and grow. The guest needs the distance. The message the Maître and the guest sends to others is “ come as close as I want – not closer”. As familiar as you might be with a guest – you don’t sit with him at the table. He doesn’t want you and you don’t want this either.
As a result the behaviour of a great Maître’s creates and establishes Integrity, Honesty, trust, respect.
Real Maîtres do not believe in Standard Operating procedures. Their Standards are too high for that. As one Maître told me once “if I want standard service I can go to a pizzeria or MacDonald’s. All the same – nothing worth to mention”
Combining all this you would expect a Diplomat of high calibre, an entrepreneur of a special breed, a tremendous successful rich and humble business man. Some of these a great Maître ‘D is - some of these he never long to be. But they need the environment to exist. Hotel chains do not provide this. An exception I would make for Peninsiula but they are a different class, not too big and have charismatic leaders.
Service is an attitude and a satisfying art. Maître’s Hotel are the Champions of an Art that I am sure will never get lost. It is rare but great things should be rare. I know we will never run out of great Maître’s – they are just so hard to find.
Anything I forgot? Please add in the comments. I would really appreciate.
Author: Stephan Busch, Academic Director at the State University for the Humanities Moscow RGGU, Faculty of Tourism & Hospitality earned his Master Certificate in Hospitality Management from Cornell University, USA.
Stephan Busch has an invaluable and diverse experience in launching operations, business development and service training- for hotel and cruise companies in Asia, Europe, Canada and Russia.