L’Espalier on James Beard Outstanding Service Nod: “You Have to Be Pretty Wonderful to Work Here”

At L'Espalier, service is sublime.
At L'Espalier, service is sublime. Photo: L'Espalier

We’re surprised by Boston’s lukewarm showing in the James Beard Award semifinals (what, just two chefs nominated for Best Chef: Northeast?), but we are happy to see L’Espalier get its due for Best Service—the first time the restaurant has been nominated in that category and the only Boston restaurant on this year’s service list. What’s their secret? Maître d’ Louis Risoli tells Grub Street what it takes to make it on the floor, straight ahead.

“Our training is pretty intense,” Risoli says. “We have a testing system to move up through the ranks, based on knowledge of the menu, food, service, wine. It’s a very grueling test. We instill a great deal of pride to make it to the 100 percent rank. You have to study like crazy. You have to be pretty wonderful to work here.”

Servers—who are hired by Risoli based on a good first impression; experience doesn’t always matter—first demonstrate that they know the house wines and should be able to engage in a cursory discussion of the menu. Next, Risoli “throws cheese into the mix,” coupled with a deeper quiz on L’Espalier’s more obscure wines. Finally, Risoli will “pick just about anything on the menu” and ask servers to recommend three bottles of wine at three different price points. It’s an intense year-long process, culminating with promotion to captain.

But knowledge isn’t everything. Risoli also looks for people who exude “warmth, caring, pride, and humility.” In other words, Lindsay Garver shouldn’t apply.

Related: James Beard Restaurant and Semifinalists Announced

L’Espalier on James Beard Outstanding Service Nod: “You Have to Be Pretty