David Hammond raises that question in a Sun-Times piece today after a trip to France, noting that Alpana Singh, for one, has said “It’s time to bring back the maître’d.” The job of having a single person in the room who was responsible for every guest’s happiness is rooted in the class distinctions of traditional French dining— the guest, undoubtedly upper class, needed a liason of refined manners and presumed executive ability between himself and the mob of lowly servants serving him. Even in more democratic America, maître’ds were often foreign-born and thus reflective of an old world of custom and class, which is why in the egalitarian 70s and into the food-obsessed 80s and 90s, the position began to seem quaint. We no longer wanted to know an intermediary, we wanted to know our chef personally, we wanted to talk wino a wino to our sommelier, and whether we wanted to know him or not, Darrin was going to be our server and our new first-name buddy. But making the sommelier or the general manager a maître’d in disguise deprived the servers of a visible commander on the floor. As Singh puts it, “The maître d’ inspires hosts and servers to be the best at their jobs, and he remembers those little details that make customers feel welcome and at home.” [Sun-Times]
Oscar of the Waldorf.