Ask a Waiter

Ben Chekroun on How to Get the Best Seat at Le Bernardin

“I had to intervene and stop someone from going over to the celebrity.”Photo: Melissa Hom
Moroccan-born Ben Chekroun was a maître d’ at the Inn at Bay Ridge when a friend asked him if he was interested in a job at Le Bernardin. He had to start as a waiter, but after thirteen years, he’s worked his way up to maître d’ and doesn’t plan on going anywhere else. We asked him what makes the service at Le Bernardin the best in the city, what makes the fish so fresh, and whether anyone has ever stolen one of the house jackets.

Adam Platt says Le Bernardin has the best service in the city. To what extent do you follow French tradition?
Except for one dish, there’s no tableside carving. We serve from the left with the left arm and clean from the right with the right arm; that way you don’t elbow the customer.

Do people ever refuse to abide by your jacket requirement? Do your loaners ever get stolen?
If you feel someone is really, really uncomfortable, we put the jacket on the back of the chair, but we like not to do that. Sometimes, after a couple bottles of wine, people walk out and forget it’s not their jacket, but they always bring them back.

Do tourists ever try to accost celebrities?
A few times I had to intervene and stop someone from going over to the celebrity. Once it happened with Mick Jagger; once it was Michael Douglas.

Who are some of the regulars?
Mr. Woody Allen, Mr. Jann Wenner … [Allen] usually orders off the menu since Eric [Ripert, chef and co-owner] takes off dishes every few months. We know who likes what, and when something’s in season, we will call the regulars and make them aware we have it. If someone calls and wants a dish we had five years ago, we’ll do it.

What makes the seafood so fresh?
All the seafood suppliers have been dealing with us for very long. They know Eric. They know how difficult he is, and they know if it’s not the freshest, it’ll go back.

How do you handle it when someone complains about the quality of the fish?
I will try to take care of that problem. Eric knows his fish is fresh, and if it gets to him, he might not … [trails off]

What’s the best table in the house?
I would recommend the middle of the room, against the wall or window. You’re basically out of the traffic. It’s a side-by-side table, so you get to view the whole room.

What’s your advice on how to score it?
We open the book the first day of the prior month, so you have almost two months to make a reservation. The frequency of your visits here also plays a role. After that we have a waiting list. You have to be persistent — annoy the reservationist until they give up!

—Daniel Maurer

Ben Chekroun on How to Get the Best Seat at Le Bernardin