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The Maitre'd - A Dying Class?

by R.H. Duke

The Maitre d' of yesteryear was a gracious person who directed the dining vehicle, while setting the tone for the evening. Does this differ from the modern day Maitre d'?

I turned to Robert W. Smythe of the acclaimed Lutece in the Venetian Resort for answers. Asked if the Maitre d' of former times is a dying class being replaced by room hosts, Smythe responded "the emphasis is not on the person or his personality. World-class chefs have relieved him of certain duties such as tableside prep and finishing." Does this diminish the level of personal services, or in reality, eliminate the unnecessary pampering of guests, I wondered? Smythe says "we compliment what the chef is doing; we can debone fish or carve meat tableside if necessary."

In the past patrons customarily showed monetary appreciation for the courtesies anticipated of the Maitre d' such as best table, last minute reservations, personal requests and attention, or a rose for the lady among others. Some would say the gratuity is certainly justified. Smyth says "it is not necessary as customers will not receive greater services as a result of the gratuity. We are humble and serve every guest equally. If they tip, that's OK. It means we did a good job."

What is the function of the contemporary Maitre d'? "He is the contact for all guests, the gatekeeper" according to Smythe. "He should understand the function of the dining room and assure the point of execution," he says. In the past the Maitre d' seated you, presented the menu and wine list, poured wine, prepped tableside, assisted in serving your meal in addition to other personalized services. Currently, the host, sommelier, chef, captain, and restaurant managers provide these services. The Maitre d' as an individual is non-existent today.

A transformation has taken place. The elegance and impeccable services of the individual has been replaced with the elegance and impeccable services of a brigade of special people. The affable Maitre d' still exists, if only in spirit, as his duties have been delegated to and distributed among others.

I am pleased to experience the sharp execution of services of a larger number of individuals who compose this brigade, which can be found in any fine dining establishments such as Lutece. Meet Robert W. Smythe and his contemporaries who have either adapted to, or have become, the new Maitre d'.

R.H. Duke is a former restaurateur and a Las Vegas restaurant critic who says "Fine Dining is one of Life's Greatest Pleasures!"


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