restaurant front of house staff
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Front of House Restaurant Staff

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The Chain of Command : Restaurant Service Staff

Maître d’Hôtel

This is the person responsible for the overall management of service at a fairly elaborate establishment, often a hotel. Over time, the title — commonly shortened to maître d’ — has taken on a life of its own. The ideal maître d’ is sometimes perceived to be a charismatic and imperious man, whose personality comes to be associated with the restaurant itself. At the most elegant establishments, this style of maître d’ might be the first person encountered upon entering, and might display lavish attentiveness to certain, visibly top-notch, patrons, while projecting cool disdain on others. Oscar Tschirky, the famous maître d’hôtel at the Waldorf-Astoria during the Gilded Age, has been credited with originating this stereotype.

Headwaiter

As second-in-command, the headwaiter oversees service in a particular area of the restaurant, such as a banquet room. If there is no maître d’hôtel, the headwaiter is responsible for the overall management of service. Often the titles maître d’ and headwaiter are interchangeable.

Captain

The captain is responsible for running one “service station” ­ that is, a section of the restaurant that typically includes 25 to 30 guests. This involves taking the customers’ orders and overseeing one or two waiters and a busboy, who carry out the other tasks necessary to the progress of the meal.

Waiter

The waiter assists the captain by tending to the customers’ needs throughout the meal ­ bringing the food when it is ready, providing utensils and plates. In small or casual restaurants, a captain may not be necessary, and waiters will take customers’ orders.

Busboy

At the bottom of the ladder for the front-of-house staff is the busboy. He is responsible for the most basic needs of the guests ­ filling water glasses, bringing bread and butter, and conveying dirty dishes to his counterpart in the kitchen, the dishwasher.

Additional Specialized Positions

Chef/Proprietor

When the chef’s personal style is the defining characteristic of a restaurant, it is quite common for him or her to make appearances in the dining rooms to meet the guests. For example, at Lutèce under the reign of the famous André Soltner (which ended in the Spring of 1995, when Soltner retired and was replaced by Eberhard Muller), there were two situations that brought Soltner out front for more than just a quick schmoozing circuit of the tables. When personal friends or important contacts came to eat, André would greet them, chat sociably, make recommendations, then take their orders himself, instead of sending a captain to the table. And when somewhat more distant acquaintances (say, friends of friends or regular customers) were present, he made a special point of stopping by their table during the meal.

Host or Hostess

The hostess greets the guests and shows them to their tables. At some restaurants, the hostess may also perform many of the managerial functions allotted to a maître d’hôtel.

Sommelier (or Wine Steward)

A sommelier is usually only found at quite formal restaurants and is the person responsible for choosing and maintaining the restaurant’s stock of wines, as well as serving them to customers.

Bartender

The bartender provides bar service during meals, giving the finished drinks to waiters for delivery to the tables or serving customers directly, if they are waiting at the bar before being seated. If there is no sommelier at the restaurant, the bartender may be responsible for maintaining the wine stock.

Coat Checker

Usually isolated in a small booth built just inside the restaurant door for this purpose, the coat checker (who is almost always a woman) is a seasonal worker who is present in fine restaurants during the winter months. It is desirable, after all, to prevent the dining room from becoming cluttered with bulky coats draped over the backs of chairs and scarves dropped on the floor.

Here are some suggestions for how much to tip each member of the service staff.

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