Are you being served?

  • The List
  • 20 August 2009
Are you being served?


Chefs are meant to be the gods of the dining world, but without the right people elsewhere in their restaurant, neither awards nor TV offers are likely. To prove the point, the Gourmet Glasgow festival invited some local food critics to take on the role of maitre d’ at various city restaurants. Our Food & Drink Editor, Donald Reid, was one of them

‘Is everything OK with your meal?’

I heard the words and they seemed to have emerged from my lips.

I was trying to do what maitre d’s do.

With little else by way of qualifications, talking the talk seemed a good start. Reassuringly the team at Cafezique, Mhairi Taylor’s laid back corner bistro on Hyndland Street in the West End, were walking the walk. Or walking as best they could with me hovering around by the bar getting in the way.

Good staff don’t get in each other’s way. Cafezique packs a kitchen, bar, mezzanine and 40 covers into a small, occasionally awkward space, but Mhairi and her team of three working front-of-house glided around like mercury in a tube. I heard no ‘excuse me’s or ‘pardon’s or ‘sorry’s, and the job was getting done. Or lots of jobs, at lots of tables. Far too many for me to keep in my head.

Effective teamwork and good systems – evident even in a place with the casual air of Cafezique – are important. Most of all, a good front-of-house operation is about good communication. The staff were all talking to each other and to the kitchen, but I wasn’t following it at all. I wasn’t tuned in. Occasionally I was given an exaggerated nudge to help me realise there were some prospective diners at the door. This was my role: meet and greet and find a seat.

The maitre d’hotel was the high heid yin in classical French restaurants. Master (literally) of all he surveyed on the floor of the restaurant, he held sway over all the waiting staff and more often than not the kitchen too. A head chef might regard himself as equal, but during service it was the maitre d’s responsibility to keep customers satisfied, and the kitchen was merely a cog in that well-oiled machine.

Without the duck-like qualities of a professional to maintain the calmest of demeanours, mixed with chatty bonhomie, while paddling furiously underneath to keep everything ticking along, I was far from masterful. Which one of the 30 things to be done should I do first?

‘Is everything OK with your meal?’

They said yes. But should I really believe them?

Donald Reid was at Cafezique as part of Gourmet Glasgow’s Critics Challenge. Proceeds from the evening, as well as the fee for this article, are being given to the Camphill Village Trust. Camphill communities are places where adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems are given fulfilling work, training and education. Many are linked to agriculture and food production with farms, organic gardens, bakeries and dairies, including the fantastic Loch Arthur creamery and farm shop near Dumfries which produces some of Scotland’s finest artisan cheeses.

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