A Maitre d'Hotel (or often called, simply, “Maitre d'”) is the headwaiter of a restaurant or any dining establishment. In fact, this French term can be translated literally into “Master of the Establishment.”
As headwaiter, the Maitre d’ is in charge of making sure that there is proper coordination between the kitchen and the dining room. This, of course, includes keeping an eye on the waiters who take and deliver the orders, but it can—in finer restaurants—also include going the extra mile in making customers happy. For example, the best Maitre D’s will also be the resident wine expert or sommelier, and make suggestions as to the perfect pairing of main courses and side dishes. The Maitre d’ will also be the one to deal with any complaints that customers may have.
Very often the Maitre d’ is the first person that customers see when they enter the restaurant. He or she often stands in the lobby or by the door, and greets them or takes reservations. One of the most important yet unspoken functions of the Maitre d’ is to make a warm and welcoming first impression. Sometimes, that means entertaining them while the restaurant staff decides where to seat them. Often, the Maitre d’ will try to distribute customers evenly across the restaurant, since waiters are often assigned to particular areas. If there are too many people in one section, the waiters will be overwhelmed – and the customers may complain, too, if service is too slow.
This is just one aspect of the Maitre d’s job. Even before the restaurant opens its doors, it his or her responsibility to manage the waiters, in terms of their schedules, sections, and other work related issues or conflicts.
Maitre d’s should never be bribed (say to get a better table) but they can be discreetly tipped at the end of the meal for excellent service.