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Shaun Capewall, maître d’ at Sketch
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re a maître d’

Written by
James FitzGerald

…according to Shaun Capewell, 30.

There’s no such thing as ‘fully booked’

‘Maître d’s are the wish-givers. Here at Sketch, you’ll get a walk-in table with me if you give me a bit of yourself. Show me some engagement. Tell me why it’s so important for you to eat here specifically – don’t be that person who just wants a selfie in our loos. Above all, be nice. That goes a long way nowadays.’

The show must go on

‘I’m a former backing dancer for Kylie Minogue, so I love that some of the job of a maître d’ is pure performance. I tell my team to create the illusion that everything is going smoothly at all times, especially during the “cardio hour” from 8.30pm to 9.30pm. Even when we’re feeling the burn, no one is allowed to see our masks slip. Everyone is well drilled: I don’t normally need to unleash my inner dragon.’

Working in the service industry is part psychology, part diplomacy

‘A restaurant is always working on you in lots of invisible ways. The maître d’ needs to analyse a diner in minutes, then use little tricks to keep them on side: maybe an exaggerated bending-down to show an angry guest you’re properly listening to their complaints. It’s all about pre-empting confrontations.’

A maître d’ never forgets a face

‘We build a profile on someone to give them a more personal service. What’s their favourite dish? Which wine did they drink last time? How many visits have they made? Since protecting personal data is a hot topic, a maître d’ needs a photographic memory of regular guests to fall back on. We also remember every odd “mishap” that occurs. We like to forgive, but we don’t forget.’

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