Books: “Your Table is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maitre D’” by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina
I used to think advertising was the most unstable business in the world. Then I read “Your Table is Waiting,” Michael Checci-Azzolina’s memoir of his career as a maitre d’ at New York’s hottest restaurants. Advertising looks like a civil service career by comparison.
This Brooklyn-born, Woody Allen lookalike got his start in the service business as an altar boy at his Bensonhurst church—and later, as a bartender at his uncle’s weekend poker parties. Set on becoming an actor, he instead wound up as a runner in a couple of Times Square divey restaurants during the late 1970s, gradually working his way up into more prestigious, managerial gigs at the Water Club and in the 1980s, the legendary River Cafe.
While these restaurant names carry some cachet for those of us old enough to remember them, Michael is the furthest thing from pompous. He calls ‘em as he sees ‘em, hilariously ripping rude celebrity patrons to shreds as well as the managers of such sacred cows as Raoul’s and Minetta Tavern.
Through these anecdotes, we get a sense of what really matters to restaurant staff and maitre d’s: having covert sex in a room behind the kitchen, snorting coke until 3 am, and accepting $100 spiffs from self-important Wall Street types. We also learn how difficult it is to keep a restaurant’s buzz alive, and that the places that do survive attribute their success to the owner/chef’s intimate involvement with day-to-day operations and the menu.
After his maitre d’ stint at the world-class Le Coucou, which closed during the pandemic, Michael was once again out of a job and wasn’t sure he was ready to go back. “The stress of not being home for dinner fun or six nights a week, or coming home atter midnight while your partner spends most of the week home alone or taking care of the kids and putting them to bed.”
But then he adds, “like theater, the script rarely changes, but it's a different performance each night. I'd check the book to see who was coming in that evening…Amal and George want in because they are bringing Justice Sotomayor to dinner; Common absolutely needs to come back and he's only in town tonight. And on it goes.” Obviously, he’s hooked.
If you’re not a New Yorker of a certain age or you don’t find chasing a restaurant booking a guilty pleasure, you may find “Your Table is Ready” too inside-baseball. But if true-to-life anecdotes about the crazy business of hospitality are indeed your thing, you’ll be laughing all the way to your next Resy reservation. (PS: Bookings for Michael’s memoir are opening at a library near you. Get on it.)