Your Table is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D’
by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina (memoir)
St. Martin’s—December 2022
If everyone worked a service job for at least one year of their lives, the world would be an infinitely more respectful place.
I can say with absolute certainty that my stints working at a wine bar in the Malibu-adjacent hills and selling luxury (translation: overpriced) clothing at a high-end boutique in the San Fernando Valley taught me a bevy of valuable proficiencies that I utilize to this day. Being on your feet for 8+ hours a shift and dealing with every single type of customer imaginable—both good and bad—forces you to develop skills like fast-paced decision making, managing your time efficiently, delegating responsibilities to others, and patience. But probably most importantly, being in the service industry gives you a firsthand look at just how hard those in it work, and ensures that you will never, EVER, be rude to a server or hospitality worker or the like ever again (and if you are … shame on you).
Seriously—I can’t tell you the number of yahoos here in NYC I’ve overheard chewing out some poor bartender for no reason … and it takes me every ounce of self-restraint I have not to Hulk-smash said yahoo on the bartender’s behalf.
Of course, I’m just kidding about the Hulk-smashing …
… eh. Maybe not.
The uncensored behind-the-scenes drama of restaurant kitchens is a constant in books and film/TV that has an almost cult-like following, as evidence in the rabid fandom of properties like Kitchen Confidential, The Bear, and many more. To date, however, there hasn’t really been anything focused on what’s known in the business as the front-of-house—the servers, bartenders, bussers, hosts, etc.—which has always surprised me. Because, as vital as the kitchen staff is, a restaurant simply cannot function (or survive) without truly exceptional service from those on the FOH team.
Enter Your Table is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D’ by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina.
To be completely honest, when I first came across the book, I was expecting the worst. I braced myself for not much more than a gossip fest, where the only thing the piece offered was a former restaurant worker “dishing the dirt” on the celebrities and bigwigs he brushed shoulders with. That type of memoir is fun, sure, but certainly not my cup of tea.
Thankfully, it was not that at all. Instead, it was much more akin to an espresso (my preferred morning drink)—buzzy, flavorful, and heartily quaffable.
In his debut memoir, Cecchi vividly details his 30+ years working in the trenches of the cutthroat NYC restaurant industry, where he’s run the front of house at several of the city’s most legendary institutions, including the Water Club, the River Café, Raoul’s, and Le Coucou. Calling it a memoir, though, feels like a not-apt-enough description. I would describe it much more as a love letter to the multi-faceted paragon that is the restaurant industry in NYC—a collection of truly unfiltered, voice-driven tales of ambition and disappointment, heartbreak and loss, debauchery and determination.
For instance, the book oscillates between immensely entertaining yarns like Cecchi receiving oral sex from a customer and doing cocaine during a dinner service, to tragic tales of losing his best friends in the industry to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, and to a triumphant recounting of the pride he felt when winning the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant (the restaurant industry’s equivalent to an Oscar). Best of all? None of it feels out of place or forced or for shock value. All the wildly different types of stories Cecchi tells in Your Table is Ready coalesce magnificently—like the tasting notes of a robust bottle of fine wine. And then there are also some fun celebrity encounters sprinkled in as well. My personal favorite: a young Cecchi helping a fresh-from-the-set-of-Tootsie Dustin Hoffman (still dressed as his famous character, no less) not fall prey to heatstroke while in Cecchi’s restaurant.
Granted, Cecchi is probably not going to win any literary awards for Your Table is Ready. But that shouldn’t deter you from giving the book a go. Cecchi has an innate, can’t-be-taught ability to make you feel like you know him intimately while reading his work—like you’re just friends catching up over a cocktail at your favorite neighborhood bistro—that makes for a riveting experience. It’s easy to see why he has been so successful in the industry—what restaurant owner in their right mind wouldn’t want a man with that much charisma and charm overseeing their business?
At the end of the day, while it certainly helps to be a “foodie,” it’s not at all a prerequisite to enjoy Your Table is Ready. The only “requirement” might be knowing what you’re getting yourself into, tonally. The delightfully brusque, no-time-for-bullshit edge Cecchi takes in his prose was a breath of fresh air for me—but certainly isn’t everyone’s brand of vodka (Cecchi’s is Stoli, just in case you were wondering). But for those who can stomach it? They’re in for a rollicking good time.
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