As the Maitre D’ at some of the trendiest restaurants in New York City, Michael Cecchi-Azzolina is the guy who knows if you want a table. Over 35 years in the industry, he’s been the gatekeeper at River Cafe, Raoul’s, Minetta Tavern, Le CouCou, and more. Now, he finally says it all in his upcoming book Your Table Is Ready: Tales of a New York City Gentleman.
Over the years, Cecchi-Azzolina has often courted the rich and famous as the home front of some of the hottest spots in town. “Whether it’s a celebrity, a billionaire, a head of state or someone else, it’s very exciting,” he told the newspaper. “Oh, my God, I’m going to meet this person — a Supreme Court justice, a prime minister, a president, Johnny Carson, these people who have been legends in my life. He’s humble.”
“I think a lot of people don’t understand what a real Maitre D does,” says Cecchi-Azzolina. “It’s a lost art form. Organizing a dining room, organizing an experience, where people sit in the room, where you put a famous person, how do you build flow. The energy becomes amazing if done right.”
In addition to catering to the A-list, Maitre D often has to say no.
“It’s hard. You only have a certain number of tables, and everyone wants a great table, but it’s impossible,” he says. “Restaurants are not democracies, just as I don’t sit courtside at the New York Knicks. You have to have some swagger behind you to get that kind of thing.”
In a tough city like New York, partying can be very dangerous, as Cecchi-Azzolina learned when a mafia captain wanted to kill him. “This story really shows life in New York—and what can happen if you control a table,” he says with a laugh. “My career, which has coincided with the changes in New York City from the 1980s to the present through the eyes of the restaurant world, sheds light on this myriad of crazy personalities.”
As restaurants continue to grapple with staffing shortages and the fallout from the pandemic, the first message he hopes to deliver is: “How wonderful the people who work in the restaurant. How hard you work to get you a meal. The pressure they’re under makes some of them terrible, but others elevate.” to rise to the occasion to become the most loving and amazing person in the world you want by your side.”