The Red Flag That Will Make A Maitre D' Hesitate To Serve You, According To Michael Cecchi-Azzolina - Exclusive

Maître d' Michael Cecchi-Azzolina doesn't think you go to restaurants for the food. Hear him out. He's been working at some of the finest New York City restaurants — including The Water Club, The River Cafe, Raoul's, and Le Coucou — for the better part of a generation. Meet the man who's served Johnny Carson, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Richard Gere. He knows that Billy Joel is "a terrible tipper." ("And you hate to see that. Darn it," Cecchi-Azzolina told Tasting Table in a recent exclusive interview.) Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, on the other hand, "are incredible; they're wonderful, wonderful people." Paula Abdul, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brooke Shields are too.

Cecchi-Azzolina will tell you all this. He's highly unlikely, however, to sell — or tell — a tabloid-worthy tale; he understands the importance of respecting his guests. Cecchi-Azzolina is convinced that it's the treatment and not a menu that'll make you a loyal customer. "You'll forgive an overcooked steak [or] you'll forgive an undercooked piece of fish if you're treated in that restaurant with respect," Cecchi-Azzolina reflected. "... It's impossible to [forgive] that rude host at the door who's on his or her phone or the server who is inattentive, doesn't really pay attention to what they're doing, serves your entrée before the appetizers, forgets your dessert, forget[s] your wife's or husband's birthday. Those are things that it's really hard to overcome, and why would you want to go back?" Turns out, he applies equally high standards when it comes to how you treat him. 

Michael Cecchi-Azzolina's golden rule

What's the number-one red flag for a maître d' at a restaurant? For Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, it's not how you're dressed, what you do or don't order, or even how much you tip — it's your behavior. "I don't think I ever turn customers away because of who they are, but I'm not going to go the extra mile if you're rude," he exclusively told Tasting Table. "The number-one gauge of a guest walking in the door is their attitude — how they say hello or not say hello or treat my host that I'm working with or treat me, or [when] sitting at the bar, treat the bartender. It's absolutely attitude. ... It's very simple — just be nice. Most restaurants will bend over backwards for you [and] accommodate you." 

If a restaurant doesn't do that, it's not worth spending time there, Cecchi-Azzolina says. "Walk out of the door, because if they don't want you there, why would you want to be there?" 

Michael Cecchi-Azzolina's book, "Your Table Is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D'," is available for purchase from Macmillan.