This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
We have in this country certain ways of our own of hotel keeping which may be better than any methods of other lands, but we also have hotels as well as clubs and restaurants which are conducted under foreign methods conformably to a line of conventionalities not to be learned in the American plan hotel, and it is necessary to the making of a thorough inside steward, maitre d'hotel or headwaiter to see what sort of men they have as well as what they do in those establishments. In addition to "Monsieur Mezzofanti" of the "Russian Restaurant" article, before referred to, we have here a sketch of another of the high school of head waiters:
"Everybody knows Bignon's restaurant in the Avenue de l'Opera. It is the rival of the Maison Doree, the Cafe Anglais and the Lion d'Or. One of its pi lars has passed away in the person of 'Henry', the head-waiter, who, being almost an institution in himself, deserves a brief obituary notice. ' Henry' has been called the 'soul' of Bignon's gastronomic establishment, and so he was. He had been there for twenty-six years and knew every foreigner and every Parisian of mark. It was interesting to observe the polished obsequiousness with which he handed the menu to a royal or imperial guest and to contrast it with the more familiar manner in which he tried to coax the appetite of some blase habitue by descanting on the merits of a new sauce, or praising the exellence of some special dish of the day. ' Henry' had raised his profession of head waiter to the dignity of an art. He had only one rival ' Ernest,' the maitre d'hotel of the Cafe Anglais, who was "also a paragon in attending to customers. The education of no Paris waiter was supposed to be complete unless he had learned to flourish his napkin, to flit between tables and to carry trays under the guidance either of Mon sieur Henry chez B gnon' or of ' M. Ernest,' of the Cafe Anglais. Waiters who could afford it are said to have had restricted meals at Bignon's for the purpose of studying 'Henry's' movements de visit, and it is quite probable that had ' Monsieur Henry' started a conservatoire for the education and bringing out of garcons and tnaitres d'hotel he might have made a fortune thereby.
Had the deceased maitre d'hotel been of a literary turn he might have compiled some interesting memoirs. He 'waited' during the declining effulgence of the Empire, when all Paris was mad with riot and revelry; he attended many a petit sou-per, where champagne flowed" like water, and he must have seen many a mighU magnate making a fool of himself for the beaux ycux of some painted and powdered 'creature' with an insatiable appetite for crayfish and an unquenchable thirst for choice crus".
And here is another:
"Eugene is indispensable to the establishments where the elite of Parisian gentry dine. He knows all the customers, is acquainted with their tastes, and with their favorite subjects of conversation. He has carefully studied them, and knows whether to let Mr. So-and-So order his own dinner or whether to give him the advantage of his professional experience. Eugene is always there, and watches the first mouth-fuls disappear with a keen interest. His guest could not possibly begin dinner unless Eugene was there to put him in good dining humor. A short chat invariably springs up between Eugene and his customer. Eugene is gay, is amiable, and a bon vivant. Accustomed to live in the atmosphere of the most succulent dishes, and of the most generous wines, he seems to have taken the good properties of both. As soon as Eugene has set one customer going, he moves on to another. He rarely takes any notice of a stranger, disdaining an unfamiliar face. If an intruder calls, Eugene contents himself with a sign, ' Louis, attend to monsieur,' or ' Casimir, the wine-list for monsieur.' There are some customers who will only be served by Eugene. They even prefer him to the proprietor of the restaurant, who is often obsequious and awe-inspiring. It is specially to high-class parties that Eugene is indispensable.
According to the appearance of the guests, he knows what menu to suggest. He has summed up your revel at a glance, and knows exactly how much you want to spend. He is never present when the bill is presented. One is always rather suspicious of one's customer, and, not to spoil an acquaintance so well begun, he leaves his guest to wrangle with the waiter. The customer pays and goes away more or less sat-iffied; but he is certain to come again on the morrow, more attached and faithful to the establishment than ever. And thus it is that Eugene, after ten years' service, in a veritable power in the establishment, deferred to by the proprietor and feared and envied by the waiters".
"He knows all their tastes and favorite subjects of conversation" does he? Well, headwaiters hardly get to that pitch of familiarity in this country. But much depends upon the kind of man he is. One of the present restaurant proprietors of Paris was started in business for himself through the favor of some stock broker customers who liked him. They told him of a good speculation in stocks - gave him a pointer - he took advantage of the information, speculated and realized a small fortune. But the rule works both ways. Another head waiter at a Paris cafe", eavesdropping behind the chairs of a couple of stock brokers, thought he had picked up a pointer and went and speculated on the strength of it - for all Paris speculates - but it proved that he had " caught hold of the wrong end of the stick," and he lost his life's savings, $30,000. How different his case from that of a London boy who was both headwaiter, cook and caterer in a stock broker's office. Some shares in one of the large brewing companies were put upon the market. This boy had been for a good while a sort of private caterer for the brokers' lunch, cooking and serving it in a room in the rear, making a good pront and saving his money. The brokers applied for a number of shares, as brokers.
The boy applied for a number of shares, calling himself a refreshment contractor. There were not enough shares to go around, but the brewing company gave the preference to refreshment caterers; the boy got his shares, the brokers did not. The shares increased in value immensely and gave the young fellow a good start in business.