Culture - Issue 80 - Magazine | Monocle

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The art of hospitality

Success on front of house can be a challenge but a few well-placed compliments and some composed confidence can go a long way. Here are our tips.
Robert Bound

A vital part of hospitality is the mastery of flattery or, more precisely, perfecting the craft of small talk. When it comes to the crunch, the maitre d’ is the main man. Of course, many a chef – slaving down in the bowels of the place, taming fire and exacting precise physical revenge on haunches of venison and racks of lamb – may well consider that the bow-tied host or hostess with the mostest smiling in the porchway has never even been to the crunch.

But it’s tough out there on the mean streets of front of house. The demands of the discerning diner are rarely inflicted on the waiters unless there really is that apocryphal fly in the consommé or a hair on the hare; the punchbag is often the suited and booted dude smiling indulgently out front. There are some rules to doing it right. In lieu of knowing what they really are, here are some I have guessed.

Candour, how much/little: “Good evening, Mrs Bound; oh, it is brisk out – a perfect evening for your stole. Charles, please take care of Mrs Bound’s coat and things.” This is the right way to greet a familiar guest in a way that avoids the overly familiar. Sure, talking about the weather is a bit Edwardian but it’s better than the potential truth that evening: that Peta’s Christmas party was booked into the same restaurant and our guest would have been jeered to her table if she hadn’t lost her fur at the door (stop sniggering at the back). But then again, Mrs Bound would never dine somewhere sanctioned by a band of angry animal-rights activists. (Where would that be, anyway? A vegan joint? An allotment? Halfway up a tree?)

Tone, setting the: Conveying the correct vibe is key for the maitre d’. An air of emollient confidence and the feeling that he is the figurehead of untouchable organisation is good. A top greeter is swan-like and stately as a galleon; they float across the floor while their webbed orange feet are flapping away furiously underneath, making sure it all works. The effort is in making it all effortless.

“How are you?”, how much: There are too many enquiries of this nature buzzing around, as if we live in an era when there is a lot of Black Death doing the rounds. “You look very well” is far better, getting the flattery in as a pre-emptive strike of welcome and a stroke of disarming charm. Who doesn’t feel good after having been told they look it? Presume your diners are fine. The art of flattery comes in handy when it’s time to go, too. There’s the crunch, damn it: we’re paying the bill.


Adam LeBor

Novelist and journalist


Adam LeBor is a regular Monocle contributor and author of non-fiction and fiction, his latest of the latter being The Washington Stratagem.

Your protagonist is pretty feisty. How did you decide on her key characteristics?
Yael Azoulay is the UN’s covert negotiator. She was first inspired by a school Bible lesson. She appears in the Book of Deborah where she kills Sisera, a Canaanite general, by knocking a tent peg through his head. This made a great impression on me when I was 15. Yael’s tough, an ex-Mossad agent, but she is also vulnerable and human.

Where do you find your inspiration when plotting a novel?
I find the real world very inspiring and then I take things to another level. The book’s plots are the work of my imagination. But we know most superpower diplomacy is conducted behind the scenes. I wanted a character who brokered those deals but was haunted by the moral compromises she had to make.

You’ve explored the murkiness of the banking world for non-fiction books. Did that inspire this new novel?
I’m fascinated by the relationship between war and money. Money always finds a way to move across the frontlines; war brings vast profits as well as terrible destruction. The Washington Stratagem is predicated on a secret alliance between Iranian hardliners and the US military industrial complex. They both want a new war in the Middle East but for different reasons.

What about researching a political thriller?
My first thriller, The Budapest Protocol, was inspired by a 1944 American intelligence document. The Red House Report details the secret Nazi plan for Germany’s post-war economic domination. Germany is now a solid democracy but it does have Europe’s most powerful economy.

Culture cuts

Top picks from the art world

Disco: An encyclopedic guide to the cover art of disco records
Disco Patrick and Patrick Vogt

One can’t help but feel slightly tickled while leafing through the 360 glossy pages of cover art from the promiscuous days of the 1970s to mid-1980s. Disco: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Cover Art of Disco Records has been released on the Soul Jazz Books label and presented by dancefloor aficionados Disco Patrick and Patrick Vogt.

After only a handful of pages passing under thumb the posing grows provocative, the glamour haze emblazons innuendo and the panty line climbs ever higher, at times disappearing completely – and this isn’t exclusive to the female forms. The voluptuous odyssey from the era under the mirror ball glides from strength to strength with titles such as Hot Sax by Steve Douglas and Spank Your Blank Blank by Morris Jefferson. The heat intermittently cools when the absurd creeps onto the paper (here’s looking at you Max Berlin’s and Cerrone). But the steady undercurrent of soft porn steams up the book, which references more than 2,000 album designs from the bygone days of hustle.

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