VALERIO BELTRAMI: MY LIFE IN A RESTAURANT
Valerio Beltrami is the President of the Amira, he represents the Italian headwaiters and waiters, and with him, we talked about his job and the status of this profession
Valerio Beltrami has been President of the Amira (Italian Maitre Association – Hotels and Restaurants ) for 11 years. He is 63 years old and knows every aspect of catering. We talked about it to know the state of the art of his profession and to understand what is the vision that Beltrami has of this role that in other words is known as waiter.
Beltrami, tell us something about yourself. We know it will be a long story, right?
“Yes, indeed (but Beltrami knows how to summarize and has an innate discretion, ed.). I studied at the hotel school and started my career in Stresa in 1969, thanks to the department heads of the Compagnia Italiana Grandi Alberghi. I have been a teacher in Stresa, Varallo, Gattinara and at the ‘Formont’ of Villadossola. I have been to different places, and I have been a consultant for a long time. I had a restaurant and worked for large hotels. Now I’m retired, and I devote myself to Amira, as well as to the winery with typical products that my son opened in our area ».
What about your experience in Amira?
I have been a member since 1984, and I became Chancellor in 2008. In the end, they convinced me to take over Amira after a period of stalemate, and I’m investing very much in young people. Certainly, it is not the right time for our category “.
“Because parents are willing to pay 10,000 euros for a course to become a chef but not 1,000 for “dishwashers” or, as some say, “servants,” forgetting that the first servant …”.
It was Jesus Christ, of course. But from what you say this reference to Catholicism is no longer enough…
“No, it’s not enough. People do not understand the importance of a maître or headwaiter, who by now must speak 3 or 4 languages and should be able to handle the dining room. Because in the dining room there are no chefs but waiters. For this reason, to bring young people closer to our profession, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with the MIUR ».
What is it about?
“We have been trying to change something in hotel schools, and we are organizing masters and refresher courses with 5-star hotels in Tuscany and Sardinia. The same we try to do with courses for sommeliers organized in 3 levels. We certainly do not want to compete with the AISI (Italian Sommelier Association, ed.) but it is a way to bring young people closer to our profession, to create figures that are not sommeliers or maître”.
What should a headwaiter do? Are there any differences between headwaiters working in a large restaurant and those working in a small one?
«The good manners are always valid, and for me, there are no differences. Lately, you don’t go to the restaurant like you used to go, when eating out was a big party. At home, nowadays everyone can have practically anything, from ham to salmon, so if you choose to go to eat out, you do it to be pampered. Consequently, it is necessary to welcome with kindness and speed, prepare the seat for the customer. When the client is leaving, thank him, maybe give him the coat. In some restaurants, the opposite happens, and nobody looks at you. Also, it is essential to describe the dishes and whet the appetite of the customers. The guest must have the mouth-watering without even having seen the dish. It is also important to find out about allergies and intolerances. This is our role, and it is central, whether we work in a trattoria or in a starred restaurant. If all this is missing … ».
So these are the basics. What else cannot miss?
«The smile. It costs nothing and gives a lot. And then ask if they have preferences for the table. The customer should never wait, so it is essential to bring the water and the menu immediately. Furthermore, it is necessary to explain the dishes and ask for the preferences, without forgetting that the first 10 seconds are fundamental. A customer can tolerate the wrong cooking of a course or a dish that is too salty, but it does not tolerate a rude person».
What are the characteristics of a good waiter?
«A good maître, a waiter or a servant should be good looking, must be humble and empathetic to create a relationship with customers. And then he must never feel as he has made it. I have never stopped learning in these 63 years ».
So you are sure that it doesn’t matter whether you are in a small restaurant or a big one there should be no differences…
“I always consider them on the same level. For me, there is no diversity. You can’t do a similar job if you don’t love it. Nor should we forget that we are sellers. We are selling a product “.
What should a restaurant attendant never do?
«He must never be indifferent or, on the contrary, get friendly too much. The team must never find themselves talking together, and they must never lean against the tables. And then personal care is essential. Generally, it is good not to have tattoos and a long beard, although for a particular bar it is not uncommon to find bartenders with those characteristics. However, it depends on the type of business.»
What was the greatest satisfaction of your career? And the worst experience?
«I had many satisfactions over the years. I remember with pleasure that moments in which, a great person whose name I rather not say, entering the dining room, asked for me. This is a clear sign that makes you understand that I did my job well. I don’t know what to say about the worst experience. Even the unpleasant ones can represent an opportunity to grow ».
Finally, what do you think about your category at the moment?
«TV in recent years has hinted that anyone can become a great chef. It is not so. Meanwhile, our work has been devalued. It is not a good time for our profession, and our role has been disgraced. And yet, just look at the scene in which Benigni, in “Life is beautiful,” talks about the job of a waiter to understand how much value can have. The restaurant has 2 tracks, the kitchen, and the dining room. Both lead to the sale”.
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)