Dining room is the real revolution of the century

Events and guides pay more and more attention to service: Identità and Intrecci in New York, Noi di sala in Rome with a special guide

10-10-2019
It was a really great moment, during the 10th edit

It was a really great moment, during the 10th edition of Identità New York, when the topic of dining room service debuted, thanks to the passionate collaboration with the Cotarella family. Left to right: Dominga CotarellaVince GerasoleAntonio Begonja and Marta Cotarella. Photo Brambilla-Serrani

The rebirth of pizza, which has even conquered Milan, the falling of the wall between sweet and savoury in restaurants, the acknowledgement that a restaurant these days is not complete unless it includes a serious vegetarian offer, let’s leave veganism to “talibans”, these are all truths and conquests of this decade approaching its end. However, perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of all, does not come from the kitchen. It comes from the dining room.

I have never noticed so much power, so much energy from those who take care of service, as in the past ten years or so. In the first decade of the 21st century it was already difficult for desserts to have their space in events, let’s not speak of dining room service. It’s all different now. There’s pride among those who move around the tables. Lots of pride. And there’s still plenty to do. We can notice drops, sometimes a brook, but surely not lakes, rivers or seas, as when speaking of chefs and pastry-chefs as well as wineries and sommeliers, or patrons who take care of the wine list.

There are starred chefs who launch courses and masterclasses, but never about dining room. It’s as if they didn’t need good waiters too. There are even more courses from private ventures and even universities, but they either focus on wine and management, or on cooking. So, basically, dining room service remains a perfect stranger, with only a couple exceptions confirming the rule. It’s a serious mistake because then everyone starts complaining that it’s impossible to find good and trusted staff.

Antonia Klugmann at the masterclass on dining room service at Identità New York in September 2019. Photo Brambilla-Serrani

Antonia Klugmann at the masterclass on dining room service at Identità New York in September 2019. Photo Brambilla-Serrani

And this absence is a bit everywhere. For instance, the World’s 50 Best Restaurant doesn’t appear to truly believe in the dining room staff. And Michelin Italia, the guide par excellence, started to reward the dining room staff only with the 2019 edition, choosing Barbara Manoni of Casa Perbellini in Verona. The same in France, only last year. For us at Identità, on the contrary, this is a constant part of the congress in Milan, thanks to the collaboration with the Lunelli family and with Cantine Ferrari. In New York, instead, it debuted this year thanks to the passion and dreams of the Cotarella sisters, EnricaMarta and Dominga, the latter two participating in the tenth edition with two events, one with their wines presented by Dominga, and one dedicated to Intrecci the school guided by Marta.

Founded in Castiglione in Teverina, in Lazio, a few kilometres from Orvieto, in Umbria, with Tuscany round the corner,Intrecci is at its second year of classes, with the third one starting on October 17th. The desire for dining room training is such that the applications exceed the available places (15 the first year, 25 now). A drop in an ocean at tempest, because every restaurant, wherever you may be, complains that there’s not enough passionate and skilled staff.

The debate took place in a room full of professionals, with Antonio Begonja, partner in the restaurants led by chef Jonathan Benno, both previously at Per Se with Thomas Keller. There was plenty of looking ahead because complaining doesn’t take you anywhere. Dominga Cotarella said: «We’ve thought a lot about last week in New York. Lots of people met, lots of tastings and fun pairings with great chefs, but most of all there was the masterclass dedicated to our school and to dining room service. When Marta started to talk, my heart was beating fast and I can imagine the same happened to her. Our school featured in New York, only two years after opening it.

Big celebrations at Intrecci in Castiglione Teverina for the graduates of the first year and the new students of the second edition 

Big celebrations at Intrecci in Castiglione Teverina for the graduates of the first year and the new students of the second edition 

«In front of us, there were great industry professionals who came to point out its importance. Marta started by saying: “Three years ago my sister Dominga called me and said: Marta, I have a dream, to create an exclusive school dedicated to dining room service, the first in Italy and perhaps in the world. And I - Marta continued – immediately replied: Yes, Dominga, I’m with you! Hence her dream became our dream, the dream of the Cotarella Sisters!” ». Her words were full of emotion, and of the persuasion that if they went back in time, they’d make the same choice.

And when leaving, the announcement that stirred lots of praise and hopes: the Cotarella sisters have another dream, opening a second Intrecci school in New York. Possibly in the autumn of 2020, most likely in the spring of 2021.

The topic of the dining room, the pride of being Waiters with a capital W, enjoyed another important event last Monday, 7th October. An important day for every Italian restaurant, both starred and not starred, a vital moment to overcome the sad, weathered image of the person who just carries the plates, little more than that. In Rome, they’ve presented Pass, the first guide that assesses restaurants according to the service, in which waiters, maîtres and sommeliers present themselves and tell their story. It was curated by Noi di Sala, presided by Marco Reitano. I went to the presentation in Rome because I believe in every effort made so as to give value to this aspect of daily life in restaurants.

A souvenir photo of the managing council of Noi di Sala at Identità Golose 2015 in Milan, when they gave life to a fun and to-the-point show. In the middle, wearing shirt and tie, actor Marco Giallini. To his right, Marco Amato and Alessandro Pipero; to his left Matteo Zappile, president Marco Reitano, Davide Merlini, Luca Boccoli and Rudy Travagli. Photo Brambilla-Serrani

A souvenir photo of the managing council of Noi di Sala at Identità Golose 2015 in Milan, when they gave life to a fun and to-the-point show. In the middle, wearing shirt and tie, actor Marco Giallini. To his right, Marco Amato and Alessandro Pipero; to his left Matteo Zappile, president Marco ReitanoDavide MerliniLuca Boccoli and Rudy Travagli. Photo Brambilla-Serrani

I believe in this since even before I could imagine that my son would choose this as his future profession. Back in 2012 Noi di Sala was founded in Rome. That day I urged the founders to work hard to go beyond Rome’s ring-road and break the sort of great wall that too often separates the country from its capital. Mission accomplished.

At the recent edition of Strade del Mediterraneo in Paestum, in Cilento, organisers Barbara Guerra, Albert Sapere and Luciano Pignataro pointed the spotlight on the dining room service too. It was a good idea. So I took this opportunity to say how it bothered me to see the nth division into factions, typical of us Italians. I deluded myself into thinking that with service they’d go beyond the lobbies that weigh on the life of the rest of the food galaxy, of cooks and chefs, pizzaioli and critics, pastry and ice cream.

I deluded myself because there are so few protagonists in the dining room, much less than 100 pupils each year, in the very rare professional courses, that divisions seemed really incredible. But it’s not like that. It really seems that we cannot treasure the best habits of other nations, that we cannot act as a team, reach a critical mass. «We must work as a system» it’s what everyone says, basically, but I’m afraid most people don’t know what it means and what it implies, like putting aside egoism, rancour and personalisms to collaborate without losing one’s identity.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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The public side of a restaurant seen by its protagonists: maître, restaurant managers, waiters