Maître d’hôtel derives from French translating to master of hotel, or master of the house. It is often shortened to Maître D as an abbreviation. The first known use of this term is recorded in 1538.
The role is not quite so literal as being master of the whole hotel, but the Maître D is in charge of managing the front of house in a formal restaurant. He is headwaiter, host and responsible for the waiting staff, taking table reservations, welcoming guests, seating diners and for overall customer satisfaction.
In a large hotels, or even cruise ships, conference or other large facilities the Maître D will be responsible for front of house service including room and buffet services, but will tend to have other headwaiters running individual restaurants or dining rooms.
The Maître D will often be responsible for delivering part of the theatre of a restaurant, where the preparation of a dish is completed at the table, such as flambéing, boning and serving fish or mixing salads.