By JOLIE GORCHOV
He is not a super-agent, nor a studio chieftain, nor a top box-office draw. But Michael Goddard has been called the most powerful man in Hollywood.
As manager and maitre d’ of The Grill in Beverly Hills, Goddard runs the show at what is arguably Hollywood’s favorite power-lunch club.
Tucked away in Beverly Hills off Rodeo Drive, the Grill opened 15 years ago modeled after classic American restaurants like the 21 Club in New York. Gourmet magazine writes that it “draws more celebrities per square leather booth than any other eating place in Beverly Hills.”
Goddard started working at the Daily Grill in Brentwood the more casual and more affordable chain under the same ownership in 1991. Only a year later, he was upped to the power spot at the Grill as Maitre d’.
Goddard compares himself to an air traffic controller. Every day, he makes up a game plan that includes who’s sitting where.
“But here’s the thing about the game plan,” he says. “Once the game starts, you throw everything out the window somebody calls, something happens, a party of three might become a party of six anything can happen. You plan it out, but you also go by the seat of your pants.
“I mean, if you’re packed and you get a call from someone who comes in quite often, like a David Geffen or Barry Diller, you’ve got to find a place for them. You’ve always got to anticipate what’s going to happen. It’s a little bit of gambling, preparation and sometimes even luck.”
But when there aren’t any tables available, and a bigwig expects to be seated, a little groveling is sometimes called for.
“You always try to be as nice as you can and you let them know off the bat that it won’t be long. You let them know you’re working for them,” Goddard says.
He recalls one of the few times when he couldn’t accommodate an important customer. Don Klosterman, owner of the Baltimore Colts and a regular, came in with Ethel Kennedy and her son Max, and they were forced to wait a half hour.
“Of course, we treated them to a lot of their meal,” Goddard says.
What about preferential treatment? Do people with more juice get the better tables? Goddard says no because there are no prime tables at the Grill. (There are, however, several corner spots that often get snapped up.)
Dealing with the wealthy and famous might be a tad intimidating for some, but Goddard has been hanging around celebrities his entire life. His grandfather is Henry Rogers, who started Rogers & Cowan, the public relations agency. His father, Mark Goddard, starred on “Lost in Space” in the ’60s, and Mike Medavoy, former chief of TriStar Pictures and now head of Phoenix Pictures, was his stepfather when he was growing up.
Medavoy is a regular and comes in two or three times a week. Goddard hesitates before saying that Medavoy was his stepfather he doesn’t want to offend his new stepfather, Hal Ross, a William Morris agent who was already a regular at the Grill long before he met Goddard’s mom.
His familiarity with fame is evident in how he greets the regulars: most get a hug or a kiss, or a pat on the back. But as Goddard talks to each customer, he scans the room, checking the waiters’ movements, the host station, other customers, the lighting, the food presentation, even the water levels at each table.
“I become very friendly with a lot of the people here. I mean, most of them are very nice, but people like Ron Meyer and Brian Grazer, Bernie Brillstein and Brad Grey, they’re just great, terrific people,” he says.
But being a maitre d’ is not the same thing as being a friend. The people who come to the Grill expect an extraordinary degree of customer service. A big part of that is noticing their preferences and remembering them.
“You have to know the personalities of people, you have to know who can wait a little bit, who can’t, where they like to sit,” he says. “Sometimes they prefer a certain waiter, or a certain part of the restaurant that happens a lot. Once we had Diller and Ron Perlman together. One guy likes to sit on one side of the restaurant, the other guy likes the other side, so what do I do? I have a table ready on each side for them. I was ready.”
He says he’s good at remembering names and faces, but he likes to tell of the time Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson sat at the bar and ordered a Heineken.
“I noticed he liked Heineken on the rocks,” Goddard says. “So, when he came in about two years later and sat down, I sent him a Heineken on the rocks.” Needless to say, Johnson was shocked.
How much of the legendary deal-making that goes on in his restaurant does Goddard get to overhear?
“You know, the deals will always go on and on and on,” he says. “When Ron Howard and Brian Grazer come in, I don’t know if they’re making a deal or just hanging out. Once I give them a table I don’t even go back, I don’t want to bother them. A couple of weeks ago we had Warren Beatty with Sen. John McCain from Arizona. I thought that was an interesting combo, but who knows what they were talking about?”