Friday, February 18, 2011

What makes a really great restaurant host?

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 1:51 PM

click to enlarge A deceptively complicated job
  • A deceptively complicated job

I've worked with all kinds of restaurant hosts and hostesses over the years, including bratty teenagers, college students, actors and actresses, at least one drag queen, and the weird neurotic fashion plate who told everyone that he had both law and medical degrees and was working for minimum wage because, well, it was fun.

Hey, it takes all kinds of people to be attracted to the job of seating people in a restaurant. It looks easy, but it can be very stressful on a weekend night. I know, I've done it myself.


Clarissa Cruz of inc.com wrote an interesting story this week on the qualities that define a really great person who works the host desk at restaurants. It's not a job for just anyone.

The worst hostess I've ever experienced in Kansas City was a beautiful but incredibly haughty young woman who worked, several years ago, at Cafe Trio. I was with a friend who was hobbling around on a broken foot, and even though the dining room was completely empty -- it was 5:30 in the evening -- Miss Hostess kept us waiting for over five minutes before she even looked up from her computer screen. I asked for a table for two, and she gave us an icy smile: "I'm so sorry, but we're booked solid. You can eat at the bar if you feel like it." And then, having dismissed us, she turned back to her screen.

No, we didn't stay for dinner, and yes, I did complain about her to the restaurant's owners, who appeared to be intimidated by her. But I wasn't the only complainer, and later, they came to their senses."

"We had to let her go. She really wasn't a people person," says Cafe Trio co-owner Tai Nguyen. "She had some trouble being accommodating to customers."

The qualities that Nguyen and partner Chris Younger now look for when filling that position are friendliness -- "You're the initial face of the restaurant, after all," Nguyen says -- the willingness to be accommodating and empathetic, and understanding the dynamics of the particular restaurant.

"We now train our staff by having each front-of-the-house employee work a shift as server, host, bartender and busser. It really gives them a sense of perspective."

At Bluestem, general manager Jeremy Lamb usually does seating duties himself: "I'm the manager, the sommelier and the maitre d' all in one. I do have hosts and hostesses here, but I like to design the seating -- who goes where -- myself. They work to back me up."

The qualities that Lamb requires in a host include a good phone voice for taking reservations, a professional appearance, the ability to greet guests warmly the minute they step into the restaurant, and eye contact."

"It's one of those jobs that doesn't seem like it requires a lot of skills," Lamb says, "but it does."

(Image via Flickr: emerald_gabriel)

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