Hi there, remember me? I’m Feral Hostess Cat, one of Laura Shunk’s 10 worst people in NYC restaurants. I work the door at Chez Bowery, that new pseudo-casual, nose-to-tail, artisanal downtown comfort food joint everyone’s just dying to try.
Before you write me off as a cold, callous bitch from hell, you should know that in real life, I’m super nice and I generally like people (I’m hired based on these qualities and a few other … assets), and it’s my entire job to preserve order at the door. I get a bad name when people fail to understand and follow a simple rules of engagement for eating out.
So let’s clarify a few things.
If you’ve ever shown up for a reservation and been able to sit down right away, you can thank me for that. Without me, see, your typical dining experience could well resemble a pack of mad hyenas scrambling for the last bloody bits of gazelle on the African Savannah. The gazelles are seats in my dining room. The hyenas are the hapless masses trying to dine at Chez Bowery. So if I come off as cat-like, it’s because I’m the lioness guarding the edge of the savannah so my cubs–those diners already seated–can feed in peace.
You should know better than to fuck with a mama lion. And if you were a cub, you’d be grateful to have my blood-red, gel-coated claws to protect you. You’d understand that these five-inch stilettos help me retain the authority required to protect my post … and kill me now if I ever lose that.
How do you become a cub, you ask? Excellent question!
Make a reservation. We hostess-cats favor people with the foresight to call ahead and ask us to hold a table for them. Try it, and suddenly you’ll see me not as the arch-nemesis trying to keep you out, but as your third-grade BFF who always saved a seat for you. All you have to do is call and ask. And not 15 minutes before you arrive; that’s called walk-in dining. Do that, and you’re still a hyena.
Pro tip: If you’re not sure when you’d like to come, book a reservation a couple weeks early and reschedule if you can’t make it.
You could also come often and be nice when you do. Like any felines, hostess-cats love familiar faces; polite, friendly people we’ve seen before and know we’ll see again. In the restaurant business, we call these people “regulars,” and it’s one of our top priorities to keep them happy so they keep coming back. Regulars get special privileges like skipping the line when they don’t have a reservation, reserved seats at the bar, great tables, and other perks that are off-limits to hyenas; they are our very best cubs.
Insider scoop: We keep notes on everyone, including what tables they like, anniversaries and birthdays, and past celebrations they’ve shared with us. This allows everyone on staff to provide personalized service.
Extra insider scoop: We also take notes when you’re rude, unreasonable, high-maintenance, or a poor tipper. You gave me your name, remember? See me clacking on my keyboard? I’m not typing your name over and over.
Finally, be polite and patient and follow instructions. If we ask you to come back in 20 minutes, come back in 20 minutes, and you’ll likely get seated. Bonus if you bring us treats. We love candy and sweet, carb-loaded snacks like cookies. Hostess-cats are almost always starving and on the verge of hypoglycemic collapse.
Oh, look, there’s someone at the door now, a Wall Street middle-management type walking in with determination. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, but your table isn’t ready yet. So watch closely, and we’ll explore how my night plays out as I try to protect my turf.
“Good evening, welcome to Chez Bowery. Did–“
“Table for three.” Nice, he just totally cut me off.
“Did you have a reservation tonight?”
“I wasn’t aware I needed one.” Looking at his Blackberry. We’re already falling short of his expectations.
“OK, is everyone here?”
“The others are on their way, should be here any minute.” Yeah, right. They’re probably stuck in crosstown traffic on 59th Street, and we both know it.
“OK, great. I’ll seat you as soon as they arrive, so if you’d like to grab a drink at the bar while you wait–“
Grumbles. Disgust: “I can’t sit now? They’ll be here any minute.” Frantic on the Blackberry.
“I’m sorry sir, we only seat complete parties.” Please, mister, just go enjoy a drink at the bar; if your friends are really as close as you say, you shan’t wait long. I stand a little taller, give him my best stern-but-sorry-dude lioness smile, and enter his name in the book: “Mr. Wall Street: unhappy at wait. Please sit ASAP,” in case my manager ends up seating him while I’m helping others. He skulks off to the bar and orders a Manhattan.
Lady at the door: “Table for three?” she asks hopefully, two friends in tow.
“Yes, of course, right this way.” I drop them at table 16. It’s reserved in an hour and 45 minutes, just long enough for three people to eat and linger over coffee if the server’s efficient about it. Excellent. Mr. Wall Street scowling at me from the bar.
Oh no, here comes 60-year-old Greaser-Man, solo most Fridays, except when he meets prostitutes. “Hi! Welcome, it’s nice to see you again!” Flashing my best please-stay-back smile. He slithers over: “Hiya sweethaht, mind if I grab a seat at the bah?” No, please, go for it. Ew, swooping in for the ol’ kiss-on-both-cheeks. I wince as his sweaty neck-cheek brushes mine. Super double ew, he just pinched my waist. “Please, anywhere you like!” Faux-smiling for my life, I motion toward the bar. Just get away from me.
Forty-five minutes later, Mr. Wall Street’s friends arrive; he’s two Manhattans deep: “They’re here,” he announces, waving a hand toward his friends. The restaurant is now half-full and the remaining tables are reserved for incoming parties, except a couple tiny high-tops near the bar.
“One moment sir, let me take a look at my book and see where we can squeeze you in.” Crap. Nothing. He’s going to lose his mind. Staring at the computer, frantically rearranging tables. Gah, my feet. Seriously, what was I thinking with these shoes?
Two more parties walk in. “Schwartz, party of five,” one says. Yes, right here in the book.
“Come with me.” Yes, Mr. Wall Street, I see you, gripping your drink with that petulant look. I’m going to seat this nice complete party, who just arrived on time for the reservation they booked a week ago, and I’ll survey the dining room as I do; hopefully your table will reveal itself. Be right back!
When I return to the door, the entry is packed. Dear God, please let these be my 7:30 reservations. The phone is ringing; my boss is giving me the stink-eye from the end of the bar, where he sits every Friday and drinks a bottle of Barolo. One moment, everyone.
“Chez Downtown, can you hold for a moment please?” My manager swoops in for the call; I gratefully return to finding a table for Mr. Wall Street. After some serious table-swapping in the computer, voilà: a decent three-top, and it’s not rebooked until 10 p.m. “Sir, you can come with me.” Snorts into his drink and follows, glad to be delivered, at long last, to his rightful place among the pride on the vast, open savannah.
Oh, there’s Mrs. X: “Hi, Mrs. X, it’s so nice to see you! (kiss, kiss). Let me take your coat; your table should be ready in one moment.”
Mrs. X comes in every Friday at 8:15. She drinks a Beefeater gin and tonic and waits, menu closed, until Dr. X joins her around 8:30. He’s always late, but he’s so nice and drinks lots of Napa Merlot. He wears a jacket to dinner; we give him kisses too, and he always tips more than he needs to.
“Right this way, Mrs. X.” Run-walk back to the door; there’s still a crowd waiting.
Hello, welcome to Chez Bowery. What, no reservation? We’ll have a table in about 90 minutes, or you can eat at the bar if you’d like. I know, I’m so sorry, would you like to book a table for next week and come back? Your friends are only in town this weekend? Oh, I’m so sorry, I wish you had made a reservation; I would have been delighted to seat you the moment you and your jetsetting amigos arrived.
Wait a second–what was that magic green pass you just slipped me? Oh, a $20 bill? One second, let me see something. You know, we just had a last-minute cancellation; I can slide you in in a few minutes. Why don’t you grab a drink at the bar while we get your table ready. We’d be happy to transfer your drinks once you’re seated.
Pro tip: You are in a restaurant in New York. Most non-management staff absolutely accept tips. To be clear, $20 is great here at Chez Bowery, but you’ll need to find more for somewhere fancier. But then again I bet you already knew that and made a reservation for your important celebratory dinner. See, here at Chez Bowery, your meal is probably just Any Friday Night. Which brings me to my final point: IT’S DINNER. We’re not brokering Middle East peace here, and you aren’t, either. Please relax.
Oh look, your table is ready. Let me carry your martini for you. Feel free to walk behind me and check out the assets as I take you to your table. Enjoy your meal!
Find me on Twitter: @findthathannah