Restaurant 101: The Host, Your Best (Worst?) Friend

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the host in her natural habitat is accompanied by a phone and several menus….

The front desk can be your best friend or your worst enemy whether you are a guest, a server, or a front of house manager.  The amount of information that a host is privy to and the logistical finesse required to keep service running smoothly is enormous.

The Basics

The restaurant host, first and foremost, answers the phone. The only way everyone else is able to focus on service is knowing that the phone, squealing like a hungry baby, is being tended to by someone else.  The host makes reservations, cancellations, fields questions about the menu, directions, parking information, and screens calls for the managers/ owners.  Simultaneously, she greets guests as they arrive, seats them in a friendly and efficient manner, slips a note to the chef/manager/server about any food allergies or special requests from each table. In some restaurants she hands the server a note for each table so he can greet the table with a “Good evening, Ms. Jones and Mr. Smith…”

The host keeps the front doors sparkling, the entry way clear. She polishes the menus and replaces soiled pages.  She sells retail merchandise if there is any, and she checks bags and coats.

The Dining Room Diplomat

As a guest, you should make friends with the host of any fine restaurant you attend.  Making friends can be as simple as being kind on the phone, and making your requests as nicely as possible.  Shouting, insulting, belittling or otherwise making a scene will get you the minimal amount of service from a host, and may even get you 86’d depending on the hosts’ reputation with the restaurant’s owners.

The worst thing you can do with a host is point to another table you see in the dining room and ask if you can have that one instead.  A good host is wrangling a ton of logistics simultaneously, and trying to make it look effortless.  She always knows something you don’t. She knows a lot of things that you don’t, in fact. She knows that table might look enticing, but there is a draft from the front door and she noted that your date is wearing a strapless dress. She might know that the server in that station just got a very high maintenance table before you and your service might suffer in that station. She knows that a party of 20 is coming in half an hour from a college graduation and they will be right next to that awesome looking table.  She could try to tell you this, but you probably wouldn’t listen.

She also knows that if the three other tables waiting at the front desk see you employ this little trick, they are all going to try it. And that would mean chaos.

If you make your requests in advance, even if you request “a romantic table” just before she walks you into the dining room, you are 100 percent more likely to be accommodated.

A host must be pleasant all the time.  She is trying to seat the dining room evenly, to accommodate everyone’s special requests, and ensure that tables clear in time for the next seating.  She needs to graciously field calls for the managers and owners, she must assign stations in the dining room to the front of house staff, take to-go orders over the phone, sell retail merchandise, give directions from any part of town, know the history of the restaurant and the chef, check the ladies’ room every thirty minutes to ensure it is clean and stocked, all while ensuring that the phone never rings more than 3 rings and that no guest waits un-greeted at the front door for longer than a minute….. and receive birthday cakes, floral deliveries, check coats and luggage all while wearing a cocktail dress.

If that were you, and guy standing at the front door without a reservation is demanding the table in the corner while taking up the whole aisle with his roller bag that he refuses to check, how likely are you to bend over backwards to ensure his requests are met? All you have to say is “I’m so sorry, sir, that table has been requested by one of our reserved guests tonight…. But we have a lovely table in the cocktail lounge……”

To Tip or not to Tip? 

Hosts typically get paid a bit more than servers and other tipped staff  because they don’t get as many tips, usually, and they have larger responsibilities.  Yes, the servers ‘tip out’ the hosts, usually 1-4% of their tips from the dining room (usually $1-10 per server).  So if the host checks your coat, tucks away your two heavy suitcases, or arranges for the  flowers you had delivered to be set on your table prior to your arrival, tip her.  Usually a dollar or two per coat or bag checked, and $5-$20 for any additional service.  A dollar or two handed over when she packs up your dinner for four to-go, labels everything, and adds a couple of extra sauces is also good restaurant karma.

Demanding to jump in line on a busy night by offering a fifty dollar tip….? In some places that can get a host fired, so it is generally best to avoid putting someone in this position.

Bottom line: It is not wrong to tip the host for checking bags/ coats, or to thank her for taking care of your special requests. But try not to grease her palm in order to jump to the top of the waitlist.

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