This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of the hottest and hardest-to-get tables in Miami.
[Photo Courtesy of Cortney Cates]
In the front of house department at Macchialina, you'll find Jen Chaefsky, partner and General Manager. She's the one who greets you with a smile and makes sure you're happy while you wait (sometimes over an hour!) for one of those coveted tables, but she's also the gal behind that creative beer and wine program. We talked gatekeeper biz. Here's what she had to say:
It's 8:30 on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table?
It could be an hour or more, but with that said, guests also walk in and get lucky. Sometimes I only have 2's waiting and the big table is wide open.
What about earlier or later in the night?
Prime time is always going to be tight in a 65 seat restaurant, so be flexible in your dining time and we can usually get you in.
How many seats are available on a given night?
We have 65 seats. We usually get 2½ turns on busy nights and seat between 150- 175 people.
How do you keep people happy while they wait?
There are two things that help; I'm honest when I quote a wait time and if it starts running long, I let the guest know. You have to have respect for the guest and know their limitations. Being able to pick up on their mood and assisting the ones that need a little more attention is key. Something as simple as getting them a drink while they wait or suggesting a place to sit goes a long way. They feel taken care of and not abandoned.
Do people ever try to negotiate for a table?
Of course. It's the worst when we have a large party that we have to put a few tables together for and we're just waiting for the last one to get up. Guests waiting see three empty tables and wonder why they can't sit there. I never get upset with impatient guests, the fact that they are anxious to sit down and eat our food is what it's all about!
Who are some of your favorite customers?
I have too many to name. We have been so lucky to have such a loyal local following. We have guests that have been regulars since our first month. To show our gratitude we did a week long anniversary menu for $35 with all their favorite dishes. It went over really well so we'll probably do it every year.
Do you ever get outrageous requests?
Not really. We're low key at Macchialina. Guests tend to be relaxed and easy going when they are here.
What about the challenges you face managing a hot spot like Macchialina?
As an owner, you are so appreciative of how busy you are that you embrace the challenges. If we're already booked and a regular wants to come in with an 8 top, it's a good problem to have. I will rework everything so that I can say yes.
What are some of your favorite dishes at the restaurant?
I love the fish, whether it's hog snapper or branzino, Mike's preparations are incredible and his flavors are always honest and balanced. The Tagliolini ai Funghi is still my favorite pasta.
When you're not at Macchialina, where do you go to eat?
Scarpetta because we feel like family. I love Mandolin because it just feels like home. Bazaar is always a flawless dining experience too. They really know how to treat a guest.
What's your best gatekeeper tool?
Confidence. We have to know what's going on for the guests to trust us. We know their experience is in our hands and we strive every night to make it the best.
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