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We've all experienced it: A haughtier-than-thou hostess whose IQ is commensurate with her bra size. Or a dissembling host reminiscent of the "five, ten minutes" maitre d' in the Chinese restaurant episode of Seinfeld. So how can a restaurant's owners make sure they get the right person representing the front of house? I asked restaurateurs what they look for when hiring a host or hostess.
Michael White, chef/partner, The Altamarea Group, which operates Marea, Osteria Morini and Ai Fiori in New York City. "[A good host/hostess] is quick witted, cordial with a photographic memory. And presentable. There is never a second chance to make a first impression."
David Myers, chef, Comme Ca, in West Hollywood, California, and The Cosmopolitan, in Las Vegas. "I can tell in the first few seconds of meeting an applicant whether they will make a great hostess. They need to be gracious and confident. The host controls the entire flow of the restaurant and needs to know what is going on in the restaurant at all times. On the busiest of nights when 300 people come through the door, decisions must be made under pressure to accommodate each guest, ensuring that they have a phenomenal experience with us."
Steve Scott, director of operations for Starr Restaurants, which operates Buddakan and Morimoto, in New York City. "I look for someone who has a great smile, intelligence, hospitality and wit. I think it's ok to say 'It is so nice to see you Mr. or Mrs. X' as long as they are repeat guests or a recognizable personality. No additional conversation that details any personal information should be allowed."
Eric and Bruce Bromberg, chefs, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill at The Cosmopolitan, in Las Vegas. "We [don't hire] 'just a host.' We have continuously looked for people that are welcoming and comforting to the guest throughout the meal, as opposed to someone that just greets hello and goodbye."
Rodelio Aglibot, chef, BLT Restaurant Group. "A great host always has a smile on his or her face, and never thinks twice about putting the customer first. Please and thank you go a long way, especially in the restaurant industry."
Rogelio Espin, general manager, Graffit, in New York City. "The most important thing is personality because they are the first face that customers see when they come to the restaurant. Self-confidence is also of utmost importance. I do not hire shy people and I look for friendly people that have the ability to make our customers feel important and comfortable at the same time."
Andrea Cavaliere, chef, Cecconi's, in West Hollywood, California: "[A good host/hostess] has the ability to stay calm in difficult situations, keeps a cool head, does not take things personally, always stays professional no matter who is in front of you. Calling [return guests] by name and recalling their favorite table and server are all important characteristics."
Karen and Quinn Hatfield, chefs, Hatfield's restaurant, in Los Angeles. "Maintaining composure at all times is very important. A great host is warm and welcoming, graceful, and doesn't get put out easily by myriad requests. When hiring I look for likability and someone sharp. There is a lot of strategy and constant change in seating details, so the host needs to be able to adapt."
Costas Spiliadis, chef, Estiatorio Milos, in New York City. "The characteristics of a good hostess include a good disposition, one who is well spoken and who makes all my customers feel like that are our best customers."