Brett David

Brett David has moved from the back, to the front, to the back, to the front of the house…literally. An expert on all things hospitality, the new restaurateur (of new LES bar/restaurant Rochelle’s) has been a maitre d’, general manager, catering company owner, and personal waiter/butler to Anna Wintour. With a signature mustache and beard, and 130 hours of tattoo work, David’s dabbled in modeling and is just one of those purveyors of all things ‘cool.’ We hit up this tastemaker for advice to people on different levels of the restaurant totem pole, including the diners that come in. Apparently almond milk will draw in a fashion crowd, maitre d’s should dress the part, the customer is not always right, and GM’s should never sit down…

Three things the New York maitre d’ should know…

1. Dress the part. You are the face of the place. Peacock a bit. You won’t remember everyone’s name, but everyone will remember yours.

2. You will get f*ked on a Saturday night. It’s inevitable. The owners will over book, people will be late to their reservations and incomplete parties will finally show up and will be double their size. Everyone will yell at you and you’re just there trying to help. Make sure you’re a people person to the core or else you’ll drown. Train your host team to be your biggest asset, and have that one manager on the floor to be your eyes and ears.

3. Make connections. Take and hand out business cards and push your current career, as well as your dreams, on the side. The difference between a maitre d’ who wants to be an actor and a server who wants to be one is that the maitre d has the ability to give the VIP director that just walked in the best seat in the house, complimentary champagne and make sure they are not rushed out when they are finishing up. The maitre d’ is the quarterback of the restaurant. The $500+ in handshakes a week (if you’re in a good place) doesn’t hurt either.

Three things the New York GM should know…

1. Know how to get a table up that has paid its check and is continuing to sit during peak hours when new reservations need to be sat. I’ve been told I’m hands down the best at this. “Hi folks, how was your night? I’m going to send my busser over to clear the rest of these glasses off your table so we can get it ready for the large group that has been waiting patiently at the bar. They are all here now so I’ll tell them to finish their drinks at the bar and I should have their table ready in five minutes or so. Please enjoy the rest of your drinks and take my card so you can let me know if I can be of any further assistance in the future.”

2. Don’t. Ever. Sit. Down. The old owner I used to work for when I was his GM used to sit down at “the owners table” five nights a week with his baby giraffes and ignore his entire restaurant. What he – and you – should be doing, is touching all the tables, especially the ones you think may be an issue later that night when you will need to get them up. This will make it that much easier, since you now have an existing relationship with them.

3. The way you treat your staff is the way they’ll treat your guests. You have a dishwasher that works really hard and always shows up on time? Buy him a new pair of Converses. Pull aside a new staff worker every few days that really works their ass off and give them a nice handwritten card, with maybe a $20 iTunes gift card in it. Say. “Thanks for the hard work. It doesn’t go unnoticed.” I remember I gave one of my line cooks a nice New Jersey Devil’s New Era snap back hat during one of his first weeks at Sons of Essex when he first started because I could see his passion. When I left a year later, he hugged me in tears and said I was the best boss he’s ever had.

Three things the New York diner should know…

1. The customer is not always right. That notion is as outdated as flared jeans and scrunchies.

2. You do not have the right to sit at your table for eight when only two of you have arrived. You do not have the right to split a check with twenty credit cards.

3. You do not get to choose your table. Oh, you like that corner booth in the back by the candlelight? So does everyone else. And tonight, just like every night, the VIP’s sit there. Does that mean in the grand scheme of things those people are more important than you? No. But those people are the ones that get us in Page Six.

Bonus – I get your point. Tipping is a gratuity, and for good service the standard is 20%. And it’s true – in NY State you can legally ring up a $1000 bill and not leave a dime. But it’s unethical. I always think about it this way – if they are serving me, they probably could use that extra $20 more than I could. Pay it forward. And when you have that once-in-a-blue-moon server or bartender that just blows you away with their hospitality and personality – they shook your hand and made some cute and crass jokes all night, and really made a mark on your experience – leave him or her 50%. You’ll leave on cloud nine. And that server will not forget you next time.

Advice you’d give restaurateurs trying to draw in the fashion crowd…

They will bring in fabulous people and expect half the bill comped. Minimum. They will always be late. They are allergic to everything and if you don’t have almond milk they will make it seem like the current crises in Kiev is a non-issue. That being said, if you want to bring them in, make sure that at least 35% of your menu if veggie/vegan friendly. Make sure you have a good maitre d’ that knows all the key players in town. Once at The General, I saw a host being “less than nice” to Mickey Boardman because she had no clue who he was. I brought him right to his table, even though incomplete, and gave him my card. Crisis adverted. Oh – don’t go tacky. If anything in your restaurant even gives a hint of Sex & the City or Ikea, they will never show again.

Advice you’d give restaurateurs trying to motivate their staff…

Lead by example. Don’t be that owner/GM that stuffs his face, points his finger and yells without actually fixing the problem. Let your staff know they can come to you for anything. Drop off a few boxes of Dunkin Donuts once every few weeks to encourage morale. During your pre-shift meetings, call someone out for his/her birthday or because he/she had a great sales night the night before. And then let that person coach the room on how to do it. Learn everyone’s names. When you see a fork on the floor, pick it up. When you see a napkin on the seat, fold it. Your staff will work incredibly hard when they see you do as well. And most importantly – make sure they know that they work with you, not for you.

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