Welcome to the premiere of The Gatekeepers, a brand new feature wherein Eater—along with photog Jennifer Yin—traipses about town with the hope of meeting the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Jennifer Yin, 1/14/08
What better place to kick off The Gatekeepers than at The Slanted Door? Open in the Ferry Building since spring 2004, the current location of Charles Phan's seminal modern Vietnamese restaurant is its third location and by far its grandest, trendiest and most popular incarnation. Crowds consisting of everyone from local Chowhounds to FiDi business folk to out-of-towners battle for seats at the waterfront institution, with only Phan's well-oiled machine keeping order. Meet David Williams, just one of the many staffers that continue to make TSD what it is.
David Williams, Restaurant Manager and Host at The Slanted Door: "There are 165 [seats], give or take. It's hard to pick favorites, I tend to like seats at the back of the restaurant, most guests want the view. I feel like a meal at The Slanted Door is all about the food, so any table is great." 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? "Well, we usually have the reservation sheets filled with walk-in or call in requests by 7pm. If we have space to take a name at 8pm, probably about 45 minutes to an hour wait. The bar is open-seating, full menu at the counter and the lounge is also open seating, with an expanded appetizer menu only."
Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? "Not really, if we have the space to give, we will either seat you or take a name." ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? "While gratuities are always appreciated, they will not speed things up. We are an honest house, tables are not for sale. Like I say, if we have the space to give, we will seat guests in the order requested always honoring our reservations first and taking walk-ins as tables become available. It's only fair to honor requests made in advance first."
Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? "My favorite guests are the nice ones who know a bit about The Slanted Door and the experience we are trying to create for them. Celebs? We do not reveal any information about our guests whoever they may be. I'm sure there is plenty of talk about who visits us out there." How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? "When we run out of space, we can't seat anyone, so our VIPs usually call in advance. For anyone trying to get in, calling around 5:15pm or 5:30pm, when we first open the dining room, to ask what is available is the best method for planning your evening with us. The other way is to be physically in line at that time and grab a table early if it is available. Our VIPs know this and will usually call in first." ...the owner's friends? "Ditto the owner's friends, they usually call Debbie [Phan] directly."
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? "They range from coordinating my videotaping marriage proposals to entertaining private parties outside in the front patio. None so outrageous that we couldn't figure out." ...that you couldn't accommodate? "We couldn't help one guy out who wanted us to place a piece of fake poo in his girlfriend's appetizer with her engagement ring underneath. The poo aspect of their inside joke was too much for us. We did however, with the help of our wonderful bartender Kate, work out an arrangement that made them both happy." What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? "Tough question, I could say the phone, or a sense of humor. We need many tools to make the job of 'driving the bus,' as we sometimes say, as smooth as possible. If it weren't for good communication with our amazing front of house staff and their coordination with the kitchen, we couldn't run the host desk so successfully."