This is The Gatekeepers, where Eater roams the city to meet the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Jennifer Yin, 2/14/08
One could make a strong argument that when Town Hall opened back in 2004, it instantly became one of the most important restaurants south of Market. From a purely influential standpoint, the ownership team of Mitchell Rosenthal, Steven Rosenthal and Doug Washington really took the "casual but gourmet" movement to a new level, putting in a communal table and whatnot before it somehow became a near-requirement for restaurants (see Howard, Scott). They've become so successful that offshoot number three is due later this year, and Town Hall has yet to slow down. The combination of trendiness and accessibility has made it one of the more sought-after destinations in town, so on this Valentine's Day, let's have a chat with the nice lady who just might determine your fate this evening.
Tiffany Perry, Hostess at Town Hall: There are 95 seats in the main dining room, 13 at the bar, 14 at the communal table and 22 on the patio. I prefer the tables right in the middle of all the action, but that's not always for everyone. We do also have tables that offer a little bit more privacy.
8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? At that time the dining room is most likely fully booked, but usually we will find room for anyone without a reservation at the communal table, the patio or the bar. Wait times will range anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes depending on how long the wait is.
Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? The more honest people are with their expectations or preferences, the easier it is for me to meet their needs. There may be a table tat signals me that they are having drinks at the bar and enjoying themselves and wouldn't mind waiting a bit longer, whereas another table might be on "East coast time" and is very anxious to be seated right away. It's all about reading people correctly. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along?No, but people have tried. Guests need to understand that a financial offer to me does not make that table in the dining room that we're waiting on leaving get up any earlier.
Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? My favorites are our regulars. They are a part of the family here. We do have regular celebs come in, too. It's not your regular see and be seen scenario at Town Hall. I think they come here because they feel comfortable to be themselves. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? We always try to plan ahead to prepare for any type of eventualities which includes being able to accommodate our VIPs at the spur of the moment. We are are very fortunate at Town Hall to have such great VIPs that come with little attitude and such great understanding. ...the owner's friends? It certainly helps that the owners are so closely involved with the business which in turn means that most of their friends understand the business and don't mind a little wait or dining at the communal table or at the bar.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? [Pleads the Fifth] ...that you couldn't accommodate? So far, we've been able to accommodate all requests and haven't had anything that would be considered outrageous. [Ed. note: Sounds like a challenge has been put forth]
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? I always get the support at the door that I need to do my job. Otherwise it would be like being alone on a deserted island in the middle of a storm.