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, 3/6/08
Take special note of the above picture, because it just might be the only time you ever see two things: an empty dining room at SPQR and Ehren Jennings sitting down. Ever since SPQR opened back in September, and especially since Bauer awarded it 3.5 stars in December, A16's little sis has been dealing with nonstop crowds flocking from far and wide. Aside from the obvious, part of the appeal with SPQR is that it is one of the only top-notch shows in town that doesn't accept reservations, which means that on any given night, you can find your way in to the neighborhood osteria gone big. All you have to do is play your cards right with Ms. Ehren Jennings.
Ehren Jennings, Manager and Sommelier at SPQR: There are 53 seats including the bar and the chefs counter. My favorites are the tables by the windows because they are a little more intimate and have a great view of the restaurant and also the bar seats because you are in the middle of all the action. What was the effect of the big Bauer review? Was there a noticeable change in the crowd? There was a definite increase in business with the Bauer review especially because it was released during the holidays. It was a great energy in the air because all of our guests were so excited to dine with us – it made it really fun.
8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? The wait is hard to predict but typically Saturday is one of the busiest nights so the wait can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Things change really fast and we do our best to keep the wait to a minimum. Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Keep us informed about your party: if you are going to wait at our bar or up the street. The best thing is to try and enjoy your wait and think of it as more time with your friends and family. Let us do the work and trust us, we want you to dine with us just as much as you do! ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? As kind as that is we have to be fair to everyone waiting so we cannot accept any "favors" - we appreciate the nice gesture though!
Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? All of our guests have been really enjoyable but it has been a lot of fun getting to know the guests that live in the neighborhood. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? Fortunately most of our VIPs have been really understanding and supportive of our no reservation policy and are willing to wait. We do our best to get them seated as fast as possible just like everyone else. ...the owner's friends? Same- everyone knows we are doing the best we can and luckily most have embraced the walk in policy.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? We really haven';t had any crazy requests yet as we are so new but I am sure they will happen although I can't tell you how often we have phone messages requesting the recipe for our brussel sprouts ...that you couldn't accommodate? We will do our best to try and accommodate anything and so far we really haven't had to say no...
Will SPQR keep the no-reservations policy? Does it make your job easier or more difficult? We are definitely keeping the walk in policy as we are able to accommodate so many more people that way. I don't know if it makes my job more difficult but it sure makes it more interesting- it's like a giant people puzzle every day! What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Keeping your cool is really important- there are a lot of things happening at once so we need to be as level headed and strong as possible. I try and keep our door very positive and cordial no matter what happens. Good communication is also essential.