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The Gatekeepers: Rebecca Pingree, Acme Chophouse

This is The Gatekeepers, where Eater roams the city to meet the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite dining destinations.
Jennifer Yin, 4/17/08

Given the simultaneous arrivals of springtime and baseball season, it seemed a good time to stop by Acme Chophouse. Aside from literally being a part of the ballpark, Acme has the distinction of being a top flight steakhouse, having big names involved (Traci Des Jardins), being very green/socially responsible, and on top of all that, it serves as a popular meeting destination for everyone from Giants fans to grass-fed steak fans, and Rebecca Pingree is the woman juggling the front of house.

Rebecca "Becca" Pingree, Anchor Hostess at Acme Chophouse: The restaurant has several seating areas, some of which we hold for reservations, some of which we don't. Our Main Dining Room seats 152, with another 54 seats in our Say Hey Room, and 34 in the Bull Pen. There's even more seating in the lounge area next to the bar and outside on the patio but those are all first-come, first-served seating. What's the post-game crowd like? Does it differ from the pre-game one? In general, the post game crowd is a bit more relaxed. But both pre-game and post-game are quite busy for us and a big crowd always makes for an exciting environment. We imagine you might have to deal with a few "rambunctious" folks. Rambunctious? Yes, the Sports Fan crowd makes for a pretty high energy bar area, for sure. However, we have security on game days so the "belligerent" folks don't stay long.

Which are your favorite tables? I love our booths but I know not everyone is a booth person. Lots of people have booth or table preferences which change depending on the occasion. An hour before gametime, what's the wait? The wait for a table if you don't have a reservation can vary from no wait at all to an hour or more depending on the game.Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Just be pleasant. That always helps. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? Of course we love to be tipped, but it doesn't necessarily make things any faster.

Tell us about your favorite customers. Acme has some of the most lovely, down-to-earth regulars I've ever encountered. Sports buddies, Parents and their kids, couples of all ages. The main quality they all share is a love of sports and food, plus a sense of humor. Any celebs been by recently? We've definitely had a fair number of celebrities dine with us. On days that I've been here we've had Michelle Pfieffer come by for dinner after Cirque du Soleil and Billy Crystal and Robin Williams have lunch with us before a game. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? Welcome them warmly, get them something nice to drink and seat them ASAP.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? A table of vegans here at the Chophouse! (Seriously, Our kitchen is always great about it, but it's still pretty funny). ...that you couldn't accommodate? A customer once asked me where he might find a?ahem...a?"lady of the evening"!?!

Do the Giants players and staff always stop by afterwards? What are they like? The Giants staff come by all the time, we have a really great relationship with the Giants. Of course, the players don't come right after a game because they'd get mobbed! But the players will certainly come at other times, and in the off-season. Occasionally Willie Mays himself comes in and that's always really special, he's a great guy.

Has the clientele changed since opening? Absolutely. Our business clientele and our regular neighborhood clientele has grown dramatically as the china basin neighborhood grows. Our non-game days are much busier now than they were when we opened. Any good stories from working here? I remember once we hosted a dinner for the Discovery Network Tour de France Team. Robin Williams was performing and, completely out of the blue, he jumps up on a booth and continues his performance from the restaurant tabletops. Priceless.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Opentable has been a major breakthrough for the restaurant industry. It really speeds up your ability to juggle a full book of reservations, a waiting list, each table's status, how many customers each server is dealing with etc. Opentable's online interface is also really user-friendly so customers who call in the midst of the pregame crunch can hop online and make a reservation immediately if they'd rather not wait for until the rush is over. The only downside of a system that handles so many different factors is how often I end up sharing a laugh with customers on the phone because my computer is "thinking".