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, 4/4/08
Proving it has withstood the test of time in more ways that one, Foreign Cinema still pops up on nearly every single list of essential San Francisco restaurant. Brunch and dinner remain prized tickets (and not just for Mission folk), and with springtime about to spring on the Bay Area—well, at least as much as does here—the outdoor dining area at Foreign Cinema will once again become a hotspot for nuclear families and hungover hipsters alike. So who handles the "people puzzle" at the Mission hotspot? Meet Tracy "T-Bone" Smith, the Dining Room Manager at Foreign Cinema.
How many seats do you get to work with at Foreign Cinema? And which are your favorites? 220 seats. Inside the dining room, I like Table Four. Outside, I like the area in the "300's." 8PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? For a walk-in, 30 to 45 minutes. Sometimes with a cancellation or no-show, the wait can be as little as five minutes, depending on the details of the night.
Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? I pride myself and our crew to be as honest as possible re: the wait time. Sometimes we may say the longest wait time, and try and get the guest down sooner than later. We all get upset if waits are longer than quoted. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? We don't accept gifts or cash at the door.
Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? I love our regulars, we have many so it's hard to say. Adam Savage and his family come almost once a week. He hosts Myth Busters. Tracy Chapman was in very recently. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? We once needed to seat Richard Gere and two other guests, unannounced, with no reso, at a peak moment. We do a dance and find a spot where it looks as though we will have a "no-show" on the reso. It's the art of guesswork. Luckily, we have a big house and things, circumstances, change frequently. ...the owner's friends? We do our best to honor all requests in the same manner. Again, we have a large house, and opportunities come unexpectedly.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? We have shown marriage proposals from guests to show as a surprise during service. The guests have made a DVD and we time the showing. All guests proposed to have said "yes." It's joyful; other diners always applaud it and toast....that you couldn't accommodate? Nothing comes to mind.
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Smile!