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The Gatekeepers: Team Bacar

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, 5/2/08

Because sometimes one gatekeeper isn't enough, we present a special triple treat from SoMa's Bacar. Once upon a time, the eight year-old Bacar was an early trendsetter in the developing South Park area, with its wine program, live jazz and the like. After going through an ownership change last year, it's reinvented itself a bit but remained plenty trendy for the crowds, which is where the front of house team comes in: Jessica Rodgers, Julie Colleran, and Ana Orrach.

AO: Well to begin, this restaurant is pretty big. We’ve got 3 floors to choose from: the “Mezzanine”; “Bacar Below”; and our main dining room. This makes for a lot of climbing up and down stairs which means more chances of falling. We can comfortably seat about fifty people in the mezzanine and about hundred in our main dining room (so all in all about hundred-fifty seats for formal dining) plus all the seats available in the bars.

JC: I personally like the seats in the mezzanine. It's intimate and has a great view of the flow of the downstairs dining room. I think there is something romantic about looking down at the chaos of the lounge and dining room, while sitting quietly upstairs and enjoying your dinner. Not saying the mezzanine is the quietest place, but it's neat to be able to see the action from above.

8 PM on a Saturday night. What’s the wait for a table?
AO: The wait varies every night, but on an extremely busy Saturday I would say anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. I like to play it safe and it makes me look good when I can seat guests earlier than expected. The restaurant is really big so, if you’re not into waiting, you can slip downstairs to bacar below where the live jazz band plays and grab dinner.

Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Do gifts or cash work?
JR: Guests are more than welcome to kick down a couple dollars for the host team but that in no way means that you will get a table faster. We prefer that it comes at the end of their meal rather than before so we really know that they have truly enjoyed everything.
JC: Unless you have a size 7.5 in Christian Louboutins, I do not accept gifts or cash.

Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently?
AO: There is this lovely couple that live in the neighborhood that just loves our food and truly enjoys our restaurant. It makes my job so worthwhile when people love what we stand for. As far as celebrities go? that’s a secret. A hint? usually athletes because we are so close to the ballpark.
JR: Working in some high end restaurants in my career I know better than to “seat-and-tell” as Larry Bouchard puts it ... It is really nice when a customer actually talks to you like a human being and wants to know you as a person rather than a server or an employee. Those are the clients that we appreciate over others.

How do you deal with VIPs or the owners' friends, when there are no tables left to give?
JC:: We have a great bar program going on right now and with the live jazz, you can't go wrong hanging out in the bar for a while.
JR: Return guests and VIPs are really very important in this business as are first diners as well. A great host knows how to work the floor to accommodate these types of scenarios and we always have a plan B for everything.

What’s the most outrageous request from a customer you’ve had to accommodate?
AO: I had to coat check two bicycles.
JR: Besides the numerous engagement proposals involving bringing in Oreos into the restaurant, I personally have been lucky enough not to encounter a situation like this. Its either that or I have a very high tolerance for what is “outrageous”.

...that you couldn't accommodate?
AO: Join a party of men at their table for dinner.

What’s the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
JR: A sense of humor and a great team to back you up. I enjoy my job and believe that you can work your tail off and still have a great time doing it. Most of the time this is true.
AO:There are 2 main tools for me: 1: Open table with the new micros system enables me to know automatically when a table is on dessert or when they’ve paid. It saves my life (and feet) so I don’t have to run up 3 flights of stairs all night. 2: Keeping my cool under stressful situations.
JC: Breathe. From the BOH to the FOH to our guests, a night can be very crazy. That and diet coke.