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The Gatekeepers: Zane Fiala and Katie Mathis, Incanto

Welcome back to our special two-part edition of The Gatekeepers. Read part one of our Incanto interview here.

2008_05_incantogksmall.jpgKatie "Judge" Mathis, Dining Manager at Incanto: The dining room is usually entirely booked through the end of the night. The only seating area we reserve for walk-ins is our wine bar, which we seat on a first-come, first-serve basis. So depending on how early the first turn started, we could have a wait of 30-90 minutes for dinner at the wine bar. Things change so quickly though, especially on Saturdays. A reserved table could no-show, cancel at the last minute, skip dessert, etc., in which case it’s all yours!

What’s the most outrageous request from a customer you’ve had to accommodate? Something cool that Chris did after his battle on “Iron Chef: America” was to offer the exact menu he created on the show as a special menu people could request with one week’s notice. Someone booked a party of twelve for that menu, which may not seem that outrageous to anyone reading this, but since Chris did each plate (all six courses) by himself, the logistics of it were a nightmare. ...that you couldn’t accommodate? A table once brought their own store-bought mortadella (not Boccalone) for us to slice and serve them. We thought that was inappropriate.

Tell us about your favorite customers. We have so many loyal regulars who come by once a week or twice a month, I couldn’t even begin to name just a few. The folks who treat us like human beings and respect our goals for sustainability and to serve excellent food without the pomp make all the differences. Any celebs been by recently? In regards to celebrities, we serve quite a bit, including one particularly exciting neighbor & regular who dines with us whenever she’s in town. I want her to keep coming in, though, so I won’t reveal her name. We’ve served somewhat of a revolving door of celebrity chefs & foodies the past few years--doing their rounds as the word spreads about Chris’ offal specialties?but I have to admit that I get more excited by the Hollywood crowd. I will reveal that Dr. Laura walked out on us once, saying the menu was just too much for her. Imagine that?better taste than Dr. Laura.

Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Unless you’re offering me a job at Pixar, no. We book reservations very carefully so as to avoid excessive wait times, but when it comes down to it, we can’t make anyone chew faster. And gifts or cash probably don't help much here either? The answer is still no, and I laugh when people talk about these dream scenarios where hosts are given cash for better tables. It’s never happened to me! And really, if there’s a table available, I want to take care of you and seat you there as soon as I can.

How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? VIP regulars and friends-of-the-house are put on the same wait list as everyone else if they surprise us with their patronage. Ultimately we just don’t have enough tables to give special treatment ...the owner’s friends? ?same with Mark or Chris’ friends. Since these people know the deal, they usually call in advance. When they call Mark or Chris for a reservation they pass the call along to us, and we are looking at the same crop of available tables as we are for everyone else.

Any particularly delightful Cosentino anecdotes? Chris is a passionate and eccentric guy, and he definitely keeps life at Incanto interesting. One funny aspect of my job description is to remind him to keep his conversation topics at the line in check, since we have an open kitchen that’s directly adjacent to what is supposed to be our quieter dining area, the Dante Room. Stuff like, “No feces jokes during service, guys.” I love that he’s a chef who truly cares about the functionality of the entire restaurant—I’ve spent so many hours in the office listening to him & Incanto’s owner, Mark, figure out how they are personally going to fix whatever is broken in the restaurant that day, or new design ideas they have. My favorite of their installations is the porcelain pig’s head that they installed above the kitchen—Chris’ mom found it at a thrift store about two years ago and it’s been watching over the dining room ever since.

What’s the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? There are three I feel like I need to stay sane in this position: First, a sense of humor and definitely patience. Luckily we have a very strong service staff that works well together to provide excellent service, but have fun too ... Also, the support and patience of my girlfriend, Tiffany, who works in the safe confines of UCSF but has listened to all of my crazy Incanto stories the past three years. And definitely GuestBridge, our reservation program that is a cheaper and better alternative to Open Table. Until last year we had no computerized reservation program or real-time online reservation system. The thousands of reservations that people have booked online through GuestBridge are thousands of minutes I’ve had to do something else with my time.
· Part One, The Gatekeepers: Zane Fiala and Katie Mathis, Incanto [~ESF~]

Photo: Jennifer Yin

Incanto

1550 Church Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

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