This is The Gatekeepers, wherein Eater roams the city to meet the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite dining destinations.[Photo: Jennifer Yin]
As media muse Frances approaches her one year anniversary in December, we reflect on all the positive attention she and her chef Melissa Perello have attracted: from Bauer's 3.5 star rating to a Michelin star and then praise from local, national and international publications. GM Patrick Tsui has been the front of house's guiding light through lengthy waits and back-to-back packed houses week after week. There are, after all, only 50 seats in there. Here Tsui takes a moment to reflect on the glorious 11 months past.
Let’s start with the basics. How many seats are at the restaurant? We definitely make the most of our small space. We have 17 tables and 38 seats in our dining room. Our bar countertop area has another ten seats. We try to save a few tables for walk-ins, when possible. Those get scooped up quickly. And which are your favorites? My favorite tables are in the middle of the dining room. They have less space but guests get to hear a lot of great conversations from the tables around them. The tables that seem to be most popular are the ones against the wine wall and away from the banquette, for the more romantic types. The large table at the window and the table in the far corner are also favorites.
8 PM on a Saturday night. What’s the wait for a table? Because our reservation books are usually full, especially on the weekends, we generally direct walk-in customers to our bar. However, there have been plenty of Saturday nights when we get no-shows or last minute cancellations, allowing us to take walk-ins
in the dining room. The typical wait is a period long enough to enjoy a glass of wine -- or two! -- before you sit. Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Unfortunately, there isn’t. I wish I could do something to make your wait shorter.
With nearly a year under your belt at Frances and so much media hype, you’ve surely been offered gifts or cash, right? What have people tried? To the contrary, I haven’t been offered gifts or cash. Maybe I’m doing something
wrong?! Just kidding. The one rationale that I get the most often is “My name is
Frances!” or “My random family member’s name is Frances!”
People are crafty! Tell us about your favorite customers. We are super lucky to have amazing guests. They enjoy the food and our company and we enjoy their company. I know it’s cheesy to say, but the support and well wishes from our guests have been overwhelming and quite honestly, humbling. Any celebs been by recently? We get a lot of food and restaurant celebs. I would have to say that having Jacques Pepin and his team join us was definitely a highlight for both the dining room and kitchen staff!
So, how do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? VIPs typically will make reservations ahead of time. They know we’re small and busy so they’ll get ahead of the curve. Otherwise, if they drop in or reach out the day of, we do our best to accommodate them. It always works out in the end.
What’s the most outrageous request from a customer you’ve had to accommodate? I can’t recall an outrageous request from any guest. Quite frankly, guest requests have been very reasonable. Anything you couldn’t accommodate? This is a pretty staid answer, but the requests we can’t accommodate typically revolve around adding additional guests. Like I said, we are lucky because our guests are amazing and understanding!
Where are you eating when you're not at Frances? Ragazza! Sharon Ardiana’s pizzas are crazy awesome. I went twice the first week they opened. I live in the Inner Richmond so I get my choice of great Asian food: Taiwan Restaurant, Spices, Hong Kong Lounge for dim sum, Brother’s – I could keep going with more names.
What’s the item on the current menu that more people should know about? I’m terrible at this game. When guests ask what I recommend on the menu, I inevitably mention a huge portion of the menu...if not the whole thing! Everyone knows about our bacon beignets and ricotta gnocchi, but I’ll mention three dishes in particular: grilled calamari is my wife’s favorite dish at Frances, the crispy delicata squash is served with a currant and fennel relish and has the most intoxicating fragrance ever and the lumberjack cake. This dessert is the most representative of who we are: comforting, familiar and reminds you of home.
Frances has received so much recognition, from the James Beard Association to the Bauer Top 100 to Forbes magazine and on. Is there any one accolade or press hit you can associate with a bump in reservations or a different breed of clientele? Things really started getting crazy for us after Michael Bauer’s review. For the first month and a half that we were open before Bauer’s review, we were still fully booked with a four week wait, but after the review, we soon became booked for three months. We’ve changed it so now we can only take reservations two months ahead. Also, before Bauer, we had a lot of neighbors and Melissa followers joining us. After Bauer, we started seeing a lot more guests from all around the Bay Area and the rest of the country, not just San Francisco and our neighborhood.
At the end of the day, what’s the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? I am lucky because I get to do what I love. I get to talk with great guests every day and share my passion with everyone, so really what else could I ask for?
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