This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the land meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photo: Molly Decoudreaux]
Mamacita is the upscale Mexican restaurant in the Marina that hasn't had an off night since its debut in 2005. Mike "The Sombrero" Bauer has continued to shower his love on the place, welcoming it to the club with 2.5 stars shortly after it opened, and then upping its status to el tres last year. Although it pleases persnickety critic types, local families and the upwardly mobile Marine Layer set are what keep Mamacita humming nightly. General Manager Kevin Perotti is the man behind the host stand, keeping things light and tequila-fueled during frequent hour-long waits for a table.
7:30 p.m. on a Sat. night, what's the wait for a table? Mamacita is a relatively small restaurant with 78 seats on the dining room floor, 11 seats at the bar (where the full menu is served) and an additional 12 seats outside under the heat lamps. A wait for a table can run from 45 minutes to over an hour. We do take reservations, but we also strongly encourage walk-in guests as well. While the wait can be long we invite our guests to wait at the bar where they can watch fantastic bartenders create some of the best cocktails in the Marina. People tend to wait for tables because of our high volume, energetic atmosphere—not to mention the great food, which keeps our guests coming back.
As one of the hottest restaurants in the Marina, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried? We've been open five years and our guests still enjoy coming to our restaurant because of the seasonal dinner and cocktail menu's. People really like executive chef Luis Contreras' take on authentic Mexican cuisine. Cash is usually the go-to "bribe" in the Marina, of course I would never allow myself or the hosts to accept such an offer. We always take walk-in guests in the order they arrive, but we try to accommodate everyone in the quickest manner possible. I feel it goes so much further with a guest when we politely decline there "offer", but are able to get them seated before their quoted wait time. We feel that all of our guests are important and they should all be treated as such.
Tell us about your favorite customers. Only being open for dinner, I feel like I get to see and meet and different types of diners. Early in the shift we tend to get a lot of families. Later in the night we tend to get more of the larger parties and the people who are out to have a good time and enjoy their evening. I feel like we are able to accommodate all of these groups while still maintaining an atmosphere that's conducive to having a terrific dining experience. I definitely enjoy the variety of our clientele the most.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables to give? Our "VIP's" tend to be very understanding people who are out to have a good time. They do not mind waiting for a table when there is a wait list, as it gives them time to enjoy our bar scene for a while. We encourage our VIPs to give us a heads up before they come in so we can better meet their needs. But as a rule we try and treat every guest and their needs to the best of our ability.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've ever had to accomodate? In my time here I have not had too many outrageous requests. Just the normal everyday requests that people desire to make the diner a special one.
Where are you eating when you're not at Mamacita? Because we are only open for dinner, I don't have too many nights free. While at work, I'll usually run over to The Tipsy Pig for a burger or up to Umami from some sushi. On my nights off, my wife and I like to splurge every now and again: hire a babysitter, get all dressed up and head out to Gary Danko or Acquerello—truly have a night out!
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele? We tend to get very favorable reviews, which drives us to work harder. Making Michael Bauer's Top 100 restaurants has been very good for business.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done? The right staff. As any manager knows a GM is only as strong as his staff. Luckily here at Mamacita we have very strong teams in both the front of house and in the kitchen. I feel very fortunate to work with these people. It makes my job that much easier.