This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of San Francisco's hottest tables.
[Photo: Eva Frye]
If you go to Tyler Florence's year-and-a-half-old FiDi restaurant Wayfare Tavern any night after 6:30 p.m., there will probably be some kind of wait — it could be ten minutes, or it could be three hours. If General Manager Tony Marcell isn't the man who greets you a the door, he's certainly the one setting the tone at one of the most perennially jam-packed bar waiting areas in the city. We recently chatted with Tony about the crowds, the crazies and the celebrities that have graced Wayfare's tables.
7:30 p.m. on a Sat. night, what's the wait for a table? It's usually 20 to 30 minutes for an open chef counter seat, our bar/cocktail area and outdoor tables. And those turn pretty consistently every 30 minutes or so. For a table on the first or second floor, we are usually booked for most of the evening, thankfully.
As one of the hottest restaurants in the FiDi, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried? I've seen a lot? With me it's mostly sports related though. A lot of people know I'm a big sports fan. Once I walked the course with John Daly, and Tiger Woods was in the group ahead during a professional golf tournament. John Daly ended up driving the green on a par four where Tiger was putting, and it went on to make big drama in the golf world for a while.
Tell us about your favorite customers. That's a hard one. There are lots. I totally have a soft spot for guests that have had an issue, and we were able to not only turn it around but win them over to become regulars. I appreciate these folks very much. It’s also a great feeling when guests come around on a consistent basis throughout the year. When that happens, you know you have created one of our main goals as restaurateurs: a gathering spot.
Any big wigs? If you are looking for a name, that's even harder. I've met dozens of famous people. Presidents, actors, musicians, the Dalai Lama, you name it. Robert Redford was certainly a highlight. I walked over to him to acknowledge him and before I got to the table he had already stood up, put his hand out and said, “Hi, I’m Bob, thank you for having us tonight?..” That was extremely impressive.
Hosting a lot of the Giants last year after the World Series was up there too. Oh, and my wife. She comes in with our friends and family and that's always fun too. They are often in the billboards room. It's perfect for small gatherings.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables to give? Pray there's a no-show!
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've ever had to accommodate? [Laughing] We've seen some unusual requests for sure. Like the time a guest demanded that his salmon was female. That's a head scratcher huh?! Once a lady ordered a birthday candle in a dessert for her seeing eye dog. Can you picture this scenario? It was special all right. A few months ago this guy asked if we could bake an engagement ring in a popover.
Where are you eating when you're not at Wayfare Tavern? At home. Love cooking up a feast for friends at home. We don't do it often but it's a treat. Around town... Tony's Neapolitan Pizza, Town Hall, Kokkari, R+G Lounge and Don Pistos are in regular rotation. They are all within walking distance too, which is a big bonus especially because I work late.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done? Hmmmm...I'd say there are two. My institutional knowledge and my Rolodex. There's no substitute for having good instincts and a great network. What was your name again? [Laughing] Thank you very much, sincerely. This has been fun!
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