Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front of the house professionals in Bay Area restaurants. Today, CHOW.com senior editor John Birdsall writes in about Jen Louise Dunning, GM, partner and consummate host at Pizzaiolo:
The patio at Pizzaiolo. [Photo: Osamu Akatsu]
Most nights at Pizzaiolo in Oakland, if you're a walk-in, your chances for getting a table before 9:30 seem as hopeless as locking down a seat on BART at rush hour. It can be aggravating, jockeying for a drink at the bar, eyeing who's getting seated before you. But stress is at a minimum when Jen Louise Dunning is working the host stand. Yeah, you're still number 10 on the list, and everybody seems to linger over dessert or the last inch of Aglianico in the bottle, but Dunning has a way of making it seem all right.
I've never seen Dunning lose her poise or look overwhelmed. And I never get the feeling she's forgotten about me and my party, in that amnesia restaurant hosts can get, looking up at you blankly when you step up for the third time to ask, "Uh, how much longer?" I always feel like Dunning is cheering for me, hoping just as badly as I am that those people on the four-top wrap up the post-dinner talk and head for the door. And amazingly, I never feel like Dunning's breathing down my neck when I'm the guy lingering at a table after the credit card slip's been signed.
—John Birdsall, Senior Editor, CHOW.com
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