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Food & Dining // Table Talk
Jo McGarry

The Key To A Great Restaurant Experience

Chef Chai’s signature Kati Black TIger Shrimp is part of the four-course family-style menu featured this month | Jo McGarry photo

Who is the most important person in a restaurant? Ask most restaurant owners and they’ll say it’s the customer. Just as many say it’s the chef.

They all may be right. Certainly a great chef will draw crowds, and most of us have been to restaurants where the food isn’t that great but the service is fabulous. And then there are bartenders, who nowadays can draw a following of devotees willing to move with them wherever they go. Busboys, waitstaff, managers – all are an essential part of running a successful restaurant.

But I often have thought that the most important person in a restaurant is the one who takes home the smallest paycheck and gets the least credit: the hostess.

No matter how talented the chef, how incredible the waitstaff, how charming the bartender, the hostess is the person who is the first face of a restaurant. The job is part-salesperson, part-diplomat, and yet most restaurants put their youngest, most inexperienced staff at the front of house to act as the face guests see as soon as they arrive.

Oftentimes the hostess also is the person answering the phone, taking reservations, dealing with inquiries and detailing the menu for inquiring, eager guests. A rude, sloppy or inefficient hostess can ruin a restaurant experience before it even begins. With the amount of time, energy and money people put into opening restaurants, I’m amazed more owners don’t realize how important this position is.

If you want to see a flawless group at work, spend a few minutes watching the front of house crew at Ruth’s Chris Steak House at Restaurant Row the next time you go.

The ladies up front are effortlessly polite both on the phone and in person, and their attention to detail (they know who’s being served an entrée, who’s ready for dessert, which table already has the check) shows the kind of skill necessary in running a highly successful operation. No coincidence that it’s one of the busiest restaurants in Honolulu.

Another chef/owner who understands the importance of the face of his restaurant is Chai Chaowasseree, owner of Chef Chai, one of the new restaurants within the Pacifica Building. You can see the staff at work, experience great hospitality and enjoy some of Chai’s latest butter-free creations featured on a four-course menu that’s offered to early bird diners. Guests can sample Chai’s Thai-influenced flavors for a fraction of the regular menu price with dishes that include Chicken Sate with Thai Peanut Sauce, Cucumber Salad and Asian Flat Bread; an appetizer platter of Ahi Katsu, signature Katafi Jumbo Black Tiger Prawns, Gravlax Salmon, Roasted Squash and Lobster Bisque Shooter; Braised Kurobuta Pork Osso Bucco and Grilled New Zealand King Salmon. And there’s dessert, too – all for just $40 per person. Get there by 6 p.m. to enjoy this family-style, fun dining experience.

Happy eating!

Chef Chai
Pacifica Building
1009 Kapiolani Blvd.

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