Hordes of surprises evoke dread and excitement from restaurant staff

ALBANY — The dinner rush had died down Tuesday night at dp: An American Brewery when people started pouring in. A representative of the unannounced group, in town for a conference, requested tables that could seat 20 people, which by the time everyone was seated had grown to 33.

Even in a normal climate, restaurateurs and employees have mixed feelings about being surprised by groups of more than a dozen people, let alone 20 or 30 people all wanting to sit down and eat in same time. The extra activity is beneficial, especially on slower nights, and many industry players take pride in the challenge of handling an unexpected attack. But they also know that diners are exposing themselves to potential disappointment by marching en masse without notice, and hardly any hospitality employee would ever show up spontaneously with a party of more than six or eight people and expect to be seated.

“We’ve had a lot of things that have worked well,” said Dominick Purnomo, who runs dp and his brother, Yono’s, with his parents, though neither was working Tuesday night.

Purnomo noted that only about four tables of other patrons remained in dp when the group arrived around 8:30 p.m., allowing staff to set up three large tables to distribute members. Three waiters, a courier and a bartender were always on duty in front of the house, and the kitchen staff numbered six, including Purnomo, who called orders and sent plates from the pass, and the pastry chef.

“We were lucky to have the A team in the kitchen,” Purnomo said, adding that his records show split starter sets and 33 starters left the kitchen within 41 minutes of placing the orders. .

The City Beer Hall in Albany once hosted 40 people from a softball tournament who all showed up unannounced. Noting the brasserie’s seating arrangement, Dimitrios Menagias, its executive chef, said wryly: “Part of having a communal dinner is that guests often assume (large groups are) what it’s for. the.”

Larger venues are more likely to host large walk-in parties, of course, but having enough tables won’t reduce the difficulty of dozens of unexpected plates, all expected by diners around the same time. At 677 Prime in Albany, a 30-person walk-in could be assigned an upstairs room usually reserved for private dining, but Lucas Confectionery in Troy, which has few wide-open spaces inside, has had to be creative to manage a surprise. 20, as did the since-closed Pearl Street Pub when it stood in its original location, which lacked the immensity of its later home in Jillian’s building in downtown Albany.

The owners of all three, at least before the pandemic, were happy with the opportunity for their teams to perform – and the additional income.

“We’ve always had the attitude, ‘Let’s make this happen,'” said Jaime Ortiz, owner of 677 Prime, the 250-seat Toro Cantina in Colonie and the future Sea Smoke Waterfront Grill in Green Island.

Vic Christopher, who opened Lucas Confectionery nine years ago in November as the first business of what would become Clark House Hospitality, said: “It was mostly about figuring out the logistics, but I was like, ‘Come on -y.'”

Chris Pratt, who closed the Pearl Street Pub in June after selling Jillian’s building and is developing the historic Lark Tavern in Albany to reopen after buying it, said he negotiated with the group without an appointment. you of two dozen to find a way to sit them down and serve them. without overloading his small kitchen staff.

“They were good about it, agreeing to choose from a few apps and three or four entries,” he said.

According to the owners and managers, the unqualified acknowledgment by a large group that their arrival flouts convention and is likely an imposition goes a long way in making a restaurant want to serve them.

“If they come in and say, ‘We know that’s a big ask. We are prepared to be flexible, “we will try to accommodate them as best we can,” said co-owner Brian Viglucci. of Albany-based BMT Hospitality, which has eight locations of six restaurant concepts, including Junior’s, Cafe Madison and The Point.

However, Viglucci said, “If they’re really demanding and don’t recognize the situation they’re putting us in, maybe we’ll be less inclined.”

Or not at all inclined under current staffing conditions.

“We refuse walk-in parties or 20-25 day calls several times a week,” said Dora Philip, owner of The Hollow Bar + Kitchen in Albany. With a kitchen staff of up to four working in confined spaces, Philip said: “A (walk-in) 20-top throws everything away completely, and it’s not worth compromising the integrity of the guest experience. other guests.”

Brianne Baggetta, co-owner of the Dove + Deer pub in Albany’s Center Square neighborhood and her brother across the street, Rosanna’s Italian Kitchen, said the two are essentially too small to accept walk-ins longer. of 10 (Rosanna’s) or 15 (Dove + Deer) under the best circumstances. Given the current headcount, “if it happened now, it would be a strain,” Baggetta said.

All industry representatives interviewed said they would never spontaneously walk into a restaurant with a large party without a reservation. For some, the maximum would be six people; others said eight.

“My girlfriends don’t mind showing up somewhere as 10-top or 12-top, and I tell them they’re crazy,” said Nancy Bambara, COO of the three DZ restaurants in Saratoga. Springs. Two of his venues, Boca Bistro and Chianti Ristorante, don’t have physically expansive amenities and are usually busy enough that they simply can’t accommodate a large walk-in group, Bambara said. DZ’s largest restaurant, Forno Bistro, has hosted 20-person drop-in parties, usually on its terraces, but Bambara wouldn’t recommend it.

She said, “I would never show up unannounced with more than six people, and I wouldn’t even try with six on a Friday or Saturday.”

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