We normally reserve our Ask a Waiter column for, well, waiters (and bartenders, maître d’s, sommeliers, and the like), but if you’ve got $7,500 a year to blow on a service like Four Hundred — started in March by Tony Abrams along with Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum of Tenjune— you can also call upon still another industry professional: the lifestylist. Assuming you have his unlisted office number, you can contact Michael Lerner and ask him to make your every wish and whim come true, whether it be scoring you a table at Per Se or flying Kobe beef to your derby party in Kentucky. We asked Lerner how he works his magic.
In booking tables, what sorts of tricks do you employ that average Joes can use?
Stay persistent and patient. A follow-up is very important: Send them something saying thank-you for extending yourself. Mention if someone is celebrating an occasion — restaurants really love being part of that. Establish a friendship — the manager of a certain restaurant will leave to open the next hottest restaurant.
To what extent will you get involved in a member’s personal life?
We did a proposal a while back in Paris. We had a caricaturist set up at the table across from the couple — he drew a picture of her with a ring on her finger.
Do you get foreign reservations that are just too tough? El Bulli, for example?
El Bulli is great with last-minute cancellations. We had a member who was traveling to Spain who was dying to go with their mom. We called as far in advance as possible and they had nothing. When we called the day of, we were able to secure a reservation.
What’s the hardest table here in town?
I’d tell you Per Se, where it’s twelve tables total. But because we do have a relationship with them, I feel like we could secure tables.
What kinds of requests have you been unable to fulfill?
One of our members who’s kosher asked for a croque madame at a kosher restaurant, which is the least kosher thing he could ask for. There wasn’t too much we could do about that.
What’s the most bizarre order you’ve gotten?
I was involved in doing a catered dinner in Kentucky during the derby. He wanted to serve Kobe beef. I had to find Kobe beef in Kentucky, which isn’t the easiest job. We actually flew it in — it was roughly $700 to get it there.
What’s the most outlandish display of wealth you’ve facilitated?
One of our members — he’s in the financial world, I’ll leave it at that — wanted to do a birthday party at Tenjune. He spent about $55,000 in three hours. Magnums of Moët will take you a long way.
What does getting your members into these places entail?
It’s partly a matter of educating them. We want to make sure they wouldn’t go to a door with eight of their guy friends. Not all of them know to have an equal ratio of men to women, or at this point, more women than men. They don’t always know that if they’re with a large group that they should sit down and get a table.
Have you ever made a really bad call?
When I first started, one of our members wanted to go to a new and exclusive steakhouse. I offered Bull & Bear — there’s no real draw to it. He came back thinking I was absolutely crazy.
You must have a pretty good eye into the future. What do you think the next hot clubs will be?
When Double Seven reopens, it’s going to be a hit. And One Oak, which the guys that currently own Butter are going to be opening up.
How do you tell when a place has jumped the shark? Have you crossed certain places off your list?
Absolutely. It’s all about a lack of demand — our members will come and say, “I want to go to Tenjune” or “I want to go to Rose Bar.” As soon as you stop hearing those requests, you know you’re not going to recommend it anymore.