Ask a Waiter

Amanda Dell Juggles ‘Outstanding’ Reservations at Gramercy Tavern

“I feel great when I can speak to a guest and use their names.” Photo: Melissa Hom

The afterglow of the Beard Awards hasn’t yet faded at this year’s Outstanding Restaurant winner, Gramercy Tavern. Maître d’ Amanda Dell, who has been there for three years, checked out of Sunday night’s after-party early (as in, 1 a.m., on Monday), but she tells us it raged on to the point where the bar ran out of certain items and had to spend the next couple of days restocking. “Mostly everyone was enjoying sparkling wine and beer,” she says, “but I do think people got into some bourbons. That’s kind of a GT favorite.” We asked her how this celebration compared to past ones and got some table-scoring tips in the process.

You must have a lot of these parties at Gramercy Tavern.
Our two main celebrations we have every year are our holiday party, and we also have a picnic in Prospect Park for Memorial Day. The one party that rivaled this one is when we got three stars. We had that at Gramercy Tavern also.

Bruni praised the restaurant highly, but the flip side of that review was Alan Richman’s surprisingly negative one. What was the reaction to the latter?
You cannot please everyone — I think that’s what we took from it. You always want to be thinking of how you can improve and do better, but, at the end of the day, you can’t make everyone happy.

Danny Meyer talks a lot about hospitality. What are some of the practical ways you apply it?
Using Opentable as our tool. It’s always nice to see guests that have joined us before. It’s always nice when I can say, “Welcome back — thank you for coming in again.” I feel great when I can speak to a guest and use their names.

Part of your job is to take phone reservations. What’s the best way to get results if you’re calling in and the table you want is booked?
Place yourself on the waiting list. We confirm reservations two days out, so if you have a reservation on Friday, we call you Wednesday to confirm. If you’re on the wait list, there’s a chance to get a reservation, because we’re giving our guests a chance to cancel with us. And we appreciate when guests call to follow up — sometimes it’s difficult for us to call out because the phones are busy.

What about showing up in person? Is there any chance of scoring a walk-in in the dining room?
Ask the maître d’ if someone hasn’t shown up in the dining room. It happens almost every night. Or come at 5:30 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m., and we can usually try to accommodate.

Do you get bizarre requests when people reserve via Opentable?
People will write, “I’ll be proposing that night.” We’re like, “Okay, that’s great. We’re so honored you’ll be doing that here, but maybe next time give us a call and let us know ahead of time!”

What sort of notes do you keep on diners?
We record how many visits the guests have had. There’s little things, like some guests prefer bread from the dining room, some prefer bread from the tavern. The tavern bread is from Balthazar — it’s a rye boule. And then the main dining room is from Sullivan St. Bakery — it’s more of a hard roll.

What are some other differences between the two rooms?
Both menus are created by our chef Michael Anthony. I would call the tavern food a little more rustic. It’s more country food, and most of the items are prepared on our wood-burning stove — you see the chefs preparing it in front of you. In the dining room, the food is a little more refined and elegant, but definitely still simple.

When’s the best time to walk into the tavern?
Usually before 6 p.m., most days. We open it at noon and serve continuously — we don’t close between lunch and dinner. Between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. each night is when we are starting to fill up. After that, the average wait would be about 45 minutes. And then at 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. things are starting to slow down.

Does Gramercy Tavern offer perks like the Eleven Madison Park umbrella?
We have umbrellas, too! Nancy, our pastry chef, makes fresh coffee cakes every day for guests — anyone who joins us in the dining room will take one home. We hope they’ll enjoy it for breakfast the next day.

Amanda Dell Juggles ‘Outstanding’ Reservations at Gramercy Tavern