If the devil is in the details, then training a high-end restaurant staff is hell.
Eli Feldman, director of operations at Barbara Lynch Gruppo, takes a break in the dining room amid crisp tablecloths and walls of gray Italian wood veneer. He’s instructing the staff during an eight-day boot camp in preparation for Menton’s April 3 opening.
Last week was mechanics: placing a fork on the table without sticking an elbow in the customer’s face, or how to keep flatware stain-free (polish it with vodka - a tip Feldman picked up from wd~50 chef Wylie Dufresne’s father Dewey while dining at 71 Clinton). Part of Feldman’s mantra is service without snobbery. The manager’s manual — a five pound tome — include maxims like, “Criminals get booked. Restaurants get reserved.”
“One of the big tenets is to understand knowledge is a tool and not a weapon,” Feldman explains.
Tuesday’s lesson was on product training: a crash course in all the foods and wine Menton serves. Without a sommelier, it is up to the captains to be familiar with every bottle on the Burgundy-focused list. Wine Director Cat Silirie leads today’s lecture, wine glass in hand. “Burgundy is all about cherries and dirt,” Silirie says. “Delicate, fine-boned, a lot of fruit.”
About 20 servers scribble on yellow legal pads while Silirie lectures on the wine’s origins. She quizzes them on the nose, food pairings, and taste. Just like school, there’s homework — three hours a night, one waiter tells us. Handouts cover such things as the diet of a steamed black bass. (Crab and razor clams, if you’re curious).
Though the waitstaff are all industry vets, they’re not immune to the magic of fine dining. One server gives her glass a swirl, entranced. “It’ll look so beautiful in the light,” she says — an evangelical new convert to the creed of Barbara Lynch.