Having recovered from a scooter accident that sent her to hospital and launched a massive fundraising effort, Linda Salinas became the service manager at farm-to-market restaurant Haven back in June. As befits her take charge style, Salinas quickly enmeshed herself in the life of the restaurant. When she's not directing servers to refill a water glass at one table or open a door for a patron heading to the restroom, she's visiting with guests to ensure they have the best possible experience. Salinas spoke to Eater about why she likes ornery customers, the problems with trying to fit 200 cars into 100 spaces and the importance of a smile.
Describe the capacity: Our restaurant can roughly do about 210 covers at once. We can seat 175 in the dining room, 30 in the bar and 90 on the patio. What's your favorite place in the restaurant? I like looking at the entire dining room by sitting in the corner next to the line. It's where you can see and hear chef on the line and the entire dining room, but I'm creepy and like to see everybody.
What's the wait like at 8:00 p.m. Saturday? Our tables turn every few hours. There's almost always something available. We have two different types of (guests). At 6:15 are our older River Oaks people that want to come in for a leisurely dinner. Then there's birthday parties later. We can always slip somebody in somewhere. Has Houston Restaurant Weeks changed anything in terms of the crowd? It's had it's moments in other years where it's out of control busy, but I think we're starting to get to the point now where we know what's going to happen. A lot of our staff has been here for years. They know how to treat (HRW). We're a lot more busy with our ala carte guests than we thought we would be.
Has anyone tried to bribe you? Not really. There are people that do the “hey, are we gonna get our table soon?” I've worked at other places where it's very pertinent as far as slipping a hand with a little cash, but here, I think, because of our style as a restaurant, it's not really necessary.
Who are your favorite customers? We have a guest that always come in at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. He's the biggest curmudgeon. He can be mean, but he knows what he wants. He likes a giant, giant spoon for soup. He always asks the waiter for a big spoon. They bring him a bigger spoon, but that isn't what he wants. He always yells at them. I like the fact that he knows what he wants. He knows exactly how to ask for it. The waiters are annoyed by him, but I'm completely charmed by someone who knows how to ask for things.
How do you treat celebrities and VIPs? (In terms of celebrities), I don't want to blow them up, considering this is their spot. In all honesty, I'm still trying to learn how to treat our VIPs, because we have so many. (Chef) Randy (Evans) has had guests from Brennan's for years. There's all these little intracices that we're constantly having to look at. We record everything on our books. Some people like a certain waiter. Some people can't have bread at the table. Chef is really good about looking at the books, and that makes it a lot easier.
What about when friends or industry people come when you're busy? Because our bar is so fantastic, even if I don't have a spot in the dining room, it makes it much easier for me to say, “Hey, can you guys have a drink? I'll take care of you over there.” Because our bar staff is so over the top great, it makes it easier to give (friends) an extra spot.
What's the most outrageous request you've had to accommodate? If we can do it, we'll take care of it. When people need things we don't have in the restaurant, I can leave for 15 minutes to make sure they're ok. I've had to go to HEB and get almond milk. We're a restaurant. Our egos aren't too big to do what you need. What have you had to say no to? Sometimes people don't understand how restaurants work. They ask "Can we get a 15 top in a round?" A round table only seats 10. You have to tell them they'd be uncomfortable. We never get in a situation where we just can't do it because it's not good for us, mostly it's because it wouldn't be good for the guest.
What about the valet? Some people don't like it. We have a very, very busy valet, because we have so many spots. People just get enraged about the valet. I know that no one else likes having someone drive your vehicle for 11 seconds. As Houstonians, we don't deal with it very well.
We have 200+ vehciles in a lot that only holds 110. You have to think about the Tetris playing the valet does. We try to tell our guests it's gonna be inconvenient if they get double parked. Also, since it's private property, we're very well-insured. Your vehicle is in good hands. It's a part of the way we're built.
What's your most essential Gatekeeper tool? A smile. I'm not even joking. It makes it so much easier to tell someone it's going to be 15 minutes before your table is set up if you give a big ol smile.