This is The Gatekeepers, a photo series Eater has commissioned from Michael Harlan Turkell. Herein, we're pleased to introduce you to the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Chanterelle, open since 1979 and a Tribeca resident since 1989, is one of a very few true neighborhood restaurants to command three stars from the Times (it once at four). You could argue that it's fancier and more uppity than a neighborhood joint, but then you'd be giving away the fact that you haven't yet met Chanterelle owner and woman of the house Karen Waltuck.
Karen: We’ve always had a really diverse clientele, downtown artists, musicians, Soho-ites, Tribeca locals, people that work at the courts, the mayor's office, on Wall Street, and overseas. One thing we’ve always instituted is NO DRESS CODE. Even from the beginning, we’ve never had jackets in the closet.
There are only 17 tables, approximately 60 seats. Often that reads 17 distinct worlds dining on any given night. Recently we had someone with an Oscar on the table, and a big Politico on the next and so on...
I hate when someone has to wait. They come in excited to dine, and then deflate once they have to wait. I can't tolerate more than a 30-minute wait for my clients, it’s the maximum I feel you can ever expect a person wait while they’re hungry.
Human contact is really important.
I don’t have specific seating times. I just try to make sure we’re never blasted at 7PM – 8PM. I have to go home with the chef you know. There’s a steady pace of tables, and only one bigger table every ½ hour max, so the hardest reservation to get is for larger groups. We open the books 2 months out, so on April 1st you can reserve all of May.
We’ve never been snobby, and for that reason have never really had difficulty with clients. No shows are a restaurant's biggest headache though, or canceling at the last minute. Those habits are simply counter productive, any restaurant is forced to overbook if they think they'll have anything but a full house. Sometimes people trade
reservations in order not to let them go. My dream scenario is that everyone arrive on time, so that I can always have one table empty. Then, as the first table seated is leaving, another is coming in, and that way the dining room never seems crowded.