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The Gatekeepers: Macao Trading Co.'s Dagny Mendelsohn

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[<a href="">Kreiger</a>, 3/26/09
[Kreiger, 3/26/09

Macao Trading Co., the four month-old restaurant from the Employees Only team and Chanterelle's David Waltuck, has been packed, packed, packed since the opening. Though we're hearing it's getting a little more reasonable, you're still not getting in without an hour or two wait on a Saturday night. The woman you'll need to butter up if you want to try to shorten that wait time: managing owner/Maitre D' Dagny Mendelsohn.

8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? It could range from anywhere from an hour to two hours. If you walk in at 7, we could seat you. But if you walk in at 7:30 there's a wait. The people all come in at 7 and fill all our walk-in space. Unless we have a cancellation or a no show, if you come in 15 min later later you'll have to wait for them all to eat.

Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter?

It wont necessarily make the wait shorter, but smile and be friendly when you approach us, because we're very friendly. If there's a wait, there's nothing that can be done. We're fair to everyone. It's first come first serve. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? I'm so against that. I've always been so against that. I was taught that at my first job that once someone tips you, they own you. Next time they come in they want a table or they want special treatment. Once you accept something it never ends. Not that I won't accept a gift or a thanks, maybe a face cream...

Tell us about your favorite customers. Any celebs been by recently? We've had amazing feedback from the neighborhood. It's all you could ask for. We have regulars from the neighborhood coming in three to five times a week. Sometimes they'll come for brunch and get dinner later. Or they'll get a drink and have the late night menu.

As for celebrities, we don't like to talk about it. I will say we've had a lot of celebs, a lot of big New York names. A chef, a musician, someone in the fashion industry, or the CEO of this or that. It's a place where they can have their dinner and relax and not have paparazzi. 80% of celebrities we've had have been back after their first visit.

How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? Well, we serve a full menu on both bars on both floors. We may quote a time but we usually get it down faster than our quoted time. If not they can eat at our bar. We have some of the best bartenders in the city. You can watch them, and it's almost like performance art. And that downstairs lounge, was it always meant to be open to the public for dinner? In the lounge, we do have dinner there throughout. When we first opened we had the idea of making it more loungey. But then we were always booked for dinner, and people wanted to have dinner down there. So we raised the tables and served the full menu down there, and it actually made it more cozy. After 9, we have a doorman there just to regulate how many people are down there because we can only fit 45 people.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you could accommodate? A few weeks ago, it was midnight on Saturday. Saturday nights we're extremely booked, the bars are packed. We still take reservations at 10:30 and 11. Someone walked in and said they had a table of 13 for dinner. We were like, wow, 13. And he was like no, not 13, 30. Not only did they have 30 people and they all wanted to sit together, but they all came in at the same time to wait at the bar. We had to convince them that we had to sit them separately. I think within 20 minutes we sat all 30 people at different six tops.

And one you couldn't accommodate? This happens quite frequently. We built that mezzanine in the dining room. It's for aesthetic purposes. It's only five feet up there. People see the table in the back and when people hear the wait is one to two hours, seven out of 10 times they ask to sit up there. One guy was so persistent, he was like we'll order the food at the bar, we'll bring up our food, we'll clean up. It looks totally VIP but unfortunately it's not a table.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? One shot of tequila and a really great pair of flats. When i started working in restaurants, I was really fresh and young and athletic and 21, and i used to wear high heels, and I can't believe it now. I used to wear stilettos to hostess for like 10 hours.

When you're not at Macao, where are you eating? Well I've had no life for the last few months. But my two favorite places still in the city are Prune and Commerce. And if I get off work for late night I might go to Smith and Mills or Employees Only, obviously. Blue Ribbon. Schillers is right around the corner from my apartment. I did get to go to the opening of Minetta Tavern. That's the one new thing I got to go to and they did a beautiful beautiful job. It's one of the most beautiful places that Keith has opened.

Macao Trading Co.

311 Church Street, New York, NY 10013 212 431 8642 Visit Website