When Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s The Mark opened earlier this year, it quickly gained the reputation as something of a celeb hot spot. As Sam Sifton noted in his two star review, during the course of a week, he spotted Woody and Soon-Yi on one night, Paul McCartney on another. But at its heart, the restaurant is not a clubby A-lister haunt, it’s a hotel restaurant, bar and lounge, open for every meal of the day, and a huge draw for fans of the chef’s other projects, who can enjoy some of his trademark cuisine in both an elegant and more relaxed setting. The Mark's Maitre’d, Benjamin Annequin, a ten-year veteran of nearby Match 65, is the perfect man for the job: he knows the space, the clientele and that a great dining experience starts even before you sit down.
It's 8 PM on a Saturday night, what's the wait for a table? Well, first we honor all our reservations, so you’ll have your table right away if you’ve made a reservation. Then with the walk-in situation, we have a nice lounge area that can get really busy on a Saturday, but we can most likely seat anybody there within 15 minutes. That’s where pretty much everybody wants to be right now.
What's the wait for a table in the main dining room? You need reservations for the main dining room.
How far in advance do you have to make a reservation? Depending on the time, if you want anything before 6 PM, you should call a couple of days before, or even like the day before. If you want to dine between 6 PM and 8:30 PM, we appreciate having a reservation a week, two weeks, or couple of weeks in advance.
Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? Any cash or gifts to speed things along? There’s no way, because it’s not fair. It’s not fair for people that have made reservations — why should they be penalized because of someone who will gift their way into waiting a shorter time? It disrupts the flow of the evening, it’s against the house policy and it’s unfair.
Tell us about your favorite customers. We do have a lot of regulars and a lot of VIPs. My favorite customers are the ones that care for Jean-Georges’s cuisine and also the atmosphere, the servers and the assistant servers — those people who know us personally, as human beings. Those are my favorite customers, and we have a lot of people like that. And we do have a lot of celebrities. We have Woody Allen, he comes here on a regular basis. Barbara Walters? She’s probably here five times a week. Tyra Banks, Mick Jagger — he’s here all the time as well as Paul McCartney. Also Roger Federer loves our restaurant. When he was here during the U.S. Open he probably dined with us five times.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables available? Everyone is a VIP at the restaurant, so they will have their table ready for them if they’ve made a reservation. But if people walk in with no reservations, I’ll invite them to the bar and offer them a glass of champagne while I try and find some way to accommodate them.
What’s the most outrageous request that you’ve accommodated? It was prime time, 8:30 or 8:45 on a Saturday night, and we had one customer who came in with no reservation and asked to be seated. I showed him to a table that could accommodate two people, and he said “No, no, no. I want a table for four.” And I said, “But sir, you are only one person.” And he said “No, you don’t understand — I’m going to eat like four.” And I said, “ I understand, but it’s a busy Saturday night, and I have to hold the tables of four for parties of four with reservations that are coming in later this evening.” And he said, “I don’t care.” I saw that this could have become a situation, and I didn’t want a confrontation, so I was able to accommodate him at a table of four. Did he eat like a table of four? He ate like a table of two, so he fooled me on that one.
What’s the most outrageous request that you could not accommodate? A big VIP — a “hotel VIP” — called downstairs and wanted a specific table for six people at 9PM and asked me to move the people that were at that table at that time. And those people were VIPs of the restaurant — there was no way that I could accommodate her.
What is your most important Gatekeeper tool? My team. From my servers, to my hostess and the chef, it’s very important that we communicate as much as possible. Communication, communication, communication. Most important is a warm and calm demeanor, and to always make people feel that they are greeted the way that they should be.
When you are not at the restaurant where do you like to eat? Sunday night is my night off, and I like to stay at home and enjoy my wife’s Italian cooking. That’s my favorite cooking.
What is your favorite thing on the menu here? It’s a hard one because everything is terrific. I believe that the halibut is my favorite — it’s a line-cut halibut, it’s unique because when we receive the fish it has the captain’s tag on it, right out of the box, so we can see who fished it. It comes with a tomato fondue and to me it’s the freshest and the leanest dish on the menu. There seems to be a certain element of health to a lot of the menu here. Yes, healthy food, but also comfort food as well. This is why people love The Mark, because people can make it whatever they want. They can make it a casual place and just walk in and have a burger, or they can dress up and have a terrific experience like they would at any high-end restaurant.
What’s next for you and your team at The Mark? To keep going and try to make this restaurant a neighborhood spot where you can enjoy great food, with great atmosphere and great people, and especially great service.