DINERS passing through the imposing facade of one of New York’s finest restaurants may perhaps be surprised at how well the maitre d’ seems to know them, their profession, their personal tastes and perhaps the fact that they are celebrating an anniversary.
Even in a city like New York, where a significant proportion of the population believe themselves to be famous, the familiarity of the staff at Eleven Madison Park with their personal achievements would seem flattering but a little far-fetched.
The real reason that the staff know that a diner works in the music industry, or has his roots in rural Oregon, is because the maitre d’ has carried out extensive research on the internet that afternoon.
The idea is to offer service tailored to each guest. By browsing through webpages detailing the professional and personal lives of that evening’s guests, the maitre d’ can decide how to greet them, which waiter to send to their table and which of the restaurant’s sommeliers would be best placed to offer the wine list.
“If I find out a guest is from Montana, and I know we have a server from there, we’ll put them together,” Justin Roller, a maitre d’ at the restaurant, told New York magazine recently.
Guests who happen to own a jazz club are placed with a sommelier who is knowledgeable about jazz.
Mr Roller said he kept a careful watch for any evidence that his diners worked as chefs during his internet searches, as well as any suggestion that they were particularly interested in wine.
If he discovered that they were celebrating an anniversary, he would attempt to find out which one, so that the five members of staff stationed at the door could greet the diner with a “happy birthday”, unless their online profile suggested that they were shy. In those cases, “I’ll let them introduce themselves to me,” he said.
Kirk Kelewae, the restaurant’s general manager, said that the five members of staff stationed at the door were able to greet strangers by name.
“We want to evoke a sense of being welcomed home,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the restaurant declined to comment further, except to confirm that it was true that staff researched the guests: “We definitely Google our guests but that’s really all there is to say.”
Although the practice is said to be an open secret, it came as a surprise to many New York diners.
“It seems way too intrusive,” said Sekita Ekrek, the food writer behind the Manhattan restaurant blog KikaEats. “Maybe their intentions are good but I also think if you want the restaurant to know something about you, you will tell them.”