This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Ben Miller is a tried and true Lettuce Entertain You veteran, having been with the company almost a decade. He started his career with the company at Ben Pao and then moved on to the general manager position at Brasserie Jo, which was closed to make way for Paris Club. While Miller has been working in the same building for five years now, he linked up with R.J. and Jerrod Melman and spent time during the construction of Paris Club at their other spot, Hub 51, up the street. Now that the restaurant has been open for almost a year, he admits that with Studio Paris it was almost like having two openings ... and neither has slowed since the start.
The opening of Paris Club was pretty hot. How did you handle the crush of people?
We have a very strong team. We have the backup and the resources to handle the crowds. And we realized very quickly that, "Wow, we're going to be busy."
It's 8 p.m. on a Saturday. What's the wait for a table?
We could probably get you into the dining room around 9:30 or 10. But the good thing is that the bar area is huge and is first come first served. It never ends up being an hour and a half because people will grab a table in the bar and eat there.
How often are the bar tables full that someone has to wait?
People probably wait 15 to 20 minutes in the bar and will grab a drink while waiting.
How hard is it to make a reservation for busier nights, like Thursday through Saturday?
I think Thursday you can likely get one the same day. Friday or Saturday, just call earlier in the week, so like three to five days.
As a customer, is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter, like cash or gifts?
You mean to get a table? No, I mean, just make a reservation. There's definitely no cash taking. I tell my host staff that if you're ever saying no, come find me and I'll figure a way to say yes.
Tell me about your favorite customers, whether a specific type of diner or regulars.
I don't think I have a favorite type, but I do enjoy seeing customers who really liked Brasserie Jo and are really skeptical about Paris Club. Then they come in and love it and embrace the change. It's nice to see people who embrace the change. I don't have favorites otherwise.
What about celebrities. I know a number of people have come in. Do you seek them out?
We don't. We definitely do not; they just come in.
How do they hear about it?
Good question. Maybe the Internet? I imagine the PR team usually knows about that.
Do celebrities get special treatment or are they seated in the regular dining room like everyone else?
They are like anyone else. If they have special requirements, sure. I think Lindsey Lohan wanted to use the back door. But they're usually easy to please. A lot of times they want to come in and have a normal meal. That's the nice thing about Chicago; we don't have paparazzi.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables left to give?
We always have a table. Always. We always figure out a way to do it. We would just shuffle things around a bit. It's a big place. Because we do have plenty of space, we shuffle some things around.
What's the strangest request that you've gotten from a customer that you've accommodated?
That's a good question. I think sometimes they want to take some of our menu items and do them for a menu at home. I'll have to give them the ingredients and tell them how to put it together. Nothing too strange ... not yet.
What about any requests you couldn't accommodate?
Nothing too crazy. I think sometimes we can't get everyone upstairs [in Studio Paris] at once that want to come up here. That may be a tough thing. It's reservations upstairs and it's hard to accommodate everyone.
Do people who dine with a reservation get faster access to Studio Paris or do they have to wait like everyone else?
They do not. It's a separate reservation.
Does anyone ever get irate and freak out on you?
It does happen, but at the end of the day we've been doing this long enough that we don't like to say no to anyone. We may not be able to get them upstairs, but I may get them a drink. I try not to say no, but you can't get everyone upstairs.
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
Patience—there's a lot going on here with two levels of a really busy restaurant and nightclub—and just staying calm and level headed. I drill into my management team about hospitality and that we have to take care of our guests.
When you're not at Paris Club, where are you drinking and eating?
I love going to Big Star, Osteria via Stato, Joe's Stone Crab, Davanti Enoteca is great. Those are some of my key places.