Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front of the house professionals in Chicago restaurants. Right now, Liz Grossman, managing editor of Plate and blogger at Elizabites, writes about Bill Talbott, the "dining room maestro" at EL Ideas
I am impressed with so many managers and servers around town, but an experience that stood out to me recently was at El Ideas, where Bill Talbott serves as dining room manager/ host/server/sommelier/DJ/all-around cool dude. Part of the magic at El is the collaborative effort of the chefs, and I feel like Bill is the thread that keeps everything tight and flowing throughout the 4-hour-plus experience.
The intimate set-up might be intimidating to some diners, but Bill makes everyone feel right at home from the second they enter the tiny space. He also seems to have a sixth sense about the synergy of the room, keeping the flow while not rushing things along. I don't think we even noticed him whisk our white wines off the table to be chilled, or top our glasses off throughout the night, and he was helpful in letting us know the perfect time to switch out our wine pours. He was patient with our picture-snapping, and happy to rattle off the never-ending list of ingredients of certain dishes after they were served.
He's also hilarious: When my dining partner asked where the bathroom was, Bill looked at him dead on and said totally dead-pan, "Out the door, first tree on the left." After about 10 seconds of dumbfounded silence he broke into laughter and directed us to the restroom in the restaurant. It was his playfulness and spontaneity combined with professionalism and passion for the restaurant that fit right into the whole experience of El.