Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which we roam the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photos: Timothy Hiatt]
Now open for nearly a year, Siena Tavern continues to pack in the River North crowds. Reservations manager Lydia Carroon has been working there since day one, rising from a hostess to management, and now oversees the books at Fabio Viviani and DineAmic Group's hotspot. The New England native talked about the crowds, the wait times, the celebrities, and how Viviani deals with fans at Siena Tavern.
Siena Tavern has been open for nearly a year. How busy is it?
We are really busy. It's actually been amazing that we have kept up with being busy. It's an awesome location but it's also a fun place to go. There's a large bar area, so you kind of get the best of both worlds with really good food and a fun bar area.
On average from Thursday-Saturday, how many covers do you do?
It varies but typically on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night the dining room is fully reserved. But we have three different bar areas which are all first-come first-serve and then a number of tables which are first-come first-serve and we serve our full menu throughout.
How many covers do you do in the dining room and how many turns?
I would say right now on a Friday or Saturday night we're doing 500-600 covers in the dining room. We have a number of different table sizes and we do three turns on each table for the evening.
It's 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table in the dining room?
It can be anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. But because there's so much bar seating as well and all of the bar tables, a lot of our patrons do find a table at the bar.
Do people ever offer you anything to get a reservation or a table?
They definitely do and we do not accept any gifts or cash or anything. But it really does make a difference when someone is really nice and genuinely just wants to dine with us, who is really excited about our food and our concept. That attitude rubs off on the house so we're more inclined to get you set up.
What have people offered you?
Cash is probably the most common currency and a lot of future gifts, future promises.
Do you ever get crazy requests?
I haven't gotten any really crazy ones, but I'm used to all sorts of things. We try to be really conscientious. If people are coming in for a special occasion, like they're celebrating their birthday or their anniversary, we want to make their night special.
How often is Fabio (Viviani) there?
He's in and out but he is in Chicago pretty often. But when he's here in the restaurant it makes such a difference. People are so excited to see him, people love him. So it's really fun to see how people react.
Do people ask you to speak with him or take a picture with him a lot?
Yeah, they do and if he is in the restaurant, they ask the host or their server if he can come by the table. And for the most part they are really considerate about it. He's really good about going and saying hello to everyone.
Do you have any crazy requests besides saying hi to him?
For the most part it's normal. Although there are some really avid fans. So we get that every once in a while, but they're just really excited to be eating at a restaurant with his connection.
What types of celebrities come in?
Michael Jordan has been in a few times, Dwayne Wade has been in a few times. We get a lot of Bears players in here. I think it's because everyone pretty much has their anonymity here, Fabio definitely gets the brunt of it. So you are able to come in, have a drink at the bar, have dinner like normal rather than being surrounded by people.
How do you keep peoples anonymity—is that hard?
I think the table seating helps. You're not sitting right on top of each other, so you can either have a booth where you're kind of more private or you have a table where you're not right to another table. When you're a celebrity, you're used to people looking (at you) a little bit more, so it's nice to feel like you're in your own space while still being part of the action.
How is the bar business there?
In the afternoon, we get a lot of people coming from work wanting to do happy hour, we have a lot of people coming in late on Friday or Saturday night. There's tons of seating, there's tons of space, so you don't feel like you're cramped. We have a DJ on the weekends so it adds to the energy.
What is one Gatekeepers tool you need to do your job?
I would probably say just staying calm. If I've learned anything from working here it's that there's always a solution. So just realizing that there's always a solution regardless of how many reservations we have on the book or how crowded and crazy it is.
When you go out after work or on your day off, where do you like to go?
I do spend a lot of time at our other venues, Public House and Bull & Bear because of the proximity, but also when I go out to dinner, I love to go to Maude's. We started at eating at a place called The Half Shell, like a funny little seafood place and you would never know it was there, but it's really delicious, fresh seafood. You would never expect it because it's so incognito.
How far out are you booked?
For weekend nights, we're booked a month or two out for the time slots. But like I said, if you're excited about Siena Tavern and you really want to come, we will do our best to make sure everyone is accommodated.
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