"Coming up to the host stand every five minutes does not make the situation better."

By Regan Stephens
Updated February 21, 2020
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Restaurant work is intense, no matter where you're standing. Line cooks clock long hours in hot kitchens, dishwashers are up to their elbows in suds, and servers run miles every night, balancing plates and splitting checks into a million little pieces. Often overlooked, though, is the host.

Besides greeting guests and offering a first impression of the restaurant, hosts are typically tasked with planning the table seatings, pacifying guests, and communicating wait times to people who refuse to accept them. “A host’s job is the most undervalued position in a restaurant,” said Pam Willis, co-owner of Pammy’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Taking care of people while playing the most intense game of Tetris every night is not for the faint of heart. Always making sure to not overwhelm your kitchen or bar, while getting folks sat in a timely manner—it can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.”

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Meredith Hirt, who worked as a hostess in Manhattan, agrees. “We’re the first person you see when you walk in,” she said. “If something goes wrong with seating, even if it’s people running late, or arrive early, it’s the hostesses fault. Servers are actors, but hostesses are stage directors.”

We talked with a dozen anonymous former and current hosts, and below, find the nine things about the job they really want you to know, from how to get a better table, to what you should absolutely never do.

They might give you a better table, or bump you up on the waitlist, if you act accordingly.

“You can bribe me. $20 bucks? SOLD! Also, I would bump up [on the waitlist] the kind, understanding guests, or try to get a manager to send over a free app. If you get angry and cause a scene … oops, the wait time just went up.”

“I was working a brunch shift at an upscale restaurant, overlooking Central Park. The same guy kept calling and asking for window seat, but basically, our policy was that if they’re not celebrating anything, or booked weeks in advance, or a regular, we just don't give out the seats. Finally, on the third or fourth call, he said, ‘Ma’am, I’m proposing to my girlfriend at the restaurant, and I would really like a good view.’  The lesson is: if you want a specific table, give a reason why, without being rude about it. Don’t just say, I come here all the time, I deserve it. You can try to connect with the host. Don't act entitled to it.”

“The best ways to get a table if you don't have a reservation: Be a repeat customer who develops a relationship with us, be a nice person, or be a friend of anyone who worked in the restaurant.”

“I remember lots of names thrown around at the hostess stand, as in, ‘I'm the friend of the owner, I am the editor of …’   This approach rarely moved me.”

They really want you to show up, and show up on time.

“Nothing is more frustrating to a host or a server than a late dinner party. It throws off everything—the kitchen, the flow—and plus, when a reservation is late, walk-in guests see an empty table, get frustrated, and take it out on the host.”

They will find you. 

“If guests are on a wait, we will find you. We’re working hard to free up the table. Coming up to the host stand every five minutes does not make the situation better.”

They want to help you.

“Sometimes hosting is like being a mother/therapist/ best friend—everyone wants to be taken care of, whether it’s with a good drink or a friendly chat. One time, I had a grown man throw a temper tantrum at the host stand because he had been waiting 20 minutes for his table. His wife was horrified, but I was patient and asked him if he wanted a hug. He wanted a glass of Nebbiolo. On his way out he thanked me for an incredible meal, gave me a huge hug, and apologized for his behavior. We all have stressful lives and you never know what someone may be going through.”

They don’t appreciate you hitting on them.

“I know we live in a different time (not really) than when I was working in restaurants, but the blatant sexual harassment from customers was bonkers. People walked through the door and often lost their inhibitions.”

They want you to take a hint.

“Lingering tables are the most stressful part of the job. You want people to relax and have a great time, but you need to turn the table. I worked in a BYOB that had 13 tables and could serve 150 to 175 customers on a weekend night. We were relentless with moving customers. We would level off wine glasses to empty their bottles, talk down the desserts to move people along, and clear their water glasses and everything else from the table if they weren't paying their tab quickly.  Ask, ‘is there anything else we can do for you?’  We didn't take reservations, so counted about 70 minutes per table. People would get angry if they waited too long.”

They dominate.

“The best hosts I’ve ever worked with were basically restaurant dominatrixes. Leaving anything up to the guest gives them power, and a restaurant host’s job is to keep all the power, which means you’re bossy, and incredibly confident. You’re polite and charming, but like … you tell people what to do, not the other way around. In the end, we all want to be dominated, and a good host will provide.”

They’re not invisible.

“You’d be surprised what people would say in front of you, from fighting with their spouse to confiding things. They forget we’re standing right here.”

They have such good stories.

“One time, this older guy came in. He slipped me $2 (yes, two dollars!) and said there is a very special someone coming to eat with me tonight. We had a three-hour wait, and he said, ‘if you move me up a bit I promise you, we’ll take care of you.’ Let’s be honest, a two dollar bribe is usually a tell tale sign that I won’t get taken care of. But I felt like being nice, I figured his cute little old wife was coming. Wrong! It was Weird Al [Yankovic], and since they only had a 20 minute wait he gave me $200.”