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New York City
October 2002

Lauren Glazer: Restaurant Manager
by Joan Baum, Ph.D.

 It’s 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, gloriously sunny, a welcome respite from the intense muggy heat of the last few days, and anyone with a love of food, New York, and the outdoors would be sitting at one of those wonderful cafés that continue to sprout up all over the city. Indeed, near Union Square Park, the sidewalk lunch tables are mostly taken, but nothing beats the scene at the Union Square Café on 16th Street. It’s packed, which is remarkable, because the action’s not outside in the sun, but inside.

People keep arriving. They know where they’re going and why. Union Square, one of five restaurants owned by Danny Meyer, has a reputation for having not only some of the best food in town but one of the most welcoming atmospheres as well. That customers get a full-smile, soft-toned greeting and feel immediately comfortable is largely due to the presence of Union Square’s vivacious young manager, Lauren Glazer. Only 30, she handles with ease the kind of high-powered job that has proved daunting to many a pro twice her age. “There’s nothing snooty about this place,” she says, no arrogant host or headwaiter telling people where to sit, what to order, especially wines. She sees to it.

With her open face, blonde hair pulled neatly back around her ears and barely there make up, she exudes healthy, all-American good looks that suggest an ingénue bound for the stage. Except that 1) Lauren has already been there (and will soon be doing some singing again, “belting out Broadway tunes”), renewing her early college passion–she was a theatre/ English major at Yale; and 2) behind that fresh-faced enthusiasm clicks a shrewd intellect. Lauren Glazer knows exactly what she’s doing in the restaurant world. And loving it.

Others may have opened doors for her but once inside, she made the most of the advantages. She also paid her dues. She worked for years as a waitress, long hours and tough situations. She watched, studied, learned what she did not know, including business and trends. Though tourists keep returning to Union Square and constitute approximately 50 percent of the clientele, it’s important to remember them, she says. Nothing so pleases customers as a sense of being recognized. Many Union Square regulars even have their own table. This extended sense of family was particularly manifest on the night of 9/11/01. Frightened, confused, depressed, people showed up at the Union Square Café looking for a familiar place. Lots of places had closed. Union Square Café stayed open. “That night food took on great importance,” Lauren remembers. “People wanted to be in a safe place, somewhere they could be secure.” Union Square did a lot of meat loaf and potatoes that week.

So what accounts for the success of an upscale restaurant manager like Lauren Glazer? Experience, experience, experience. And nothing’s been lost because of her undergraduate major. Just the opposite. “This industry is all theatre,” she says. In fact, the dinner-theatre connection has been diminishing of late, with more people skipping shows and turning dining into the entire evening. Dinner has become the show, at least her show to produce and direct. As a restaurant manager she draws on her theatrical training, and when she was a theatre undergraduate, doing regional theatre and summer stock and working with a children’s group on “Fiddler on the Roof,” she waited tables.

Out of college and thinking restaurants, however, she admits she was totally green. “I knew nothing about food, I thought mashed potatoes came out of a box.” After graduation from Yale, she went on to waiting Big Time: The Empire Diner, where she worked the graveyard shift, 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. Then a friend who owned a small restaurant on the upper West Side, Good Enough To Eat (“what great meat loaf!”) gave her an opportunity to branch out, purchase orders, get into hosting, the restaurant business. Did she lose time by not majoring in business management in college? No, though she did go to bartending school. What was truly valuable, she says, was her all-around liberal arts education. Being a manager means exercising critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. As for that theatre major, well, she delights in “performing” little acts of surprise for her customers, if she learns something significant about them. She takes pride and great pleasure in getting a “rave” as customers leave, and suffers to the point of not sleeping, if there’s been a slip up.

Yes, it’s important to learn how to handle the financial side, and be trained to answer phones and make reservations, but some things can’t be taught, she notes–entrepreneurial spirit, inner graciousness, a feel for the hospitality business. Lauren Glazer loves her work but like those who ultimately work for someone, she daydreams about being her own boss. Someday. Maybe.#

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