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