Jenny Yun figured fashion was her future when she left the Bay Area for New York City 13 years ago. Those plans took a detour after a dozen years working in some of the city’s most fashionable restaurants, including four at the revered Per Se, where it became clear that service was her passion. She headed back west for a job as assistant restaurant director at another three-Michelin-starred spot, Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena. Recently she was lured away to take over as g.m. at Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar, a top Sacramento restaurant with Michelin ambitions. We recently asked her about her approach to managing and service.
RH: Often the back and front of the house don’t play well together, yet your goal is to forge a close relationship and to push each other. How does that work in practice?
Yun: Chef Pajo Bruich and I collaborate a lot. He sits in on my front-of-house interviews, and I sit in on his back-of-house interviews, and we collaborate on the dishes. It’s very much a team effort. We have a very similar focus and philosophy, and our goals and aspirations are very much in line.
RH: How much are you involved in the menu?
Yun: Chef will bounce ideas off of me. He’s very open to my opinions and my thoughts.
RH: You’ve worked in some extremely demanding settings, and your standards are high as a result. What are you seeking when hiring?
Yun: I’m always looking for the right people, first and foremost. We might not have positions available, but if it’s the right person, one will be created. We like people who have had experience at higher-end restaurants, because with that comes an understanding of certain service mechanics. We have very high expectations of ourselves and all the members of the time, from the dishwashers to line cooks and back waiters. We really try to identify why the person is coming in for the interview and decide if he or she will be able to support what we’re doing and give it their all.
Per Se was an incredible restaurant to work in, and Chef Thomas Keller an incredible person to work with—very challenging, in a good way. He was continually striving for perfection and a lot was expected from everyone. I think that philosophy can carry over regardless of whether it’s a very casual restaurant or a high-end restaurant.
RH: How do you approach training?
Yun: When we hire a server, for example, we make it clear that part of their training is to train in all the other positions—food runner, expeditor, back water—they need to fully understand the expectations of those positions. As a server, you learn the most by training with people outside of your position.
RH: How do you handle missteps?
Yun: It’s human nature—everybody makes mistakes. For me it’s important that I’m confident I have provided the correct tools for the staff member to succeed, answered their questions and told them they whys of what they are doing—not just “because I said so,” but for strategic reasons. I try to understand why they are making a mistake and the best way to correct it.
RH: What do you find irritating?
Yun: Dishes being stacked on top of each other as they are cleared. I drink water with my left hand, and when I move my water glass to the left and it’s not noticed. Going to the wrong table. Dropping food on the wrong position number.
RH: What’s the best advice you’ve heard in your career?
Yun: “Treat it like it’s your own and one day it will be.” This is a quote from Chef Keller that I keep with me always. He’s not talking about any one thing in particular, but applies it to everything. If you treat everything like it’s your own, there is accountability and high expectations, and you strive for perfection.