When guests dine at Bresca, chef Ryan Ratino’s fine-dining but casual restaurant in Washington, D.C., or upstairs at Jônt, where 16 customers at a time are all seated at a counter around the kitchen for an extended tasting menu of up to 31 items, they expect a memorable experience, but hospitality director Nitiya Sin likes to extend the fun to family members who aren’t actually eating there.
“I’m always looking for that magical moment or that opportunity when we’re getting to know our guests that we can make something unexpected,” Sin said.
It starts when someone on her team calls guests to confirm their reservations. As at many high-end restaurants, they ask about dietary restrictions and preferences, if it’s a special occasion, why they chose Bresca or Jônt, and in general to understand guests’ expectations.
“Some people like to be engaged, and some want a little more privacy,” Sin said, and her team is trained to read their guests and understand those preferences.
“We recruit based on their ability to engage guests, almost more so than their previous level of skill, because almost everyone working at Bresca, and everyone at Jônt, is not just there to serve food, but to get to know the guest.”
If the guest wants to be engaged, Sin and her staff might look briefly at their social media, not to be intrusive, but to get an idea of what their interests are, and Sin found that many of her customers were devoted to their pets.
“If their dog has an Instagram account, that’s fair game,” she said.
And it’s likely that influencer-dog is going to get a bespoke doggie bag at the end of the night, as the restaurants’ pastry team now makes pet treats.
The treats vary based on what’s already on the menu, “to tie in to the experience of the guests,” Sin said. And if they have a picture of the pet in question they’ll print it and affix it to the goody bag. If not, Sin has pictures of dozens of dog breeds at the ready.
For regular customers, Sin has even come to know some of the dogs’ preferences.
“We have one dog who prefers softer treats to crunchy ones,” said Sin, who herself is a self-proclaimed dog lover.
She also once presented customers with a treat for their horse from a recipe found online, designed for horses, for oat cookies with molasses, cinnamon, and honey.
Knowing that cats tend to be pickier eaters, they usually get a toy of tightly wound yarn with a feature attached.
Sin has other tricks up her sleeve, too.
“One of them is the ‘new parents’ first date’,” package, which includes baked goods for the babysitters — often grandparents.
“It’s been very rewarding because it’s something guests don’t expect, and it’s something personalized to them,” Sin said.
She has presented other specialized surprises, too.
“We had a guest come in and we saw that it was their first time coming in. She actually had quite a few followers on Instagram as a home baker,” Sin said.
So they prepared a card to welcome her, which called her “chef” to recognize her passion for pastry, and seated her near where she could engage with people from the pastry team. Then at the end of the evening they handed her their secret recipe for madeleines.
“It’s a little bit of improv, but it’s a lot of fun,” Sin said.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]