Restaurants - do they know too much? Top maître d' admits researching diners online

Is this 21st-century service or tasteless snooping?

When you go to a restaurant, you rarely expect the staff to know more about you than the person you are taking out for dinner does. It's perfectly possible, though, that a modern maître d' will have boned up on your biography using Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and/or LinkedIn, well before you walk through the door.

Researching online the names in the reservations book is common practice at most top restaurants, but many diners were apparently unaware of it until last week, when New York magazine featured a behind-the-scenes report about one award-winning Manhattan establishment, Eleven Madison Park.

Every day before service, the maître d', Justin Roller, Googles each guest in search of personal information he can use to enhance his or her evening. If it's someone's birthday, he'll know to greet them with a "Happy Birthday"; if it's a couple's anniversary, he tries to work out which one. If someone has Instagrammed a vineyard, his staff will refamiliarise themselves with the 131-page wine list. "If I find out a guest is from Montana, and I know we have a server from there," he said, "we'll put them together."

At least one commentator likened the practice to stalking, but insiders say anticipation is key to good service – and knowing a little about your guests can make a big improvement. "Google is everyone's best friend," said Tracey Spillane, general manager of Spago, the legendary Beverly Hills celebrity haunt. "They may not have shared it with the restaurant, but if someone says on Twitter, 'Going to Spago tonight, celebrating a birthday', it's an opportunity for us to... create a wonderful guest experience."

Spago is the flagship for chef Wolfgang Puck's worldwide fine-dining group, and its staff regularly share information about jet-setting guests with their sister restaurants in other cities. "We make a lot of calls between our restaurants to ask, 'Do you know this person?'," Ms Spillane said.

Josiah Citrin, the chef/owner of Melisse, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Santa Monica, said his staff take copious notes on all their diners – likes and dislikes, professions or special occasions – and log them in the restaurant's database. "It used to be that the maître d' kept all those notes in his head," Mr Citrin said. "But now, with computerised reservation systems, whenever anyone calls to make a booking, whoever answers the phone has access to who these people are and what they like."

London restaurants are no different, said Jon Spiteri, a veteran of the capital's fine-dining scene, and manager of the Holborn Dining Room, which opened recently at the Rosewood Hotel. "We try to get as much information as possible," he said. "So, when you come again, we know what you like. If you come to a restaurant often and people know those things about you, you feel more at home."

One crucial tool is the OpenTable online booking system, used by some 31,000 restaurants worldwide. It's not just a reservations system; it stores notes on each guest, so a restaurant knows whether they like still or sparkling water, or if they have booked a table at the same time as their boss – so staff can keep the parties apart and avoid any awkward conversation.

Restaurants suggest they are simply using the tools of the internet to accelerate the process by which a customer becomes a familiar regular. "It's not prying," Mr Spiteri said. "It's about tailoring the experience."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot