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."

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own