Top restaurants trawl social media to please guests

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When he heard a table of tourists at Eleven Madison Park longing for a New York hot dog to complete their trip to the city, then co-owner Will Guidara rushed into action.

So, in the middle of a lunch rush at the three Michelin-star restaurant in Flatiron years ago, he made a mad dash for a cart in Madison Square Park — and the kitchen plated the $2 staple, making it part of the three-figure tasting menu.

Guidara’s hyper-personalized hospitality was the inspiration for a similar scene in an episode of season two of Christopher Storer’s hit FX culinary dramedy “The Bear,” he told The Post.

Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), is tasked with racing across Chicago to secure a deep dish pizza after learning a table he’s serving has a daughter leaving town who wanted to try the Windy City’s signature pie.

The kitchen transforms the pie into edible art.

On “The Bear,” restaurant employees research their diners and surprise them with personalized plates and custom experiences — like conspiring to comp a couple’s meal after learning they’re both teachers who have been saving up for a fine-dining experience for years.

In real-life, Guidara’s dash to a hotdog stand was short-distance, but just as big a crowd-pleaser.


A New York hot dog stand
A humble hot dog stand’s $2 weiner became haute cuisine when it was needed to please an Eleven Madison Park table.
Getty Images

Inside Eleven Madison Park
Eleven Madison Park’s then co-owner rushed back to the restaurant with the dog and served it amid its soaring ceilings, plated with the kitchen’s own mustard and kraut, to the delight of the table.

“I ran outside – brought it to the kitchen and we served it before their final savory course,” Guidara said, of plating the $2 weiner with EMP’s finest sauerkraut and mustard. 

“[I said] ‘I want to make sure you don’t go home with any culinary regrets.’ This two dollar hot dog split four ways had more of an impact than any plate of lobster or caviar because it was unique to them,” Guidara said.

He details more accounts of stealthily customizing culinary experiences for diners and making it look effortless in his book “Unreasonable Hospitality”.

New York hot dogs
A Manhattan hot dog is usually grab and go.
Paul Martinka
A plated dish at Eleven Madison Park
But Eleven Madison Park plated it up with all the care it takes for its regular, elaborately presented dishes.
Brian Zak/NY Post

“You can learn a lot about people through a simple Google or Instagram search. It’s also about just being present enough to pick up on the cues and respond to all them,” Guidara said. “You want to do everything you can to serve people in a way that makes them feel seen.”

Scanning a guest’s social media to know their dietary restrictions, mining for milestone moments like weddings and anniversaries on Instagram, and Googling a guest’s name can take a meal from zero to three stars, restaurateurs and hospitality vets who have been doing just that for years, say.

“Our team takes extra care to get to know our clients, whether through previous stays or even scanning their social media to find out their likes – and we use this knowledge to surprise them with personalized touches,” Mehrsa Ghadiri, assistant director of food and beverage at The Carlyle on the Upper East Side told The Post. 


Jeremy Allen White in "The Bear."
On Season 2 of “The Bear,” servers customize dining experiences to their guests — like making a mad dash for Chicago deep dish pizza and turning it into edible art in the kitchen. The storyline is real, restaurateurs say.
HULU

The culinary magic starts with a coordinator scanning the list of reservations, then doing a social media digest to get a sense of favorite foods, dietary restrictions or a special occasion.

Instagram is how they learned one high profile diner celebrating a birthday was vegan. 

Hours before the diner sat down for dinner inside the whimsical dining room at Dowling’s at the Carlyle the pastry chef prepared a vegan birthday cake without the guest even having to order it.


Scene from the FX show "The Bear."
Like “The Bear,” hospitality vets have been Googling diners for years to customize bespoke experiences.
FX Networks

“Our team saw that they were posting about some dinners out and all the food items were vegan,” Ghadiri said. 

Keeping track of a guest’s favorite dish and serving it even when it’s no longer officially available is another way restaurants cater to regulars, Ghadiri said.

On another recent evening for dinner at Dowling’s, staff planned ahead when they saw they would be serving a regular who adored its beef Wellington.


Sylvain Delpique, chef of Dowling's at the Carlyle
Dowling’s at the Carlyle, where chef Sylvain Delpique is in charge, uses guests’ social media to make their experience customized, including creating a vegan birthday cake to surprise one customer.
Stephen Yang

But the beef-in-pastry dish had been off the menu for six months, so they started preparing it 24 hours in advance. 

Similarly, when New York City-based content creator and fashion blogger Sai De Silva vacationed near Cancun, Mexico at Rosewood Mayakoba recently, she was greeted with photos from her Instagram page arranged in edible chocolate frames as a welcome gift.

“When couples who celebrated a particular milestone at Rosewood Mayakoba — such as an engagement, wedding, or birthday — return to our property, guest services will research across their social media channels or connect with their event photographer to source photos of the couple from that visit,” Rosewood Mayakoba’s resort director Christian Gonzalez told The Post.


Beef wellington.
At Dowling’s, a regular, who adored the beef Wellington, got the dish prepared for him specially six months after it had been discontinued.
Shutterstock

When De Silva saw the photos she was shocked — and flattered, sharing a snap of the custom gifts with her 400,000 followers and tagging the hotel in her Instagram story.

“This was so thoughtful!! All edible treats and photos they found on my IG feed,” she captioned the post.

Other restaurants, like Midtown’s Fresco By Scotto, pick up on the breadcrumbs diners leave behind about their favorite off-menu items. Then make them appear when they make a return reservation. 


Baked items from Sai De Silva's instagram feed.
New York City-based influencer Sai De Silva got baked confections thanks to a hotel in Mexico checking her feed and turning her posts into cakes and other treats.
Courtest of Sai De Silva

That was the case when a high-profile sports executive lamented about the restaurant not having a coconut sorbet on the menu. 

“We keep a private stash for him when he comes in. Not putting it on the menu makes them feel even more special because they have insider knowledge,” Jenna Ruggiero, director of marketing and special projects at Fresco By Scott told The Post. 

Sean Largotta, partner at Gansevoort Meatpacking Hotel in the Meatpacking district, dished about having to source an 18-year-old Japanese whiskey for a VIP guest who dines every two weeks. 


Exterior enhancement at Fresco by Scotto restaurant located at 34 East 52nd Street in Manhattan, NY on May 24, 2021.
Midtown’s Fresco by Scotto, where sisters Rosanna and Elaina Scotto help run the family business, uses “breadcrumbs” from social media and Google to make guests’ meals more magical.
James Messerschmidt for NY Post

“We now keep it behind the counter just for this guest because it’s so hard to find and its serve neat waiting at his spot at the counter,” Largotta told The Post of anticipating the guest’s favorite spirit. 

Guidara, meanwhile, says it’s the little things that can make a big difference. He recalled another instance as Eleven Madison Park when his team scanned a guest’s Instagram handle to learn they were a bacon aficionado. 

They had the chef rework their famous granola party favor to include bacon.


Will Guidara, former co-owner of Eleven Madison Park
Will Guidara, former co-owner of Eleven Madison Park says the staff used Instagram to discover a customer was a bacon lover, then customized a treat to please them.

“They had an Instagram account that was all about an overwhelming love for bacon,” Guidara recalled of another instance at Eleven Madison Park where the pastry chef took an extra hour to customize the takeaway treat.

And, in an more “athletic hospitality” endeavor, Guidara learned a family of four dining at the restaurant from abroad had two kids who had never seen snow. He sent staffers to secure sleds and had a Central Park-bound SUV waiting for the family after they finished their meal.

“It’s a story they’ll have forever,” Guidara recalled. “It’s like a dopamine rush every single time.”

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