In This Issue: A Chat with Matt McGuire
For 12 years, industry veteran Matt McGuire co-owned King Louie’s, until the restaurant’s doors closed in 2007. Since then, he’s made his mark as a general manager – at Monarch, Brasserie, Central Table Food Hall and now Niche. McGuire considers the GM job akin to being a soccer coach or teacher. But on any given day, he might also play referee, EMT, bouncer, psychotherapist – even mind reader. Here’s the inside story on being Matt McGuire.
What have you learned in your 20-plus years in the biz?
To be good at the job in the front of the house, you have to give something of yourself. Otherwise, the guests see through you. The physical work is hard, but the hard part is the mental. It is putting yourself in a position every night to be welcoming and solicitous and kind.
What kind of fires do you put out on any given day?
I’ve given the Heimlich to tons of people. … Deal with people who are super-drunk when they come in the door. … A lot of times, people will be way too upset about something. That can be the part that is most draining – just dealing with humans. But it’s also the part I like. And teaching other people how to handle it.
What’s the strangest situation you’ve had to deal with?
At King Louie’s, the Barnum & Bailey circus train stopped behind the restaurant. They all came in to eat and drink. A guy had his dog with him. The dog sat at the bar. We were trying to make the decision behind the scenes whether or not to ask him to leave. The guy had his whole meal. The dog sat right next to him. It was like an out-of-body, Fellini-esque [moment], where you’re like, “This is not happening. This doesn’t happen at the fancy restaurant that I worked before I came here.”
What are the hallmarks of good service?
I learned a lot watching the Bommaritos [owners of Tony’s] over the years. They remain the paramount of what service is supposed to be. It’s relaxed; it is confident; it is not overly formal.
What kind of pressure do you feel working at Niche?
A lot. This is a totally different level of “slammed.” You can do 60 guests and feel wiped out. Managing those expectation levels are everything. You have to over-deliver because of everything they read.
What has changed about dining over the years?
Diners are way less present than they used to be. They are way more into recording their experience than experiencing the experience.
What excites you about the St. Louis restaurant scene?
There are enough people that are talented that have stayed. Those were few and far between 15 years ago. All those kids [points to the Niche kitchen] are from Chicago. They’re here because of this restaurant. A restaurant as compelling as Niche that challenges them on a professional level didn’t exist back then.
Your opinion is well respected around town. How frequently do you get calls from peers about, “Should I hire this person?”
What advice do you have for those in the restaurant industry?
Who you are is made up by how you act every day. If you’re late every day, we know you as “late person.” If you’re sloppy, we know you as the sloppy person. Whoever you aspire to be, bring it every day. And then, wherever you go, you have practice of being that person.
Are you a restaurant guy for life?
Yeah, the possibility of me being an investment banker or an underwater welder is probably past me now.
– Photo by Jonathan Gayman
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