The Gatekeepers: Serena Burman, Range

This is The Gatekeepers, where Eater roams the city to meet the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite dining destinations.

Jennifer Yin, 10/31/08

The Mission has no shortage of fine eateries, but it's probably safe to say that Range is one of the top destinations in the neighborhood since opening just three years ago. It's consistent, it's probably the most accessible Michelin star (for what that's worth), it has one of the best bar programs in town, and of course, it's nearly always a full house. Navigating the front of house through the crowds is its gatekeeper, Ms. Serena Burman.

Serena Burman, Hostess at Range: We have 65 seats including the bar tables which are reserved for walk-ins, plus 11 stools at the bar itself. We serve the full menu everywhere, so i really love the bar tables for a more casual, lively atmosphere. 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? Because the bar area is set aside specifically for walk-ins, the average wait is around 30 minutes. We're happy to take a phone number and call you when the table is ready.

On a popular night, how quickly do the walk-in bar tables fill up? There is definitely a misconception of how hard it is to get a table walking in. Most weekdays you can walk right in and be seated at a bar table or the bar itself. Once the tables fill, the 30 min wait is usually true. Weekends tend to be a little more difficult, but the wait is rarely longer than 45 minutes to an hour at the peak of dinner (which is usually between 7:30 and 8:45). There are lots of bars & galleries right around us, so if our bar is full, there are plenty of places to wait.

Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? I am here to find everyone a place to have dinner. This means putting an emphasis on honoring the order in which people come in. Ever been offered gifts or cash? Gifts always create a rather uncomfortable situation because it is actually the nature of my job to meet all challenges and get everyone seated. That's what I love about it.

These days, it seems like there's a good restaurant on every block of the Mission. What makes Range so special and how has it succeeded? I think that Range has been successful because it is highly approachable. There are three different dining rooms in the restaurant--with a definite unique mood to each--making it as good for a casual bite with a friend as for a special occasion. Regardless of the reason one is lured to Range, the results are always the same. It is very dependable and consistent and that is what I believe draws people back time and time again. And the food is incredible.

Tell us about your favorite customers. Any celebs been by recently? We have lots of faithful regulars and familiar neighborhood faces stopping in. It's always nice to know that people count on a consistently good experience and want to return. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? Magic!

What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? We did have a group of ladies that were part of a bachelorette party approach the host stand asking if they could touch the bartender's hair. He let them ...that you couldn't accommodate? It's funny how differently we human beings perceive situations. What seems absurd to one person, may not seem crazy to me at all, and the opposite absolutely applies.

So what's your favorite dish at Range?We are known for our roasted chicken, chicken liver mousse, and the coffee-rubbed pork shoulder (remember: seasonal!) which are all amazing. But there is nothing in the world like the Massachusetts dayboat scallops in a scallop bisque. Where are you eating when you're not at work? San Francisco is full of extraordinary places to eat and it is a treat to visit them all, but most of the time, I prefer cooking a big brunch at home with a group of friends.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Flexibility. As long as I'm constantly aware that things may not go as planned, I am prepared to find solutions to the problems that do arise.
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