Crown’s General Manager Offers Tips on Entertaining

By Magazine Staff  |  Photos courtesy of Crown

If Elizabeth Whistler, ’03, works a nine- or 10-hour day, she and her colleagues joke that she only worked a half-day. A more typical day as general manager of Manhattan’s Crown Restaurant requires closer to 14 hours.

That’s what it takes to make sure the wine director has a well-stocked cellar, the chefs know the clientele will be expecting black truffles by September, the payroll, labor, and business side is well in hand, and the reservations for the evening meal are managed so each guest is honored. By the way, of the 180 diners expected in an evening, you might recognize 120—celebrities, socialites, CEOs of banks and real estate firms, politicians, and other household names.

“They’ve chosen to dine with us because they know they can have a nice dinner, be themselves, and not have any of the staff and anyone else in the restaurant gaping at them. There’s a level of trust before they even join us,” said Whistler, who helped open the restaurant in September 2011. “At the end of the day, the bottom line is hospitality. It doesn’t matter if they’re a celebrity or a neighbor, we want them to leave happy.”

After graduating with a communication degree, the Buffalo, N.Y., native moved to Manhattan. She started working in restaurants six months later, and found a career.

“I love food. I like being part of a team that’s always striving to be the best. How that relates to food is staying in front of the trends, knowing what people like, knowing what the coolest, greatest ingredients of the moment are, and being able to incorporate those into amazing dishes,” she said. “I like to watch that happen, I like to watch the chefs make that happen, and I like to be able to share that with our guests.”

Here are Elizabeth Whistler’s 10 tips on how to entertain guests:

Menu

Highlight each course that you are serving by incorporating the best ingredients of the season. Spring and early summer are a great time to hit up your local farmers’ market and take advantage of seasonal herbs and produce. English peas, ramps, soft shell crabs, and strawberries are all perfect examples of ingredients to introduce into an early summer menu. For late summer, heirloom tomatoes and corn are always a hit. Black summer truffles are a luxurious way to enhance a pasta dish. When shaved on top of a simple pasta or gnocchi, they add flavor, depth and elegance to your dish and your guests are sure to be impressed.

Cocktails

Greet your guests with a refreshing, light cocktail upon their arrival. Surprise them with something they have not tried before. A couple of sips of an Aperol Spritz (a light, traditional Italian cocktail) or a Pisco Sour (a favorite of Peru) will set the tone for a festive evening.

Aperol Spritz

3 parts prosecco, 2 parts aperol, splash soda water. Serve on ice and garnish with an orange

Pisco Sour

3 parts pisco, 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lime juice, 1 egg white. Mix the pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain over old fashion glass. Add a couple dashes of Angostura bitters as garnish and serve.

Wine and Wine Pairing

Be thoughtful and adventurous when choosing wine. If you usually serve a juicy Californian Cabernet or a fruity Sauvignon Blanc, surprise your guests with something that takes them on an unexpected journey. Try a Primitivo from the Puglia region of Italy. The same grape as Zinfandel, Primitivo exhibits ripe black cherry and licorice, but with a bit more body and structure. For a white wine try Chablis (a chardonnay grape from the Northern most region of Burgundy a with crisp, mineral and chalky taste. Mineral, chalky, crisp.

What are you serving for dessert? A rich, sweet peach cobbler pairs perfectly with a 2 oz. serving of Tocai, one of the world’s oldest sweet wines classic wine from Hungary, exhibiting notes of peach, apricot, vanilla, and honeysuckle.

Music

Ambience makes the night. Music should reflect the mood of the evening and the vision that you have set out to create. Create a playlist of your chosen favorites for the evening and play at a medium to low volume throughout the meal. You should be able to speak and hear your guests without raising your voice or leaning over the table. Nobody wants to strain while making conversation at the table.

Lighting

You want your guests to feel relaxed. Dim lighting is soothing. Put your dining room lights on a low setting. I always find that nice candlelight eases away the stresses of the day. You can buy inexpensive glass votives at any home store. Purchase a dozen or so 2” tall votives. Fill the bottom quarter of the glass with water and place a small wax candle to float on top. For a romantic ambience, add a touch of cranberry juice to the votive to create a soft, red glow.

Temperature

The proper temperature is key to the comfort of your guests. Too cold and your guests won’t be able to relax. Too warm and your guests will fall asleep at the table. Watch for subtle signs that your guests may be uncomfortable. Have they put a coat or sweater on mid-meal? Are they fanning themselves at the table? They may be too polite to let you know that the temperature of the room is wrong, so look for the signs! If you seat your guests under ceiling vents or above floor vents make sure that your fans or A/C are on low speed or turned off.

Allergies and Preferences

Prepare yourself ahead of time by asking your guests in advance of the evening if they have any allergies or dietary preferences. Save yourself time and energy (and your guests’ embarrassment) by finding out what they like and can eat. Allergies—especially shellfish, nuts, and seeds—must be taken very seriously. Do your homework and steer clear of any menu items that could potentially make your guests sick. Keep a few simple items on hand, a chicken breast, a veggie plate, a mixed green salad, etc. This way, if you have a guest arrive the night of your dinner with special preferences, you can easily accommodate them last minute.

Details

Take the time to walk the dining room and survey every detail. Look over your dining room as if it were the first time you were stepping into it. Is everything in place? Are your table linens clean and ironed? Are your silverware and glassware polished? Do your salt and pepper shakers need a trip through the dishwasher? Check the seats of your chairs—make sure they are crumb-free and not stained. Are the wall sconces tarnished? Is there dust on the moldings or air vents? Think about all of the fine details. From your efforts in planning the menu to the work you have done in the kitchen, you owe it to yourself to make sure that the details are in the presentation of not only the dishes but also the dining room.

Bathroom

Make sure that the bathroom that will be used by your guests is clean. A dirty bathroom is a major turn-off whether you are dining out or in. Check to make sure you have plenty of fresh hand towels available and that the soap dispenser is full. Light a freshly scented candle and leave safely to burn. For an added touch, place a pretty dish of individually wrapped mints for guests to help themselves to. Periodically check the bathroom throughout the evening in order to maintain cleanliness.

Relax and Enjoy

All of the above may seem overwhelming, but if you prepare well and set up beforehand you should be able to relax and enjoy. Prep your menu in the morning as much as possible so that it is easy to cook and plate when the time comes. If something goes wrong, take it in stride. Laugh it off, and be able to calmly come up with a solution. Keep the wine glasses full on the table and chances are that your guests will never notice a hiccup. Ask a friend or neighbor to come over and assist you throughout the evening. Before the evening begins, delegate to your helper tasks such as clearing the table, washing the dishes, and refilling wine and water for your guests. Make sure to send your helper home with a bottle of wine and some leftovers as a thank you!

Most importantly, enjoy your company, your cuisine, and the fabulous ambience you’ve created.

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