Delivering good service, like cooking, requires a period of apprenticeship. Perry Streby, general manager of Abigail Street, began as a busser at Senate in 2011 while putting himself through school. He worked his way up to server, became Assistant GM of Pontiac BBQ, and finally took over the front of the house at Abigail Street. After mastering the art of studying in 30-minute chunks, he now spends his days trying not to waste anyone else’s time.
What’s training like for servers? I prefer to hire ambitious, educated people—whether they’re in college now or have done things to further their education. It shows you want to learn, and that you are absorbing information. We train our servers’ assistants and hostesses as if they’re serving. They know every ingredient for every dish. They taste all the wines. When they show me that they want to step up and do more, then hell yeah, they can grow with us.
Any changes since you’ve taken over? Our wine list. We started with an eight-page leather binder of Old World and New World wines broken up by varietal. I wanted to mimic what the kitchen does—introducing people to different flavors—in the wine. So we color-coordinated all the wines, starting with bright, red acidic wines, working into the earthier notes, and then down to dark, purple, jammy notes. The whites are a little more abstract, but we also put them on a flavor spectrum.
How do people interact with this list differently? If you only drink chardonnay, you’re not going to tell your friends that you had an awesome chardonnay at Abigail Street. You’re going to tell them that I introduced you to sémillon. Or even the same grape, just from a different region. I thought I liked chardonnay, but they turned me on to sémillon, this beautiful white wine that has the same body but more complex flavors. I take pride in that. I want people to discover new things.
What are the pillars of good service? When I dine out, I want to be greeted right away. And when I’m ready to pay, I want to be able to pay. The worst is when you’re finished and your credit card is on the table and you’re waiting. When I want to leave, I want to leave.
What do you look for when you eat out? I’m a service snob. When I dine out, I’m going to go casual carryout, like a deli counter, or I’m going to go somewhere really high end. I can’t justify spending good money on food if the service isn’t impeccable. I want people to know you’re going to get really good service when you come here. Because it’s too cutthroat right now. You have too many options.
Check out our Best Restaurants 2017 review of Abigail Street