Lorin Zinter Talks Il Foro, The Lexington, and Building a Service Staff that Cares

"I think a lot of times in restaurants the front of house gets overlooked," says Lorin Zinter, partner and front of house manager at the much heralded Heyday. He's also, as Mpls.St.Paul Magazine announced last week, part of the upcoming Lexington rebirth and the new Il Foro in the old Forum space in downtown's City Center.

Zinter will co-own and operate Il Foro with Josh Thoma of Smack Shack, celebrity chef Jack Riebel known most recently from Butcher and the Boar, and restaurateur Kevin Fitzgerald. Troy Unruh will run the Il Foro kitchen as executive chef (he was most recently working in big deal New York City Italian powerhouses such as Mario Batali's Del Posto).

Because Il Foro and the Lexington are two of the most stunning spaces in town -- the first an art deco gem and the latter a 1930's historic institution -- Zinter's front-of-house expertise will be a prominent and integral part of both restaurant programs.

See also: Heyday and the new face of New American dining

"I think our local servers sometimes get sold short," says Zinter, in response to any notion that our overall front of house talent pool in the Twin Cities is at all lacking. "There are pro servers here who think of this as a career, and who travel to the best places to eat and drink and educate themselves."

He says the two basic tenets when running service program are "seeking out more information," and "freedom." He's never satisfied with a one-word answer from a guest ("fine" just won't do) and he won't let a guest feel like they are in any way an imposition to the restaurant.

"The more information we seek from a guest, the more connected they feel to the restaurant."

And feel connected they probably will, considering the deep roots that both restaurant spaces have among multiple generations of Twin Cities diners.

"When I told my mom that I was working with the Lexington, she got quiet for a minute. She said, 'You're kidding-- you're working on the Lex?!' She couldn't have been more excited. She went there growing up, and then she took me there while growing up."

Zinter also encourages his crew to gauge every guest, allowing the diners to enjoy their dining experience on their own terms.

"Sure, if they want to be left alone and have their business meeting, then let them have their business meeting. But if they want to take a tour of the kitchen and talk and play-- by all means, play."

He also emphasizes that with the influx of so many new restaurants in the Twin Cities, it's time for everyone to up their performance. "If you're not operating at the absolute highest level, well, there are plenty of other choices," both for diners and for the creme of the server talent pool.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but the most important quality in a service staff, says Zinter, is caring.

"I can teach them about food, I can teach them about beverage, but I can't teach them to care. If they're operating with the best interest of the guest in mind, there's not really that many mistakes that can be made."

The remodel on the Lexington has just begun, and both places are slated to open sometime in the spring of 2015.

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