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Ryan Quast on VIPs, Figure Eights and the Beast of a Restaurant That is Mastro's Ocean Club

Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.

Elizabeth Daniels
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Ryan "Q" Quast is absolutely loving Malibu. After a stint with Mastro's in Chicago, the laid-back GM of Mastro's Ocean Club now gets to enjoy an ocean view from his office. Not that it's all fun and games; there are always reservations to confirm, tables to clear and customers to seat.

Inside the small, 4,000 square foot restaurant along the coast, Quast holds court, confirms guests and generally keeps things running smoothly. Eater caught up with him recently to talk about his nightly routine, handling VIPs, and the challenges of walk-ins with a restaurant this small.

What was your background before coming on board at Mastro’s Ocean Club? My first job was washing dishes under table at a Chinese restaurant. From there, I just kind of did it all, from working the line, bartender, server, barback. I was a butler right before I left to come to California; I actually moved out for Mastro’s, and I've been with them for a little over eight years.

What’s your nightly routine on the floor? I come in about 11 a.m., I start looking at the books, checking emails, phone calls, meetings. I go over the floor charts, budgets, numbers every day. From there, I’m checking OpenTable, setting up the restaurant, getting things ready to go. On to pre-shift around 4:30, hit the floor at 5 p.m., then I’m around here until 10 p.m. I do bit of everything. One of biggest things is to make the rounds.

You hear a lot of people talk about making figure eights; that’s pretty much the rotation. I’ll hit the back, circle up to the front, and just keep moving. Our restaurant seems small at only 4,000 sq. feet, but it’s a little beast. There’s always so much going on. As we say, we love to shake hands and kiss babies, but if a tables needs to be reset, if a dish needs to be run, if I need to step in and tend bar, we’ll do a bit of everything.

It sounds like you've found yourself in the weeds a few times. The opening of this restaurant as GM was probably one of my biggest professional challenges. It’s such a small venue, and we had so many people knocking at the door when we first opened. Every day we were over-packed. There was a month and a half of weeds [laughs]. But it was also the most that I've grown in my professional career, and I wouldn't take any of it back.

There’s always a lot of big personalities in the service world. Any advice for managing them all? Deep breaths. Be level headed, and try to do your best. When you get up to a certain price point, one of the biggest things is being able to deliver high expectations. You have to handle that. When it really gets going here, it’s all about deep breaths. Take a moment, then get right back into it.

You must deal with a wide variety of clientele. In this particular restaurant, it’s a lot of people from the Pacific Palisades, Malibu, Santa Monica. But across the board, it’s hard to define. We have circuit diners who are here every couple of nights, those who may be celebrating something once or twice a year. We do the whole gamut, including tourists.

And, this being Malibu, how do you handle those select VIPs? One of things that makes us great, I believe, is that everyone here is treated like a VIP. A lot of staff can be nervous to take care of certain guests, but here everyone is the same. And those diners appreciate the fact that no one is overly hounding them or watching them the whole night. It’s nice to sit in the corner, relax, not be bothered too much. They appreciate that aspect.

One thing we really push is that this is a local spot. We like to get to know those locals, remember people by name, take notes on what their drink order was, or where they like to sit. That’s an opportunity we find every day. We try to touch every guest, and the way we handle those guests gives us a huge opportunity to build relationships.

If I show up looking for dinner two at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, no reservation, what can you do for me? We have a couple of options. We do have some first-come seating, soft seating plus a few high tops. Once that’s full, we start a wait list; those run an hour to an hour and a half. Obviously the other things is if we have a no-show, we’ll try to sit you down into a table that way. A lot of people talk about site takes or getting tips to try to score a table, things like that, but with this restaurant, we don’t really have the luxury of a lot of tables popping up. You just don’t have the space. When you’re full, you’re full.

We have champagne at the front door sometimes for moments like that, and we try to help customers out if we can’t get them in. We communicate that as soon as possible, and we try to call other restaurants, accommodate a reservation at a later time. It happens; its small place, sometimes there aren't any other options.

What do you love the most about being at Mastro’s in Malibu? I love the staff that we've created here. I think that’s a big one. I love the ever-changing aspect of what we do; I’m not sitting behind a desk. I’m not one of those people. I have to be out and about, entertaining, interacting. You’re either that type of person or you’re not. This property is so unique, I feel blessed to be able to look at the ocean from my office. And the Malibu crowd, the guests, they’re second to none. I can’t say enough about the people I've met.

Mastro's Ocean Club

18412 East Pacific Coast Highway, , CA 90265 (310) 454-4357 Visit Website