How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Guest Post: Playing up to power at Michael's

October 30, 2008: 12:31 PM ET

By Steve Millington

I work at Michael's Restaurant, one of the most power-friendly restaurants in the city. I rub shoulders with CBS (CBS) CEO Les Moonves, Revlon (REV) CEO Ron Perelman, Time Warner (TWX) chairman Dick Parsons, literary super-agent Esther Newberg and Broadway producer Terry Allen Kramer, to name a few. These people are sophisticated and complicated. Ms. Kramer became a regular after being treated rudely by me.

Let me tell you the story. This day was also the day we lost Michael Wolff, the Vanity Fair writer, as a customer.

I came into work -- I suppose this was four years ago -- and looked at our reservation book. I counted the tables and was flabbergasted to find us 20 tables over-booked. To say I was flustered is an understatement!

At that point, it didn't matter how the overbooking happened (human error and a computer glitch, I later learned). It was all about how to correct our mistake. Phone calls were made to our most understanding guests in hopes of weaning our numbers down. We got down to about 175 guests when I got the call from Michael Wolff -- a notorious last minute reservation maker. He wanted a 1 p.m. reservation.

Impossible, I told him. I asked if he could do 1:30. He politely declined and said he would come another time. Moments later, he was to call Keith Kelly of the New York Post and say he planned on never returning to Michael's. (He had been a thrice-weekly regular for 10 years up to then). Keith put his comment in his column the following day. I was surprised at how many calls of congratulations I received. Like I said, this is a power pinnacle and everyone likes a nasty divorce!

But, on to Terry Allen Kramer, Terry is a veteran of power venues and fine dining restaurants. I hadn't laid eyes on her until that day.

Terry came in with Pamela Gross, the editorial director of Avenue Magazine, and Judy Giuliani, Rudy's wife. I was red-faced, in the middle of the floor, correcting a seating error when I saw them being led into our garden room. Even today, I could swear that I heard the sound of metal against metal brakes as they did an about-face. I could clearly read Terry's lips: "I'm not going back there," she pronounced sternly. I had never met her, but just by her iron-fisted aura, I knew that I was done for.

As I was still persuading a guest to relinquish the table that we had mis-sat, Terry approached me and exclaimed in a cigarette-stained voice, "Do you know who I am?" I turned to Ms. Kramer in a vile mood and said, "Listen ma'am, I don't care who you are. Would you mind just waiting in the lounge? I'm having a tough day here!" She looked at me with empathy and simply uttered, "Very well."

That day, I found out how classy some of our guests are. Katherine Oliver -- a great lady who heads the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting -- told me that she wouldn't mind giving up her table to dine at the bar. So I brought Terry and her guests to that prime table and apologized for my rudeness. I was amazed at how easily Ms. Kramer was able to "let it go" and meld into the power nest that is Michael's.

What an exhausting day.

Steve Millington is General Manager of Michael's, the power lunch spot for media execs and other heavy hitters on West 55th street in Manhattan.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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