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.
Yannick Augy at the bar at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. [Photo: Susan Stapleton]
Don’t let Yannick Augy’s youth fool you. The 29-year-old general manager of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon was born and raised in the Loire Valley in France in what he refers to as a “French redneck village of 300 people.” That doesn’t make him naive. Now he’s in charge of one of the top restaurant’s in Vegas, ensuring the right people get in this more casual, if that can be said, of Joél Robuchon’s sister restaurants at the MGM Grand. While the French accent remains, Augy says he dreams in English now. Here, Augy talks getting a reservation at the swanky French restaurant, how not to get in and his fave places to dine when he’s not noshing on French cuisine.
So, what's the busiest time right now? The busiest time right now on a daily basis is between 7:45 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. L’Atelier is a relatively small restaurant with 33 seats at the counter and five tables, which can accommodate a maximum of 28 covers.
As one of the hottest restaurants in Las Vegas, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried? We have been open for more than six years now and we are really pleased that we were able to build a loyal clientele. We have locals and guests traveling from all around the world. Reservations are strongly recommended especially during weekends, conventions, concerts, fight, and events at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. We always do our best to accommodate all walk ins. It happened that guests without reservations had tried to offer me money (usually $100) but I always refuse to take the “bribe,” it is against our company policies and also against my integrity and honesty. If nothing is available at the time that the guests want to dine, I will offer a different time and take their cell phone number in case of a no-show or cancellation. Finally, I have to be fair to the guests who have made a reservation.
Tell us about your favorite customers. As I mentioned, I really appreciate the fact that we have a lot of repeat guests, we did build a real relationship with those guests and every time they come and dine with us it is like being with family. L’Atelier is not only a great restaurant recognized by so many awards but it is also a unique experience. By its concept, it is a very engaging way to dine. My favorite customers are also pretty cosmopolitan, working in a hotel casino as gigantic as the MGM Grand, you do meet a lot of guests from Far East, Europe, Middle East, Latin America and of course the USA. Interacting closely with casino marketing has been great for us; we are able to give the highest service possible to a very demanding clientele. The greatest rewards are to see them come back over and over.
How about celebrities? Of course we do have celebrities coming in the restaurant, from actor to singers, from poker players to soccer players, from politicians to other celebrity chefs but I will not reveal their identity as respect for their privacy.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables to give? I would love to say that every guests at L’Atelier are VIP guest, nevertheless when a VIP guests come for dinner and we didn’t expected it, we definitely accommodate them as fast as possible, Our VIPs tend to be very understanding and don’t mind to wait a little bit while other guests are having a good time and are finishing up their dining experience. The lounge at Joël Robuchon Restaurant right next door is a great place to have a drink while waiting for your seats at L’Atelier.
What's the strangest request that you've accommodated at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon? Nothing is coming to my mind; I guess nothing is too strange? in Las Vegas.
Do you ever get any requests for vegetarian dishes here at L’Atelier de Joél Robuchon? How do you accommodate them? Yes, it happens often. We offer a nine-course vegetarian tasting menu and have a few options on the “a la carte” menu.
What's the most popular dish right now? Actually the Seasonal Discovery Tasting Menu is the most popular right now. It’s a nine-course prix fixe that changes regularly. Our sommelier wine pairing is a great way to enhance the dinning experience and has been extremely successful.
So, when you're not at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, where are you eating these days? I do have a culinary background; I started to work in the restaurant business when I was 14 years old. I also come from a family where cooking and enjoying food and wine is a big part of life. I love to cook; during my days off I don’t mind spending hours in my kitchen. But I do have some restaurants that I love to eat at Sage at Aria, Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace or radically different In-N-Out Burger once in a while.
What's the must-order dish at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon? I will say everything but my picks will be the burger with seared foie gras and caramelized bell peppers. This dish was created for the opening of this Atelier. This was the first Robuchon restaurant to open in the USA and Mr. Robuchon wanted to pay tribute to U.S. food culture. It has been so successful here that it is now served in every L’Atelier around the world. I also love the hanger steak with confit of shallots and served with the Joël Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes.
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele? Luckily we have received numerous awards, recognition and favorable reviews since we opened. It’s always hard to say if one increased business more than the other. Mr. Robuchon appearance on Top Chef in 2009 definitely created a lot of buzz and I am sure sent business our way.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done? A strong team from front of the house to back of the house. Without the right people on your side you might be set for failure. A general manager is only as great as his staff. In the restaurant business the job is never done. Everyday you need to communicate, engage you guests and market your restaurant. If the guests are coming and experiencing L’Atelier, come back or refer us, I think we are on the right path for success.
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