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.
Brian Mongeon [Photo: Edison Graff/Stardust Fallout Media]
Brian Mongeon manages not one but two of Rick Moonen's restaurants, an elegant dance he carries off daily as general manager at RM Seafood and Rx Boiler Room at Mandalay Place. He's worked up and down the Strip as the assistant general manager at Les Artistes Steakhouse at Paris Las Vegas, where he designed an employee incentive program that became a model for the company. He then expanded annual revenue from $9.5 million to $11 million as assistant general manager of Aureole at Mandalay Bay. Mongeon gets excited about what he calls the artistry that goes into creating a great guest experience — "from the food on the plate, to the way the sommelier decants a bottle, to the way a server describes a special, to the way the room is lit, and the way the bartender stirs a drink." Here he talks about long days at Moonen's restaurants, measuring ceiling heights for acrobats and how everyone's a food critic these days.
So, what's the busiest time right now?
For me or the restaurant? Running two bustling restaurants means I have no down time. I'm up answering emails by 8 a.m. and in the restaurant by 10:30 a.m. every day. Our guests see me calm and collected during the dinner hours, but that's only because I've spent all day preparing. Peak hours are always between 7 and 9 p.m., and RM Seafood generally follows this trend, but at Rx Boiler Room we can get a push at any time. The loungy atmosphere often draws a crowd late, especially when the MJ One Show lets out.
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?
It happens. I've been offered as much as $500 for a table. It's flattering that someone would want to be in my restaurant so badly, but it doesn't work. Selling tables is the quickest way to ruin your reputation and then no one will want to get in.
Trust me, I want guests in my restaurant just as badly as they want to get in. I don't think I've ever told someone, "No." What I tell them is "when" I can get them in… sometimes that's not good enough, but we always try our best. The real secret to getting in without a reservation is to be nice, humble and patient. If you say you're willing to wait and then do so politely, I will always get you in, usually much faster than you were quoted.
Tell us about your favorite customers.
My favorite guests are the ones that come back! It's always good to know that you've done a good job, and there is no better compliment that a guest can give than to return soon and often. We have a lot of friends in the area, locals that work near the restaurant, eat in RM or Rx at least once a week. It's always nice to see these familiar faces, but we also have our annual guests that come once a year when they're in town for whichever convention, and they are regulars, too. RM Seafood has been open for nine years, which makes us a dinosaur in Las Vegas. Without the support of repeat guests we wouldn't be here.
How about celebrities?
Frankie Moreno is a huge supporter and a friend to the restaurant, total class act. We love him. He is definitely the stand out, but there are a ton of really warm sincere famous locals that quietly slip in and out of Rx Boiler Room and RM on a regular basis. We get our share of big names both local and international, but unlike some other restaurants and clubs, we don't flaunt it. Rick likes Rx to be a safe place, somewhere celebrities can come and not be on display. You may be seated two feet from this summer's hottest new recording artist, but you probably won't know it until you see her leave. We have quiet little booths that a celebrity can easily hide in, but we also have a stage where once in a while they may decide to get up and play the piano.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables to give?
First of all, every paying customer is a VIP. Second, we do what we have to do. We make it happen, but we never disrespect one guest to accommodate another… there's always a way to make everybody happy.
So, what's the strangest request that you've accommodated at RM Seafood? What about Rx Boiler Room?
Today, I measured the ceiling height in every room of Rx Boiler Room so that a party we have coming in May can tell the acrobats they've hired what to expect when they arrive. That was a new one.
What's the first thing that shocked you in Las Vegas?
I was 16 when I moved to Las Vegas. The only thing I remember being really shocked by was slot machines in grocery stores. That's probably not what you were looking for, but after you've lived here a while, nothing shocks you.
Do you ever get any requests for vegetarian dishes here? How do you accommodate them?
Vegetarians are easy. Any chef worth their salt has five or six vegetarian options ready to go at any time. It's the gluten-free, low sodium, nut allergic vegans that can be challenging.
What's the most popular dish right now at each restaurant?
At RM, the clam chowder, and for good reason. More love goes into Rick's clam chowder than any soup in the world. You really have to watch the process to truly appreciate the soup.
At Rx, bacon wrapped bacon, if you haven't seen it, go to the website. Once you see it, you'll have to try it.
So when you're not at RM Seafood and Rx Boiler Room, where are you eating these days?
There are so many great restaurants in Las Vegas, and I have friends at so many of them. This is a very dangerous question. If I'm not at Rx or RM, I might be at Sushi Roku in the Forum Shops at Caesars, where they always treat me like family, or I might be at the take out window at Slice of Vegas in Mandalay Place picking up vegan pizza or chocolate cake for my wife Juliette. I also love Craft Steak, China Poblano, L'Atelier and Aureole, but I wouldn't say I "frequent" them.
What's the must-order dish at RM Seafood?
The charred octopus with roasted fingerlings, cherry tomatoes and lemon aioli will change your life.
How about Rx Boiler Room?
Chicken pot pie nuggets, not because they're the best dish on the menu (probably in the top three), but because they are so exactly what we are about. They are handmade daily from scratch and we use only Mary's Organic Chicken — ethical, sustainable, approachable, delicious, fresh and fun.
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele?
Gone are the days when one review can make or break you. A local food critic might love your place, but if your Yelp score is below 3.5 stars, good luck. Everyone is a critic these days. It can be frustrating at times, but it keeps you on your toes and inevitably raises the overall service standard for everyone. It's a great time to be a restaurant goer, probably better than ever before especially in Las Vegas.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done?
Drive. You have to be committed to improving every single day. The day you relax is the day you fail. Neither Rx Boiler Room nor RM Seafood are perfect, and they never will be, but as long as I push them a little closer to perfect every day, I can sleep at night.
· All Coverage of RM Seafood [~ELV~]
· All Coverage of Rx Boiler Room [~ELV~]
· All Coverage of The Gatekeepers [~ELV~]