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October 30, 2017

Q&A: Restaurant server continues family tradition

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“You just have to be able to multitask, is a big part of it,” Gabriella Patierno says of her work.
It’s not a hard job, but you kind of have to have a good head in your shoulders.
— Gabriella Patierno
Gabriella Patierno
• Age: 27

• Home: Alexandria.

• Work: Server, assistant manager, Girasole restaurant, The Plains, 2012-present.

• Education: Bachelor’s degree, art history, Duquesne University, 2012; Bishop Ireton High School, 2008.

• Family: Parents, Lydia and Louis Patierno; brother, Joel; sister, Madeline.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
After earning a bachelor’s in art history five years ago, the Alexandria woman toyed with the idea pursuing another degree or two in the subject.

Armed with a master’s and perhaps a Ph.D., Gabriella Patierno thought she might teach or become a curator.

But Ms. Patierno, 27, remained unsure about her next step.

“That was the problem,” she recalls, laughing. “I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve always been very indecisive.”

So instead of more college, Ms. Patierno joined the family’s restaurant business.

Twenty-six years ago, her father, Louis Patierno, and two partners opened Panino, an Italian restaurant on Mathis Avenue in Manassas.

Almost 14 years ago, the family opened Girasole, an Italian restaurant at 4244 Loudoun Ave. in The Plains.

Out of necessity, Ms. Patierno joined both restaurants’ staffs as a server in 2012, the year she graduated from Duquesne University.

“I don’t know if I’d want to do it for the rest of my life. But, for now, I do enjoy it.”

The Patiernos eventually bought out their Panino partners and sold the Manassas restaurant four years ago. The new owners changed the name and menu. That restaurant recently closed.

“My mother trained me,” says Ms. Patierno, who doubles as Girasole’s assistant manager. “I worked the lunch shift (at Panino) and then came here for dinner. She’s very hands one, one-on-one with the staff.”

Her parents — Lydia and Louis Patierno — met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in the early 1970s.

Mrs. Patierno manages the restaurant and her husband serves as head chef.

The place employs 20, including eight servers, and seats 150 people.

Ms. Patierno lives with her family in Alexandria and works five days a week — about eight hours per day — at the restaurant.

• What makes a successful server?
Attention to detail. Personable. Knowing your customer and what your customer wants. There’s a lot of background stuff. You have to be able to multitask. You have to know how to please the customer.

It’s not a hard job, but you kind of have to have a good head in your shoulders.

• Can a server with a lousy personality succeed?
If they’re a really good server, they don’t need necessarily have to have a great personality. We had one server who worked for my mom for as long as I’ve been alive, and someone said she was not friendly but very efficient.

• How much do charm and personality figure into a server’s success?
Unless you’re really, really good at your job and really efficient, I’d say it’s a big part of the job, a big part of your success.

My mom is very personable. Me — when I’m not at work, not so much. But at work you have to be very personable. And that’s what brings people back.

• Do women or men do a better job of serving?
I haven’t worked with a lot of men servers. But I think (women) tend to be able to multitask a little better. You’re used to raising kids and dealing with your children maybe a little more than a man does.

You just have to be able to multitask, is a big part of it. Here, the kitchen’s in the basement. We have dining upstairs, dining in the bar, dining here (in the main dining room). The patio’s open during the summer. So you have to be able to work smart, do the most you can in the fewest steps.

• How do you remember the specials from one day to the next?
It definitely takes time. It probably took me at least months. We have almost an extra menu of specials that we do and change about weekly.

We used to say them verbally, but I tend to print them off a lot more often, just to make it easier for everyone.

• How do you keep orders straight for a big party?
There’s little tricks that we use. The universal thing is you assign everyone a number. So your start from your left at the head of the table and just go around. When it comes to orders, I have to write everything down. Otherwise, I’ll forget it and mix it all up.

• How did you learn to pair food and wine?
From experience, mostly.

There are some basic rules — if this kind of fish or this style of cooking comes from this area, usually you can pair it with that same area as well, especially for Italian. For Italian, everything is very regional. Most of our wine list is Italian.

• How do you deal with difficult customers?
With a smile.

• No matter what?
Some people, you kind of need to have a little bit firm of a hand. But, obviously they’re paying customers. You don’t want to be too firm. Be as nice as you can. If someone is a little bit difficult, you do try to accommodate them the best you can.

• Have you ever had to return a meal to the kitchen because the chef botched it?
It happens sometimes. Some people don’t like the pasta al dente. And they tend to always make it al dente. Sometimes they get a little angry in the kitchen. But, it’s again pleasing the customer.

• What’s the biggest tip you have ever received?
I can’t think of one specifically, but there definitely have been people who have tipped over 50 percent on a check.

• Knowingly?

• Why?
I just think we have a really good base of local customers. And they just feel that they wanted to. I’d like to think it’s good service.

• Best night for you for tips?
Saturday — about $300, take home.

• Hardest part of your job?
Managing the customers, managing the staff. Both sometimes can be difficult. Most of the time, no. But it can make work a little unpleasant. Sometimes, like you have one bad table, it can put you in a bad mood for the rest of the night.

• What do you take into consideration when customers ask for and you give them menu recommendations?
Usually, to be on the safe side, I kind of give the most popular items on the menu, along with some of my favorites. You also try to give some items that are in different price ranges.

• Which are the most popular items?
The pasta’s house-made. So you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

• How about your favorites?
Right now they’re doing a Taleggio cheese ravioli with chanterelle mushrooms. That is addictively delicious. In the fall, they do a butternut squash ravioli that’s really good too.

• Do you have a favorite kind of food?
Probably Italian. It’s so simple and incredibly delicious. What they can do with three ingredients is just incredible.

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Observer · November 3, 2017 at 5:33 am
Look at this link I already posted:

they average only 3.5 stars and my bad experience definitely is not the only one. And the owner accusing guest for stealing her plates, lol, that's like a bad movie.
Observer · November 2, 2017 at 5:09 am
Todd: Maybe try that place as a customer. You will leave frustrated for sure and you will not be alone. Here are reviews, far from good, overall average at the best.

I eaten many times in Italy and this is just a place pretending to be something and failing badly.
Observer · October 31, 2017 at 5:29 am
If you like to be ignored and wait for the food for over an hour, this is the place to go. Provincial eatery pretending to be classy.
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