Empathy. Patience. Teamwork. For maître d’ Rob Walk, those three qualities are the keys to memorable dining service.
The hospitable Walk, 42, is a familiar face at Radius Restaurant in South Franklin Circle, tracing his tenure back to November 2009, soon after the restaurant opened. While he joined the team as a part-time bartender, Walk’s skill, experience, and gracious personality soon made him an ideal choice for the role of dining-room manager.
“I’ve kind of grown with the membership,” says the former early-childhood teacher. “What we’re doing here is unique, essentially creating a fine-dining restaurant as the hub of a senior living community, and it has been very rewarding to be part of it.”
A self-described “service-oriented” person, Walk’s daily duties as maître d’ include acting as host, overseeing all bar service, and training and scheduling the dining room staff. But while managing the service team is a big part of his job description, guests are just as likely to find him working the floor – setting a table, taking an order or serving a salad – as sitting at a desk. After all, he’ll tell you, when it comes to creating a gracious setting, “we are all one team, working together, and everyone is invested in that goal.”
While his resume includes stints in private clubs and downtown restaurants, Walk says Radius is something different. “We are so much more concerned with the individual needs of our guests here than at any conventional restaurant,” he says. “We’re entirely driven by the desires of our residents, and our service is deeply personalized.”
Under Walk’s guidance, that personalization includes everything from greeting guests by name to cheerfully assisting them in choosing dishes that meet their special needs. “We have a beautiful menu that can be altered to accommodate the needs of every single diner, every single night,” Walk says. “It’s a commitment from the kitchen, and they really step up to make it happen. But because everything is made to order, it’s easy to make changes. So whether it’s no salt, no diary, or ‘sauce on the side’ – whatever our guests need, they know we’ll see to it that they get it.”
While his original career goal was to be an educator, Walk has discovered that hospitality shares many qualities with teaching. “Empathy and patience is very important in both professions,” he notes, “and the ‘people contact’ is equally rewarding.” In particular, he has been delighted by the companionable vibe that has grown up around Radius over the years. “It’s sort of like the campus of a very small college,” he says. “Everyone is very friendly and it’s a fun environment for dining.” He credits that, in part, to innovations like Friday-evening happy hours and the popular “community table” concept that encourages diners to step outside their usual circle and share a meal with residents they haven’t yet met. “The great thing about it is that it gives new residents a chance to dine with current members,” Walk says. “The opportunity to make new friends is priceless. As a result, the community table is often booked up days in advance.”
Along with its personalized service, club-like vibe, and malleable menu, Radius also offers a serene setting with quiet background music, moderate lighting and full accessibility. While those factors make it unique by today’s restaurant standards, Walk doesn’t think that will always be the case.
“I think Radius is at the forefront of what you’re going to see in restaurants in 20 years,” he says. “In terms of smart living, this is the type of experience people are going to demand.”