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Linger's Shannon Jones Speaks About Managing the LoHi Restaurant

Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.

Shannon Jones
Shannon Jones
Adam Larkey

Shannon Jones, the general manager of Linger, wants every diner to have expectations before dining —high expectations. She aims to give diners what they deserve. Jones found her way into the Edible Beats family, the group that owns Linger, when she applied to be a server at Root Down. From her impressive resume,  owner Justin Cucci knew her skills would better benefit his management team. Jones brought her corporate hospitality skills to Linger to handle the large staff in 2011. You can find her on the floor many nights out of the week, on the rooftop patio in the summer, or sharing her positive attitude with her staff. Eater talked to Shannon about her past, reviews that Linger has received, and her team.

What makes this job different than other jobs you have had in the past? I would say this is the most challenging job I have ever had in terms of self-awareness, emotional integrity, and emotional intelligence. I worked in a lot of corporate places and found it to be more sterile. You got a list of things you need to do and there were a lot of spreadsheets and budgets. All that is incredibly important, but there doesn't tend to be a lot of heart to it. We're an emotional company, which is really satisfying for me. I think that keeps me really interested here because I have to challenge myself emotionally just as a human every day. Justin puts so much value in teaching lessons and challenging us to grow as people and not just workers or managers. If you can be better at your job then you are probably better in your life. That is definitely brought up on a daily basis. The day-to-day work stuff comes pretty easy because I've done it for so long and I love it. It is the challenging yourself, your emotional style that can be a little scary. There is always an "ok" moment where you think could I do this differently or better or was that the sort of most kind, patient, and sympathetic way to handle that? This ranges from dishwashing to phone answering.

What is your philosophy for managing? My philosophy buddies up with Justin's; bottom line is that the guest is the number one priority. I think we all should be saying that. I think the older we all get, we know how precious your personal time is whether you are at a restaurant, in a retail environment, or in an airport. You had to spend your hard earned money and you are saying to yourself that you want to enjoy this thing. How satisfying it is when you actually enjoy yourself? Because a lot of times you don't. I take so much pride and we engrain in all our staff members here that it doesn't matter what is happening to us, we all have private lives and life is messy, but when we are here, it has to be about what is happening for the guest. I think humor, fun, and the relaxed piece is important here too. The formality is not as crucial, which is a change and switch for me. It used to be way more important that you were placing things down on the left or the right or timing. I was taught in that way so I had to break that down for myself. I find that I much prefer it. It is like being in someone's home; everyone is not waiting for someone to get you the right fork, you just want a fork. It makes the entire experience more fun and more casual. There are a lot of things I really enjoy about hospitality and service that we still have integrated here but the bottom line is making people feel really comfortable and really welcome. A lot of people don't enjoy being a server but it's good money or easy hours. Here, we are really tough on that kind of server because it is pretty transparent when people don't love it. I enjoy it so much when people seem really jazzed when they got someone the perfect glass of wine. Those moments, where people are super happy, are what I love.

What is something you really stress for your staff to know? My number one thing is feeling included. I can forgive a lot of operational stuff if the people who are there are aware of what is happening. I love it when servers say to me if something is going weird, "this is sort of a disaster and this isn't how I wanted it to go and it is probably not how you wanted it to go so can we just commit to changing this up?" I love that humility where it is like, "let's really be honest that this isn't going that well." That is scary to admit for a server and personality-wise there are times when you don't connect with someone. Here our servers are never going to be punished or reprimanded for being honest with people. I also love that personalized greeting when you go somewhere and they start to pay attention to how you like your coffee or that you love chocolate and they remember those little details. I think that is the piece I take from the concierge side. We do a lot of note-taking for regulars for little things that they like such as tables or if they like the window open. I tend to go places where I know people even if I don't love the food. I am way more interested in the environment than the actual food. I love food, don't get me wrong, but I just like to be in a place where I am happy to be.

When you are not at Linger, where do you find yourself dining? I love the Source. I love how it feels it in there. I give myself extra time and make it an outing to buy a loaf of bread and buy a card. Acorn is a big one for me. I love their drinks. I think it is casual and nice but the food is awesome. Also right now, I cannot be happier about Cart-Driver. I knew Kelly Whitaker from Boulder when I first moved here. I think he is a genius and such a wonderful person. I will probably gain 50 pounds because his pizza is here and I don't have to drive to Boulder. I love going to Root Down as well. It is just so neighborhoody. I just always have a lovely experience there. Those are definitely my top three.

What is your favorite day of the week to work? I love Saturdays. I think guests are more relaxed on Saturday than Friday. We don't have happy hour on Saturday which, as much as I love happy hour, means we have more of a dining experience. We just opened on Sunday nights too. We used to close after brunch and now that has become a fun night. I think Saturday is the start of people's weekend so they are relaxed and Friday they are tired but on Sunday they are just finishing up their weekend. Saturday is great for the energy and Sunday for the wonderful neighborhood type of thing. It feels the most Root Down for me on Sunday because Linger is a bit of a party. It is more family on Sunday and just dinning with bottles of wine and relaxing.

Since the space used to be a mortuary are there any spooky moments? We have some ghost stories. I don't know that I can say that I am a believer but crazy things have happened here. There is a hallway and we have had all types of people have experiences there. It has happened to different people at different times too. Usually we don't tell people because it is sort of fascinating and we'll just see if other people experience it. It is not scary like horror movie scary; it is scary like "wow I am definitely not on my own." People say they get cold or have goosebumps or they thought they heard something or feel like someone is behind them. I have in fact had one of those myself. Daniel Asher saw me right after it happened. It was in the middle of the day and I came down the stairs and he asked if I was ok, and I didn't know. He told me I was really pale. I don't know what I saw. I don't want to believe what I saw. There is a cold spot over there that is definitely crazy. We have some interesting folks that come in who read energy. They have told us all sorts of things. They just always really want this big story, which we don't really have.

What is your favorite type of diner? I really enjoy  when people come in that have celiac or other allergies and never get to eat out. It is so great for me to see those people just happily eating. I know a lot of people who have allergies and it is terrible for them to eat out. I love allergy tables because they are like, "Oh my god I can eat!" They are a challenge and always keep people on their feet.

Fox31's Report Card review gave Linger a F, how did you respond to this? I think it just affected us internally as a business. We were so unhappy about how that came out and how we were portrayed in it. None of us make excuses and we take that so seriously. We were upset mostly because we do so much for this community and we care so deeply about this neighborhood and the organic nature of the food and composting and so we don't have trash. The organic sustainability that 80 percent of our menu brings. Some of those things were misrepresented but we didn't want to make any excuses. I think what we all learned is that this just can't happen ever again. Even if there are excuses or reasons that this wasn't quite accurate, perception is reality. We don't want our fans to be disappointed with us. A bunch of things immediately changed for the better. We were on high alert for any sort of feedback so we could speak to it as a group and we didn't really have to do that. The couple of times it was brought up, people were very supportive. That was really touching. We weathered that storm as a team. We are so sorry that this happened and it will never happen again. I think we did a really good job as a team and some very powerful lessons were learned. We are way better because of it.

What do you want your diners to expect when they come into Linger? I think that there is a lot of hype and a lot of places that our customers could go so I want them to be 1000 percent satisfied; from how they park, to how it smells when they walk in, to how my hostesses are smiling. I want them to feel wowed. I want them to feel like they had a friendly and fun and affordable experience. Justin and I read every single comment card that we get and also every week I put together the Yelp list and we read those reviews. We take those really seriously and the criticism we see as little gifts because they help us tweak things so the next time we hope it is perfect. It is a lot of pressure. I really believe in the customer getting the full deal.

What is something your staff would say is something you commonly say? I think "inspect what you expect" is a mantra that I have had since my first hotel job. My food and beverage director Karl Bruno, who was a huge mentor for me, that is one of the things he would always say. It is funny when you think about what it means because it really makes sense. I would say that is what I say to the managers. To the staff we just urge them to be honest. Don't be afraid to tell a staff member or a manager if you don't like the way you are being treated. Any sort of constructive criticism they can give us even if just one on one to help them learn. Everyone learns differently so I think it is a dangerous place to say this is how we do it. It just doesn't work. We really are a place that says if you are in trouble on the floor and if you come and ask us for help, I'll take over half of your section. I'll wait on half of your tables all night; I love doing that. If you are having an off day because you have a headache or your boyfriend broke up with you, we are all human and that happens. If you are honest about it, I can help you. I don't love the strength of saying you are fine when you are in trouble. I think honesty and self-awareness are such attractive qualities.

I like to empower our staff. I think there are a lot of places where they wouldn't have the ability to buy someone scallops without asking a manager. We are never going to say, "We can't believe you did that!" But instead we are going to say, "Tell me the circumstances and let's make sure that doesn't happen again next time." We like to afford them a lot of freedom and trust. Our staff is here for a reason. It builds a nice bond between the whole group and they really help each other. It is not a pooled house on tips; it's individual, but it is fun to have people come in and see everyone working together and think it must be pooled. That does help everyone feel like we can do it together and we can do it for each other.

Do you feel you have found a good spot for yourself? I love the work I do. It feels good to be happy about the choices you have made for yourself. You can't be really good at your job if you don't enjoy it. I love providing services and really good food. My thing at the end of the day is if I can have a good meal and a good conversation with a friend then that is a pretty solid plus. I totally believe in it. That is the good medicine.

— By Kelsey Colt

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