Industry Insiders: Dennis Cornick, Maître D’ at Miss Lily’s

Dennis Cornick, the maître d’ at Miss Lily’s, takes care of the many regulars and restaurant-hoppers who flock to the Caribbean spot in New York for its jerk pork burgers and party atmosphere. The secret to keeping everybody happy, Cornick explains, is sincerity. "Good feelings are generally reciprocated," he says. We caught up with Cornick to learn a few tricks of the trade.

Where are you from?

I grew up in the city. I’m from the Bronx. I’m a true New Yorker. I’ve lived in every borough of New York City.

Even Staten Island?

Okay, every borough but Staten Island.

Poor Staten Island. It’s the forgotten borough. How did you get into the hospitality business?

I began in fashion. I worked at Bloomingdale’s. I was a manager there. But it was a little constricting. I wanted something more free, so I started in the restaurant industry about seven years ago. It’s hands-on and personal, and I fell in love with providing outstanding service.

You are the maître d’ at Miss Lily’s? What’s that like?

I’m the first point of contact when a customer comes through the door. I welcome them, and decide where to seat them, and the placement of the tables. My job is to remember the guest and make them feel welcome.

You seat 200-plus people a night, but you’re able to recognize regulars?

Absolutely, remembering regular guests–and people who we want to become regular guests–is second nature to me at this point.

How do you make people feel welcome and special at Miss Lily’s?

I tell my hosts and hostesses, whatever you have to say to guests, have a genuine conversation with them. Have a genuine interaction that shows you’re enthusiastic about speaking with them. And not in a corny way, have a sincere conversation. Guests feed off that. Good feelings are generally reciprocated.

What’s the vibe at Miss Lily’s?

It’s an artist vibe, with all kinds of creative people. Celebrities and entertainers, neighborhood folks. The food is like five-star cuisine, but the atmosphere is very laid back. You’re going to dance, you’re going to talk to a stranger at a bar and talk to the DJ. It’s like you’re at your friend’s house having a good time.

Miss Lily’s gets very busy at times. What do you do to keep people calm and happy if they have to wait for a table?

You check on your guests if they’re waiting at the bar, make conversation and see how they’re doing. I might send a few drinks over if they’ve been waiting a while.

Do you enjoy your job?

I love my job and the people I work with. They’re all fantastic individuals, and they bring the energy every day.

I assume you’ve tried most of the food. Are there any dishes in particular you like?

The jerk pork burger and fried snapper are to die for. I always recommend them.

Any notable cocktails?

You’ve got to try the Tempted to Touch, which is made with plum wine, sake, and fresh mint. It’s a fun, party drink, and very popular with the ladies.

Sounds like a busy, high-energy job. What do you do to relax?

I’m a spiritual person, so I like to meditate. I go to a temple in Harlem sometimes and meditate and talk about spirituality. It keeps me balanced.

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