By Gia Miller

Photography by Justin Negard

Waiters/waitresses are the world’s oldest influencers – they tell us what to eat (and drink) whenever we dine out. And we often take their advice without watching hours of their videos to determine if they’re trustworthy. We sat down with some of our local influencers to get to know the folks who influence our choices.

Danielle Swensen
Server & Bartender, 6 years
Lexington Square cafe,
Mount Kisco

Do you consider yourself an influencer?
Sort of. You can help guide somebody, but my flavor profile might not be the same as someone else’s. When people come in more and more, it’s easier to help recommend things because you get to know what they like.

What recommendation do you wish more people would take you up on?
Save room for dessert. The chocolate chip cookie pie and the sticky toffee cake are amazing. But the coconut bread pudding is my favorite.

What do you love about your job?
When somebody has spent months planning a party and they’re a little bit nervous about how it’s going to go, I can tell them, “Listen, we’ve got this. We’re going to take good care of you. This party is going to go off without a hitch.” And then I can watch them take a deep breath. Being able to do that for somebody is such an unbelievable thing.

What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened at this restaurant?
There are two. At the bar, I once had to ask a woman to put her shoes back on. She had her feet in a man’s lap, and he was rubbing them. I didn’t know this was a conversation I needed to have with adults, but I had to tell them, “Feet on the floor.”

Another time, someone brought their dog into the restaurant and said it was a service dog. But then he hopped on the table and spilled all of their drinks! I’m not allowed to ask to see their papers, but this is not how a service dog behaves, so I asked them to leave.

What have you learned about people while doing this job?
Everybody’s got secrets. Add a little booze and people tend to spill their secrets.

What’s your favorite dish?
The short ribs with mushroom risotto. The whole dish is perfect. I love the risotto, and the meat just falls apart. People asked me for a knife, and I tell them, “I’ll get it for you, but you won’t need it.” And I also love the coconut bread pudding. Everything is homemade – there’s even homemade caramel sauce and homemade chocolate sauce. It makes a difference.

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Justin is an award-winning designer and photographer. He was the owner and creative director at Future Boy Design, producing work for clients such as National Parks Service, Vintage Cinemas, The Tarrytown Music Hall, and others. His work has appeared in Bloomberg TV, South by Southwest (SXSW), Edible Magazine, Westchester Magazine, Refinery 29, the Art Directors Club, AIGA and more.

Justin is a two-time winner of the International Design Awards, American Photography and Latin America Fotografia. Vice News has called Justin Negard as “one of the best artists working today.”

He is the author of two books, On Design, which discusses principles and the business of design, and Bogotà which is a photographic journey through the Colombian capital.

Additionally, Justin has served as Creative Director at CityMouse Inc., an NYC-based design firm which provides accessible design for people with disabilities, and has been awarded by the City of New York, MIT Media Lab and South By Southwest.

He lives in Katonah with his wonderfully patient wife, son and daughter.