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.

McKenna Ryser
Manager & server, 9 years
The Kitchen Table, Pound Ridge

What is it like being an influencer?
I don’t know, but everyone really appreciates it when you can make it easier for them. We have people who will come in and just stare at the menu. So, I will tell them a couple of things, and they’ll say, “Just do that.” It’s satisfying because they’re happy.

What is your number one rule when making recommendations?
Be honest. If I do not like something or if I don’t eat it, I’ll tell them. Obviously, there’s nothing here that I don’t like, but I’ve changed my eating habits, so there are a lot of things that I don’t eat anymore. So, I just tell people the truth. And then I tell them what the customers tell us.

What’s the best recommendation you’ve ever made?
The dirty chai latte – people love dirty chai lattes. We often have someone at the counter debating if they want a latte because they think it might be too much caffeine, so then they’ll consider a chai, and when we tell them that you can mix the two, they go nuts! And then they try it, and they love it and they come back for it.

What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened at this restaurant?
Once, a man ordered an espresso shot, so I poured it into a mug for him because I thought he indicated he was staying at the counter. Then, he told me he wanted it in a to-go cup, so I apologized and poured it into the to-go cup. Next, he took off the lid and drank it right there! He threw the cup away, said thanks, and then walked out. Everyone at the counter was like, “What was that?”

What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened at this restaurant?
During the pandemic, a man walked in and began telling us how the pandemic hadn’t financially affected him. We were joking with him, and after he ordered his food, he took out his wallet and put $100 in the tip jar, then $200, then $300, and he ended up giving us a $600 tip! It was such a bad day, and he made it so good.

What’s your favorite dish?
Grilled cheese – you can never go wrong with a grilled cheese sandwich. Ours is really flavorful, and it will fill you up.

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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.