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.

Serafina Varele
Co-owner & server, 5 ½ years
La Camelia, Mount Kisco

Do you consider yourself an influencer?
No, I’m just doing my job. I’m the same at every single table – I’m personal with the customers, which is the most important thing. It’s not just about selling food. There are a lot of places you can go, and if you pick this restaurant, then I want to make it special for you. I try to serve like I’m inviting you to my own house, not just the restaurant.

What is your number one rule when making recommendations?
Always listen to them. Ask them what they prefer and always pay attention to what they’re saying. As soon as they start eating, I’m at the table to see if they like it.

What’s the best recommendation you’ve ever made?
I just recommended Chilean sea bass. I asked what they like to eat, and she said she liked fish. She loved it so much that she just grabbed me and wanted to dance with me.

What recommendation do you wish more people would take you up on?
I wish that people would listen more about what wine goes best with the food. I try not to push very expensive wines, even when I know it’s a better wine for the pairing because sometimes customers see the price, and they think you’re just trying to sell. I don’t do that. I try to stay in between and recommend a wine that’s not too expensive, but it still pairs well with what you’re eating.

What’s your policy when serving customers?
I believe if you are very kind and always have a smile, even when things go wrong, the customer will see that. I always say, ‘Thank you for coming, it was a pleasure serving you.’ I say that to every single person I serve, even to the person that was not kind to me. Just be the same and be yourself. Be real, be kind and be honest.

What’s your favorite dish?
The seafood paella. The way they serve it here is different. There are so many colors, and how it’s served on the plate – it’s like back in the day. Some restaurants just cook it and put it on a plate, but that takes away the authenticity. It’s about the plating. And the steak on the stone is my other favorite because it’s different.

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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.