Watching Katie Kinner-Kerksieck run the front of the house at Cacio, a popular Italian restaurant in Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood, is like taking a master class in customer service. Don’t have a reservation? She’ll happily squeeze you in at the bar or fit you in tomorrow night. Running late? She’ll hold your seat without grousing about it. Need a wine recommendation? She can make expert suggestions without a whiff of wine snobbery.
Kinner-Kerksieck, who owns and manages the 31-seat restaurant with her husband, chef Jonathan Kerksieck, was born to serve. She polished her natural talent for hospitality at some of the city’s best restaurants and at The Citizen Hotel, where she met her husband a decade ago. “Some aspect of providing good service is innate,” she says, “but I also learned a lot from (food and beverage director) Troy Christian when I was at The Citizen about how to manage guests. I discovered there’s a big difference between transactional service and transformational service. It’s all about having the ability to create an experience for someone.”
At Cacio, creating an experience is exactly what Kinner-Kerksieck excels at. “The highest compliment is when people say that they feel like they’re in my living room,” she says. “Our restaurant isn’t for everyone because it is so small, but that’s what I love about it. I love that I can see every salad that goes out. I love that I can talk to every guest in the dining room and create that transformational experience for a guest.”
What are her tricks for handling a customer who’s disappointed or disgruntled? “Just being direct and honest is the best approach,” says Kinner-Kerksieck. “Letting them know their options is always something that alleviates frustration. So many restaurants live in the land of no. We try to be really solution-based.”
Of course, arriving at a solution requires the guest to speak up promptly about problems they encounter. Belated negative feedback, particularly on social media, is difficult to tune out. “We always appreciate feedback when something is off, when people give you the opportunity to correct it while they’re here versus telling us everything was great and then hopping on Yelp to complain,” she says. “I can only control what’s happening in front of me.”
Still, Kinner-Kerksieck doesn’t let the critics get her down. “I started my master’s degree in counseling about 12 years ago, but I fell back into food and beverage because I needed to talk to humans every day. I needed to talk to them about things that are in my world, and food and beverage is my passion.”