Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

John Wabeck's High Standards

The general manager of Spoon in East Liberty works to keep service sharp.




photo by laura petrilla

 

John Wabeck, the general manager of Spoon in East Liberty, sips a cold, crisp gin-and-tonic as he preps for the evening’s dinner service. The service-industry veteran has established a reputation as one of the city’s top front-of-house leaders since moving to Pittsburgh in 2012: he also serves as beverage consultant of the S&P Restaurant Group, which in addition to Spoon includes BRGR, G&G Noodle Bar and Willow.

Wabeck, 48, began his restaurant career when he was 15, working in the kitchens of quick-fire seafood shacks and pizza joints in Ocean City, Md. He later leapt into an elite culinary world, cooking in kitchens in Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia before transitioning into front-of-house positions in 2008 so he could fully focus on his master sommelier advancement. He’s since worked to keep alive a tradition that is in danger of being lost, at least in Pittsburgh, to both restaurant-goers and restaurant staff: the art of creating a perfectly catered and properly orchestrated dining experience that doesn’t feel stuffy.

Although the contemporary restaurant climate might encourage hosts to tell guests to “sit anywhere” or offer a trail nod instead of a “thanks for coming” as a goodbye, or for servers to auction off plates instead of delivering each specific dish to the guest that ordered it, Wabeck isn’t going to stop doing things in what he believes is the right way. 

“I don’t think it’s that weird to care about good service. If you’re our guest, you’re not here for us. We’re here for you,” he says. 

Wabeck says the first step to good service is following a basic rule, one that takes intuition and experience to get a sense of but is otherwise a pretty straightforward proposition. “You just need to pay attention to what people want,” he says. 

Sometimes that’s a long conversation about the provenance of a particular bottle of Riesling, but more often than not it’s to take care of guests in such a way that they don’t even realize how they’re being tended.  

For Wabeck, to lead proper service in the front-of-house is a logical leap from his early culinary training. “Just like a chef has to season their food in the kitchen, we have to make sure we’re doing things correctly on the service side. Nobody should serve you with an elbow in your face because they’re using the wrong hand. That’s our salt and pepper,” says Wabeck.

“I hope that attentive service never goes away. Enough people still care that we’re going to continue to do it.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Waste Not: Kelly Lane's Fashion Designs are Eco-Chic

After noting how much fabric ends up in landfills, Pittsburgh designer Kelly Simpson-Scupelli found a way to incorporate the unused scraps into her fashion line.

Three Rivers Champion: Sloane Davidson

Davidson started an organization that gives refugee and immigrant families aid based on real, person-to-person relationships, not transactions.

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

PM on KD: The Fall Weddings Issue

PM Associate Editor Lauren Davidson appears on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to talk about the fall Weddings issue.

The Airbnb of Camping Has Started Pitching Tents in Pennsylvania

The startup Tentrr connects landowners looking for extra cash with interested campers.

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

New TV Series Shot in Pittsburgh Area Premiering This Month

See if you recognize any of the locations in the thriller “One Dollar.”

Bocce, Pasta, Music and More Highlight Little Italy Days

Experience Italian culture and cuisine during Bloomfield’s annual Little Italy Days.

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Comments

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Comments

Apteka’s Roasted Sunflower: Summer's Most Interesting (and Instagramable) Dish?

Apteka’s Roasted Sunflower: Summer's Most Interesting (and Instagramable) Dish?

The owners of the Bloomfield vegan eatery introduce a limited run of whole sunflower heads that you can eat like corn.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

Ah, the good old days. They may be gone, but there are still a few places where you can get a blast from the past.

Comments

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

Comments


Revisiting Fat Head's

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

Comments

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

The new driving-range game is way over the top, but the game it's offering is fun and they'll ensure you have a good time.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
In Ben They Trust

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

Comments

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Ryan Shazier's battle back from a paralyzing injury last season and his subsequent rehabilitation from spinal stabilization surgery is a more compelling saga than the Steelers’ quest to reach Super Bowl LIII.​

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.

Comments

When Asking for Their Hand Doesn’t Go As Planned

When Asking for Their Hand Doesn’t Go As Planned

These proposal faux pas serve as a reminder that sometimes things have to go wrong to end up right.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

Comments

Make Your Mark by Entering Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade

Make Your Mark by Entering Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade

Artists have until Sunday to submit their applications to the independent craft fair held annually in December.

Comments