People have been known to beg for a last-minute table at Fore Street.

Others use sentimentality laced with a touch of guilt, telling full-time reservationist Joshua Doré that they are celebrating a special birthday or anniversary. Can’t he squeeze them in somewhere?

Doré tells them, ever so politely, no. Even when a woman from the United Kingdom who summers in Maine called on June 16 seeking a dinner reservation for Aug. 17, he told her to call back the next day – the popular Portland restaurant accepts reservations no more than two months in advance.

Looking for a table in July? Ha! July is already off the table. Has been for weeks.

Maine is entering its peak season for restaurant dining, and Doré (pronounced Doh-ray) is feeling the heat. Perched on a bar stool at the hostess’ station, he has a glass of water at his fingertips to soothe his raspy voice, and he’s just a few steps from the men’s room, should he need to make a hasty run for it between phone calls.

Fore Street is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, yet it can be as difficult to get a summertime reservation today as it was when it opened in June 1996 – or during the summer of 2004, just after chef/co-owner Sam Hayward won a James Beard award. This time of year, Doré is tied to his phone from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. He answers 60 to 80 phone calls an hour – that’s around 400 a day – from eager diners hoping to snag one of the hardest-to-get tables in town. That number does not include answering voice mail or confirming reservations for that evening.

This year, Fore Street hired an extra person to work a few hours in the evening, to take some of the pressure off Doré during the busy season.

SAYING ‘NO’ WITH ‘PANACHE AND GRACE’

Doré thinks he is one of the very few full-time reservationists in Maine. A few other high-end spots – such as Natalie’s restaurant at the Camden Harbour Inn and Tempo Dulu in Portland – employ them. But it’s more common that the task of taking reservations is split among a restaurant’s front-of-the-house staff.

As Doré makes calls, cooks run around the dining room, a bartender organizes things behind the bar, and other staff members clean. A delicious aroma is already coming from the kitchen. Doré remains focused and calm.

“Good afternoon, Fore Street. I’m doing well, thank you. Let’s have a look here. Two guests confirmed for tomorrow at 7:30, absolutely. (Pause) We have no dress code whatsoever. Comfortable, casual, be as you are. No problem.”

Doré’s boss, general manager Robyn Violette, has tried answering the phones herself and says it “can be very taxing.”

“His position is very high volume and has a high amount of stress,” she said. “We have to say ‘no’ a lot because we only have 30 tables, but he handles it with such panache and grace.”

Doré, who has been at Fore Street for seven years, is modest about his flair for hospitality.

“Because I’ve been doing this so long, it’s just muscle memory,” Doré said. “I come in, do my job, and I go home every day. To bystanders and the people who don’t know how I repeat myself 1,500 times a day, it can seem daunting, when to me it’s just Tuesday.”

“Just Tuesday,” though, includes the worst reservation days of the year – that weekend toward the end of July when parents flock to Maine to visit their children at summer camp. This year that weekend falls on July 22-24. Doré began taking calls at 10 a.m. on May 22 for July 22 reservations.

By 10:16 a.m., the restaurant was sold out. The same thing happened on May 23 and 24.

‘DIRECTOR OF 1ST IMPRESSIONS’

Doré is a boyish 35 and lives in Falmouth with his partner and a new puppy. He dresses casually for work; on this day, he’s wearing a pink-and-white gingham shirt, flip flops and a Patagonia cap. He began his career in hospitality at age 18 as a valet at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk. Later, he became a jack of all trades at the Portland Harbor Hotel, working as a desk clerk, concierge and valet.

Doré’s sister worked at Fore Street back then, and suggested he apply. He got a server’s assistant job and quickly moved up through the ranks. He’s grown to love the reservationist job and says he plans to stay as long as they’ll have him – “or until Megabucks happens.”

On his Facebook page, Doré lists his job as the “director of 1st impressions at Fore Street.” He typically arrives two hours before his shift to check his messages and get himself organized. By 9 a.m., he’s returned all the messages from the night before, and by 10 a.m. he starts confirming reservations for the next day. In his very rare quiet moments, Doré says he writes haiku or visits his “contemplation station,” a table by a window overlooking Casco Bay.

Doré has his chatter down pat, to the point he has been accused of being a recording:

“This is Joshua calling from Fore Street restaurant, just looking to confirm your reservation for X amount of people at X time. If you would not mind giving me a very quick confirmation call, I can be reached here at area code 207-775-2717. I thank you kindly.”

Rattling this off from memory is about more than getting through the work quickly, though. Doré says it’s also about credibility and accountability. If he ad libs, he’s more likely to confuse the guest or himself and possibly make promises he can’t keep.

“Every job is different. Every guest is different,” Doré said. “The way that you speak to one person may not be the way you are able to interact with another person. Some people are very straight and narrow, some people like to have more fun. They’ll joke with you on the phone. You have to be able to read your guest without being able to see your guest, which is a learned talent. Is this a sir or madam conversation, or can I call you Scott?”

‘LITTLE TOUCHES’ MAKE A DIFFERENCE

His job entails more than reservations. If you’ve ever celebrated a special occasion at Fore Street, Doré is the one who wrote the “Happy Birthday” note you found at your table, or made sure the kitchen wrote “Happy Anniversary” in chocolate on your dessert plate. If you ordered gift certificates for your bridesmaids, he’s the one who filled out the paperwork. Prefer olive oil to butter with your bread? Doré will note that in the restaurant’s computer and the next time you come in, there will be olive oil on your table.

“The guest experience here is why Fore Street has been here for 20 years and continues to grow the way that it does,” Doré said. “It begins with answering the phone and it ends with little touches.”

Doré also manages the walk-ins – people who wait in lines that sometimes stretch around the block for one of the nine or so tables the restaurant holds every day for people without reservations. If he can’t get you a reservation, he considers it his duty to teach you how the walk-ins work. Don’t show up for the walk-in line at 7 p.m., he says, because the restaurant will probably be booked for the evening by then. Get there at 5.

He might also suggest eating at the bar, or having a drink in the lounge, or even visiting another Portland restaurant – Hugo’s, maybe, or Lolita’s.

“Hello, this is Joshua from Fore Street restaurant. So you’re looking for 14 people on Friday, June 24? We’re fully booked on reservations that evening, unfortunately. Would you like a recommendation?”

EASING DISAPPOINTMENT FOR CALLERS

A big part of Doré’s job is dealing with diners’ disappointment when they can’t get in.

“People from Manhattan and big cities with crazy dining options, when they come to little Portland, Maine, they’re blown away,” Doré said. “They can’t fathom how we could be booked. What caliber restaurant is this if we’re calling a week in advance, or a month in advance, and we’re not having any luck?”

A little empathy goes a long way.

“I absolutely, 100 percent understand that this is your anniversary. I’m so terribly sorry that I’m not able to offer you a reservation.”

Does asking to speak to the manager help? You’re welcome to do that, but, um, no.

Yes, he will add you to the cancellation list in case something comes open, but realize that list may already be 110 people long. He’s doing it to comfort you so you don’t feel your last bit of hope has been snatched away. It’s a Band-Aid for your crushed spirit.

“If anything does open, I’ll be sure to give you a call.”

How about slipping Doré a $20 bill? Nope. Real life is not like the movies, Doré says.

“If I had a reservation to offer you, I would 100 percent give it,” he said. “I’m basically ungreaseable because I have no place to put you.”

Similarly, there is no “potential VIPness” at Fore Street, Doré said.

“I treat all guests the same,” he said. “When you walk through that door, you’re on the same playing field.”

Occasionally someone claims to be good friends with Hayward or his business partner, Dana Street. He’ll be very upset if you don’t find me a table, they tell Doré.

Even if this is true, this strategy only works if you can get Hayward or Street to call Doré directly, and even then Doré may not be able to juggle things around enough to make room.

“People in certain positions of power don’t usually get told ‘no,’ ” Doré said. “They have an existence where, if they have not gotten their way, then someone will have gotten their way for them. That sounds arrogant, and I don’t mean for it to come off like that. Certain clientele have certain standards and expect to be treated to these certain standards because maybe in their hometown, their clout goes further.”

THE OCCASIONAL ‘PARTICULAR’ GUEST

Doré is careful not to judge difficult guests. The term “high maintenance” is not in his vocabulary. He prefers “particular” or “opinionated.”

And he says the number of difficult guests pales in comparison to those who, after trying for months, are excited about finally getting to eat at Fore Street.

Doré can’t help but share one “particular” guest story. When Scales, a much-talked-about new seafood restaurant in Portland from Street and Hayward, was getting ready to open this spring but didn’t yet have a phone number, Doré fielded all of the inquiries about the place. When is it opening? What is on the menu?

“This woman calls me and she was so frustrated that she couldn’t find Scales’ number on the internet,” Doré recalled. “And she says to me, ‘I am desperately seeking Scah-lays phone number.’

I said, ‘I’m sorry madam, you’re looking for whom? Scales?’ ”

She slowed it down for him as if he were an idiot, and replied: “I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Scah-lays.”

Doré put on his old-school hospitality hat.

“Oh, OK, of course, absolutely. My apologies. I didn’t hear you the first time. It must have been a bad connection.”