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Table Trouble: How to Get Into the Top Restaurants
Even foodies with fat wallets can have a tough time getting into the most raved-about restaurants, some of which require reservations months in advance. Here are a few tips to maximize your success rate.

Table at Per Se courtesy of Per Se

If you think waiting an hour for a table is too long, try waiting several months. When a restaurant is new and hot or simply very exclusive, getting a reservation isn’t always easy. Luckily, there are some things you can do to try and snag one.

Photo of Per Se in New York City courtesy of Thomas Keller Restaurant Group

Lobster at Per Se courtesy of Per Se

Plan ahead

Making reservations at the beginning of the week for dinner at the end of the week may seem more than reasonable to most people, but at the hardest-to-book restaurants, that’s wishful thinking. Per Se in New York, which only has 16 tables, takes reservations up to one month to the calendar date and gets about 300 reservation requests a day, says Gerald San Jose, communications manager for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. At sister restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. reservations are taken two months in advance.

The best advice? Find out the restaurant’s reservation policy and call as soon as the line opens. If it’s busy, call back later in the day to capitalize on cancellations, San Jose says.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Keller Restaurant Group

Woman on Phone Using Netbook in Cafe reuters

Tell your story

If you want to make a reservation, saying “I want a table for two on Saturday,” may not get you as far as explaining why you want a table (i.e. – Is it for a special occasion? Who will you be celebrating with? Why do you want reservations at this particular restaurant?)

“You'd be amazed at how sharing more of your story or context around why you want to dine there can help the person on the other side want to help,” says Young Yun, director of concierge services for Platinum and Centurion cardholders at American Express.

Photo courtesy of Reuters

The Bazaar Restaurant

Make friends

If you’re itching to get a table at a certain restaurant, it may pay to spend some time getting to know the staff there. Yun says that having a drink at the bar and becoming friendly with staff members could pave the way for you getting a table in the future. Yun adds that, in some cases, they may even give you a private number or email to make your reservation.

“Being a regular and showing that you are loyal and a frequent guest can help make you a VIP so you don't have issues getting a table,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Reuters

Chef Cooking reuters

Be flexible

When it comes to landing a table at the restaurants with the tightest reservation lists, beggars can’t be choosers (unless, of course, they choose a different restaurant). In many cases, having a very early or very late dinner may be the only option – and if you’re dead set on trying a certain restaurant, you should probably take what you can get.

Photo courtesy of Reuters

Waiter at Restaurant Serving

Take a walk

Some diners may not realize it, but even the hardest-to-book restaurants sometimes leave tables open for walk-ins, says Yun.

The tiny, but oh-so-in-demand, restaurant Little Owl in New York’s West Village, for instance, doesn’t accept reservations for weekend brunch and leaves three of its 10 tables open to walk-ins each night. The Red Rooster in Harlem also leaves a certain number of tables free each for walk-ins each night.

 

Man Counting Money Cash Dollars

Realize there are limits 

Some restaurants are simply too tough to get into. Rao’s in East Harlem, New York is perhaps the most notorious in this category, as the 10-table Italian restaurant accepts neither walk-ins nor standard reservations. Tables at Rao’s are essentially owned the way season tickets are owned and reportedly cost customers anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000, not including the cost of the food.

 

Table Trouble: How to Get Into the Top Restaurants

Even foodies with fat wallets can have a tough time getting into the most raved-about restaurants, some of which require reservations months in advance. Here are a few tips to maximize your success rate.

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