The Problem-Solving Guide to Restaurants
Problem: The restaurant is fully booked.
Solution: Put yourself on a waiting list. “People are often reluctant to do that, but it’s the first place we look,” says Tobie Cancino, maître d’ at Café Gray, a popular French restaurant in New York City. Don’t be afraid to emphasize how much you want that table, as your eagerness may help persuade the staff to fit you in, even when they’re booked. “We will go out of our way for a diner who shows a real interest in our food,” says Sandy Hanson, a manager at the New Orleans Creole restaurant Brigtsen’s.
You can also get lucky by checking the restaurant for cancellations around the time the staff may be calling to confirm parties for the evening (often before or after lunch), suggests Tom Sietsema, a food critic for the Washington Post. Surprisingly, weekends can be the best time to land these last-minute tables, notes Michael Kaplan in his book The Best Time to Do Everything, as the reservation lines are not tied up by office assistants phoning in requests for their bosses. If you still can’t snag a coveted Saturday-night table, consider making a reservation on a Wednesday or Thursday, when you’re nearing the weekend “but you’re not going to get crushed by the weekend crowd,” says Craig LaBan, the restaurant critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Problem: You are running late and don’t want to lose your reservation.
Solution: Be sure to call if you’re more than 15 minutes behind schedule. Be specific about what is delaying you: the babysitter, traffic, or a work meeting. And be clear on when you expect to arrive. If you are so late that your table has been given away, apologize and ask, “Is there anything you can do for us?” says Gordon Hamersley of the Boston bistro Hamersley’s. Most restaurants get far more last-minute cancellations than they’d like to admit, so the chances are slim that there will be nothing available for you all night. “Up to 20 percent of our reservations turn out to be no-shows on weekends at prime-time hours,” says Godfrey Polistina, owner of the New York City restaurants Ouest and ’Cesca. Many restaurants also have at least one reserve table that they reluctantly bring out for unexpected situations, says Hamersley, but these often go to regular customers.
If the restaurant truly cannot offer you a table, try eating at the bar, Sietsema suggests: “You’ll get a sense of the restaurant’s items and the chef’s style, and the food might even be cheaper.” As a bonus, you can forge a relationship with the staff, increasing your likelihood of getting―and keeping―future reservations.