Sunday, August 5, 2012

Securing the Dinner Reservation: Sophisticated Cocktails

Being a bon vivant means enjoying the best that life has to offer.  And many times, that comes in the form of a great meal.  But that great meal is not always easy to order.  As with most things in life, things worth having are worth fighting for. Which means that even if you call for a reservation and are told that the next open table is in four to six weeks, don’t take “no” for an answer.  Try these tricks, and you will be ordering that six-course chef tasting menu and wine pairing before the night is through.

In order to beat the system, you must first understand it.  A misconception that people have is that restaurants are holding tables. They aren’t.  To the contrary, many restaurants actually overbook so that there are more reservations than tables.  That is why most of the better ones require confirmation of your reservation.  Restaurants have this down to a science: they know how many “no-shows” there will be in a given night, how long a typical dinner lasts, and how many customers can wait at the bar and hostess podium.

Restaurants also have customer databases, where they keep track of the generous tippers, the bigger spenders and—equally important—the problem customers.  This works to your advantage, if you act correctly. Instead of calling and asking for a table, let the hostess know that you are friends with a customer (or better yet, you are that customer) who is in favor with the establishment.

Finally, 9:00 is the hardest time to get, then 8:00, then 7:15 and then 10:15. [Note: Add approximately two hours to these times if you are in Europe or South America]  Large tables (6 or more) and reservations for 2 are the hardest to get.  Believe it or not, a table of 4 is easier to secure than 2 (just think about how many couples are out on dates).

So, now that you know the system, you can beat it.

·              If you can, stop by the restaurant beforehand and take a look around, especially taking notice of the hostess. Then, when you call, you can say something like “Hi, I was there a few weeks ago and you might have helped me. Were you the one with red hair in the front?”  This helps to establish a rapport.  You may even call once or twice just to ask some basic questions, “Hi. What’s your website? Thank you, may I ask your name so when I call back I can ask for you?”  Then, when you do call back,you can act more casual and on a first-name basis, which helps set you apart from the hundreds of other callers.

·              When you are told that the restaurant is fully booked, ask about the schedule for the evening.  Try something like“If we come in around 7:30 and promise to get the table back to you by 8:45, would that work?” By acknowledging the system, you have established yourself as an insider, and the hostess will likely try to accommodate you.

·              Ask if you can be put on the waiting list.  And 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. Not only do restaurants first look at the wait list to replace cancelled reservations, but they usually go out of their way for a diner who shows a real interest in their food. 

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).  As a tip, weekends can be the best time to land these last-minute tables since the reservation lines are not tied up by office assistants phoning in requests for their bosses.

·              Even if you don’t have a reservation, you can still get a table just by showing up.  The secret is never to speak to the hostess at the podium.  Every other waiting customer is huddled around the podium and keeping track of who checks in and when to make sure no one cuts in front of them.  Therefore, the hostess can’t do you any favors if everyone sees you asking for one; to quote a well-known concierge, you are “podium poison.”  Instead, wait to get the hostess’s attention when she is away from the podium.  And when you do, start the conversation by complimenting her at how amazing she is at handling the crowd.  Trust me, no one else has, which sets you in her good graces.

·              Don’t be a douche.  She doesn’t care “who you are” or what title is on your business card. And don’t be pushy or ask “how much” for a table. 

·              Instead, acknowledge that you are aware of the system but messed up.  Let her know how badly you want a table.  Then, offer to wait at the bar for “as long as it takes” and tell her that “you are going be patient and hope that she can some how squeeze you in.”  Then go hang out at the bar, order an appetizer, and talk to the bartender.  Let him know what you are doing.  By being nice to the two most important “gate keepers,” you will end up with a table.

·              Finally, if all else fails, consider joining a private concierge group.  While a top-of-the-line service comes with every Vertu phone or Centurian AmEx, you can also join private services in your city.  These services can prove quite handy in securing those hard-to-get reservations for you because they have already established the relationships that are needed to obtain that last-minute booking.

Once you are in, show them that they were right to give you a table by ordering a drink that says “I have taste.”  While waiting at the bar, order an Easy Does It.

1 oz. Plymouth Gin
½ oz. Aperol
¼ oz. Campari
1 oz. grapefruit juice
½ oz. simple syrup
3 raspberries

***Shake all ingredients (except raspberries) over ice.  Strain over one large ice cube and garnish with 3 raspberries on a skewer.

If you need to order another round, order up a DLB.

1 oz. Rhum Barbancourt 8 yr.
½ oz. Fernet Branca
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. Angostura bitters
¼ oz. Angostura orange bitters
¼ oz. Peychaud bitters

***Shake over ice and strain into chilled coupe glass

And once you are at your table, show them that you are a man of taste and sophistication by reading the menu while drinking a Globetrotter.

1.5 oz. Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey
¾ oz. VSOP Cognac
¾ oz. Bénédictine
½ oz. Rhum Clément Creole Shrubb (or Curacao if unavailable)
1 dash Orange bitter

***Stir over ice and strain over one large ice cube.  Garnish with an orange twist.

Bob Dylan said, “man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”  Living life is about exploring new things and not letting anything, even an “I’m sorry, we are all booked,” stand in your way. 

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