FOOD & DINING
Who doesn’t love a good challenge? While the meal itself might be amazing, sometimes the thrill of the reservation chase makes the foodie experience more fun. From dining at Jiro’s famous sushi restaurant in Tokyo to eating the famous meatballs at Rao’s in East Harlem, getting reservations aren’t always easy. But if you follow the below strategies you’ll be able to secure reservations at your restaurant of choice!
1) Pick Up the Phone
So many people rely on third-party websites these days like OpenTable or Yelp to make a reservation, and then when there is no availability or the restaurant doesn’t take reservations online people give up without a fight.
I’ve landed so many reservations by simply giving the restaurant a call. At the very least, they will explain to you how their reservation process works and from there you can set up your strategy. For example, by calling Mario Batali’s Babbo in New York City and asking them about their reservation process, I learned that tables open up exactly one month in advance of the day you call, and that their lines open at 10:00 a.m. So exactly one month before my friend’s birthday I called at 10:00 a.m. sharp and was able to secure a table for an awesome dinner.
2) Show Up!
Movie director Woody Allen once said that 80% of success in life comes just from showing up. So why not apply it to your dining experience?! If the restaurant in favor is dinging me or I can’t get through via telephone, I’ve had a lot of success by simply showing up and speaking with the host or hostess about their next availability. If you have to book a reservation a month or more out, just put it on the calendar! And sometimes when you show up they might even be able to squeeze you in that night.
Tip: Always ask to be placed on the waitlist if no tables are available. Waitlist tables open up much more frequently than you’d think.
3) Hotel & Credit Card Concierges
I have also found much success using Hotel and Credit Card concierge services to make reservations. This was the case after watching the Netflix documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi and wanting to eat there during my first trip to Tokyo.
A friend told me her hotel concierge was able to secure her a reservation there, so for two of my five nights in Tokyo I stayed at the ANA Intercontinental to take advantage of their concierge resources and secure reservations at Sukiyabashi Jiro as well as several other great places.
Tip: Sign up for a travel credit card (most will waive the annual fee for the first year) and use their concierge service as your personal social organizer. So many people have these benefits but are unaware and do not take advantage of them. Concierge services are especially helpful with foreign language bookings. I had them make my reservations when traveling to Cuba.
4) The Bait & Switch
This is a move I’ve used before to improve my reservation time or party size. Often if you call a popular restaurant they will offer up tables at either “5pm or midnight.” Instead of letting that scare you off, book one of those times. Then call back later in the week asking to change my reservation time.
This doesn’t always work, but I have had much better success going from an existing 5pm reservation to 8pm than trying to get an 8pm table without a pre-existing reservation to begin with.
For trips to countries like Japan, Hong Kong and others in Asia, you’ll definitely want to check out Voyagin’s reservation services. If you can’t find your restaurant of choice on the list, they will help you make the reservation that you want. We recommend them for your Asia reservation needs!
Voyagin is my go-to resource for reservations in Japan. Getting ready for my meal at Fujiya 1935 in Osaka!
6) Sit at the Bar
Being flexible about sitting at the bar can help you get into your restaurant of choice. You can almost always order off the same menu and you can potentially save weeks trying to get a reservation.
7) Be an Early Customer
By following foodie websites and even following foodies on Instagram you can stay in the know about what the best new restaurants are. When you see something good, go check it out before all the hype spreads and the waitlist is a month out.
8) Go Alone
If you really have a burning desire to try a restaurant and are having a hard time getting in, try visiting the restaurant alone. Sushi Dai at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is notorious for its 4+ hour waits that are deemed worth it. While I befriended two awesome guys from Hong Kong while in line, after only an hour I was called up to fill an empty single seat at the sushi bar. Sorry guys, it’s time for me to eat!
Dan Barber is the co-owner and chef at Blue Hill in New York City as well as Blue Hill at Stone Barnes.The latter is an incredible farm-to-table experience located on a farm in Westchester, New York. Once we became aware of the reservation policy where tables open 60 days prior to the meal we set calendar alerts and diligently contacted the restaurant over the course of several weeks until the table finally open.
While this sounds crazy, you also might want to network. There’s an old school Italian restaurant in New York City called Rao’s that doesn’t take any reservations at all. The tables are all “owned,” meaning that select people who have been dining there for years now have access to their table once a month for every month, and no outside reservations are available. To score a seat, I had to tap into my network, ultimately stumbling upon a connection that had a table to share with me for an evening!
Wrapping up a delicious meal at Rao’s in Harlem, New York!
10) Still Can’t Land Your Reservation?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you get your table!