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How To Get an Impromptu Table at an Exclusive Restaurant

Friday, January 16, 2009
By Dan

I may be risking my blue collar bona fides here, but my favorite restaurant is Nobu in lower Manhattan.  If you’ve never had the pleasure, Nobu is a fantastic restaurant that was really the first Asian-fusion restaurant.  The menu is Japanese style dishes with South American spices.  Really fantastic food, and the staff are the most friendly and courteous around.  Many people go for the celebrity watching, but not me.  If I want to see Denzel Washington or Robert Deniro (Mr. Deniro is co-owner of Nobu), I’ll rent a movie.  For me, it’s the food.

The problem with Nobu, if there is one, is that it is famously difficult to get a reservation.  So here now, at great personal expense (in that you may be taking my table), is Daily Danet’s advice for getting a table at an exclusive restaurant.  The premise here is that you’re trying to get a table the day of.  If this is a truly special occasion, you will want to call ahead and make a reservation.  Most restaurants will only book 30 days in advance, so call early.

  1. Show up.  The first, and most valuable tip, is to just show up.  Exclusive restaurants need to be flexible to accommodate last minute requests from special guests.  For example, if Mariah Carey shows up with 5 friends, the manager will need to have space available for 6 people.  But restaurants are a business like any other, and no manager wants their restaurant empty in the event Mariah doesn’t show up.
    Use this to your advantage.  Show up at the restaurant and ask if they have anything available.  You may be told no, you may be told to wait, or you may be asked to eat quickly and be out before another party arrives.  The key, though is that, if you’re already there, they will try to accommodate you.  This is not the same as calling ahead.  If you call to see if anything is available, you’ll likely be told no, as the manager will not want to hold a table indefinitely for someone who could be a minute or an hour away.
    This doesn’t always work, but Nobu in Manhattan is in TriBeCa, and is surrounded by several fantastic (though not equal) restaurants.  (The same is probably true of the exclusive restaurant you’re planning on trying).  If this doesn’t work with the first restaurant, try the next one.
  2. Be flexible and patient.  Whether you just show up or if you’ve called ahead, being calm, patient and flexible are the next best tips.  No one, not the hostess, the manager or the owner want an (unfamous) schmuck in their restaurant.  If they know you’re a cool customer, they’re more likely to help you out.  Also, the manager may be trying to do their best for you, and that may mean you need to wait a half hour or an hour.  People always want to help you more if you’re calm, kind and flexible.  If you convey to them that you’re happy to wait, they will work that much harder for you.
  3. Don’t be that guy. Similarly, don’t be the guy (or gal) who thinks he’s all that.  The people who work at exclusive restaurants are the type of people who can tell Paris Hilton she has to wait five minutes, they’re not going to be impressed with your $100 bill, your flashing designer brands or bragging on your cell phone about the mega merger you closed.  If you can’t get over yourself, you will be eating alone for a long time (and not at Nobu).
  4. Bribes Do NOT work.  In the same vein, slipping the hostess/host a $20 or a $100 will embarrass you and her or him.  Most high-end restaurants discourage tipping managers and hostesses on the way in.  If you’re unable to restrain yourself from splashing cash, tip more than usual, at the table and at the coatcheck.  But keep in mind, these people deal with clientelle far more impressive than you on a daily basis.
  5. Dress the part.  Each restaurant has its own, implicit dress code.  Nobu is distinctly classy casual.  Dark jeans, a dark button down shirt untucked and a leather jacket are my staples.  Daniel in midtown is jacket required.  The key is to understand what regulars wear and dress accordingly.  You won’t impress anyone at Nobu by wearing a three piece suit, nor will you score points at Daniel by wearing jeans and a button down.
  6. Go regularly.  This may not work with you budget, especially these days, but if at all possible, go regularly.  Once a year for a birthday, or three or four times a year for special occaissions is enough.  If you get to know the staff, they will remember you and treat you the same as all their other regulars.
  7. Tip well. Not to be too contrary to number 4, tipping is an important part of building a reputation with a restaurant.  Tipping the waitstaff and coatcheck attendant is not only acceptable, it’s expected.  Tipping the manager, at best is awkward, at worst is an insult.  As for the amount, in New York, tipping anything less than 15% will get you banned for life.  Tipping anything more than 25% means you’re not good at math.  I usually shoot for the high end, around 20%.


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