A lot of hungry people read and commented on my recent 3-star Parisian dining experiences at Le Meurice and Guy Savoy. In case you’re ready to shell out the dough yourself for a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience, I asked Michelin for a few tips on how to score a hard-to-get reservation at a top restaurant. Here’s what they said:
1. Be persistent: When the reservation phone line offers a continuous busy signal, become friends with your redial button. To multiply your chances, dial simultaneously from your home phone and cell phone (and, I’d say, recruit a friend or two to help). If you are making the reservation online, be the first to take advantage of a late cancellation by clicking “refresh” often. Also, visit the restaurant’s reservation page in the middle of the night, when most systems refresh their data.
2. Be polite: Try visiting the restaurant in person, and ask the host for the availability of a table on the appointed evening. Always be understanding when the answer is no, and say thank you when he offers to add you to the wait list. Being polite may even move you up the list a few slots! Also, when you are added to the wait list, it’s okay to follow up with the restaurant rather than waiting for them to call you.
3. Be flexible: If possible, try calling the day before or day of. Tables often open up when restaurants are phoning their reconfirmations and often they hold back tables for VIPs that will become available at the last moment. If your schedule allows – and if you want to eat there bad enough – offer to come in very early or very late.
To these, I would add my own:
4. Become familiar with the restaurant’s reservation procedures: Many of the top restaurants keep their reservation books shut for a month or two until the meal, opening the phone lines only at a particular time. For example, Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant in London opens its books at 9 a.m., precisely two months to the date. So go to the website and read the instructions. It may seem like a game, but you can’t win until you know the rules.
5. If you’re a true foodie, you may have to build your trip around the reservation. For a restaurant such as Ferran Adria’s ElBulli, in Spain, you might need to book the table before you buy the plane ticket. Once the restaurant opens its books for the year, tables are gone in a matter of days, with requests sent by email or fax only. I’ve known people who have done this for their honeymoon (and honestly, their reservation request may have stood out because one of them was a noted US chef). Once you’re in, the persistence will have paid off; blogs have reported that 50 % of ElBulli’s tables are held for returning guests, so they can see how the famously innovative cuisine has progressed (the restaurant is actually closing for a few years in 2012, so look for 2011 reservations to open late this year).
6. OpenTable can open doors. Several restaurats use the online service, which can be gamed, especially for day-of cancellations. For example, at 10 a.m. today, I found a table for four at Thomas Keller’s New York restaurant Per Se for 6 p.m. tonight, a Friday night, no less. Hint: if you’re flexible about what time you eat, enter 7:30 p.m., as OpenTable checks two hours before and two hours after your preferred time.
7. And so can an excellent concierge. But ask before you arrive, preferably more than 60 days out, to give him or her time to work the connections. If the he or she gets you in, don’t forget to tip!
8. If you fail, there’s always lunch. Not all 3-star Michelin restaurants serve lunch, of course. Honestly, when I’m on the road, I often choose this option for expensive restaurants. Sure, you don’t get the drama of the complete experience at lunch, and often the chef isn’t there. But you do get to experience the atmosphere for less money, and usually at least one or two of the chef’s signature dishes. At Guy Savoy Paris, you can still get the artichoke and truffle soup at lunch, for example – which is an amazing dish no matter what time you eat it!
Got any first-hard experience to add? Tell me your reservation scores below!