How can I get a table at a top restaurant?

Right this way, sir.
Right this way, sir.
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At most restaurants customers can simply walk in or "drive thru" and are served without a hassle. The only time a reservation might be necessary is for special occasions, like Valentine's Day or prom night. Those without much fine dining experience might be surprised to learn that there are restaurants at which every table is booked every night, often months in advance.

What sets these "top restaurants" apart from the others? World-class chefs, innovative cuisine, a stylish atmosphere and an impeccable service staff. Add a great review by a world-renowned food critic and hungry highrollers will come in droves. So how do you get in?

People use all kinds of creative tactics to line up a table at a top restaurant -- including claiming to be friends of the owner or even claiming celebrity. The reality is that anyone can get a sought-after table; all it requires is some planning and a little bit of luck.

If you decide to celebrate a special day or impress a client with a fine dining experience, start researching the restaurant's reservation policies several months ahead of time. Most establishments accept reservations one to three months in advance, so the earlier you call, the more likely you are to get a table.

The day and time at which you're willing to dine also affects your chances. Friday and Saturday are the busiest days of the week, and peak hours are usually noon to 2 p.m. for lunch and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner. So you're much more likely to score a 5:30 dinner reservation on a Monday than one at 7:30 on a Friday. This strategy of dining during off-peak hours also works well when a restaurant doesn't accept reservations.

If all else fails, just show up when you're hungry; sometimes last-minute cancellations open up previously-reserved tables. More on that on the next page.