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.

No Reservation? No Problem!

OK, let's say it's Friday night, 7:30 and the restaurant is packed. You have no reservation, and the waiting list is a mile long. In this case it's helpful to know the owner, which will almost always land you a table. If you don't, you may need to grease a few palms. Paying the host for a table is common in the movies, but does it work in real life?

Surprisingly, it does, though policies on such "bribing" or "tipping" vary from restaurant to restaurant. Some see it as a normal part of business, while others look down on it with disgust. If you decide to go for it, dress nicely and bring along a single $20, $50, or $100 bill, neatly folded with the amount showing. Isolate the head host, approach him or her confidently, and request a table while discreetly presenting the bill. If the host accepts it and is able to find you a table, tip the staff generously and ask for the host's business card on your way out. This allows you to build a relationship with the host that will make getting a table much easier the next time.

And here's something else to chew on, before you click over to the links on the next page: If you think bribing the host is expensive, wait until you get the bill at Aragawa, an exclusive Tokyo steakhouse. It costs about $550 a person to eat at this top restaurant, which commonly heads Forbes Magazine's list of the world's priciest eating establishments.

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Sources

  • "The S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants 2010." Restaurant Magazine. 2010. (April 28, 2010)http://www.theworlds50best.com/
  • Feiler, Bruce. "Pocketful of Dough." Gourmet Magazine. October 2000. (April 29, 2010)http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2000/10/pocketful
  • Moore, Fernanda. "The Priceless Payoff." New York Magazine. May 21, 2005.http://nymag.com/nymetro/shopping/features/9939/
  • Fabricant, Florence. "The Not-So-Gentle Art of Getting a Table." The New York Times. June 11, 1997. (April 28, 2010).http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/11/garden/the-not-so-gentle-art-of-getting-a-table.html?pagewanted=1
  • Tantillo, John. "How to Make a Reservation at a HOT Restaurant." Fox News Channel iMag. Feb. 18, 2010. (April 29, 2010).
  • Le Draoulec, Pascale. "World's Priciest Restaurants." Forbes Magazine. Nov. 14, 2007. (April 30, 2010)http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/14/restaurants-meals-expensive-forbeslife-cx_pl_1114restaurants.html