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Reservations only avail at "5:30 or 10:30"

Why can you only get reservations at the top restaurants at 5:30 PM or 10:30 (or some sort of variation)?

I used the 'Per Se' method (calling 1 or 2 months in advance at the exact time reservations are taken) at 2 places (Babbo, Le Bernadin) and still got the dredded 5:30 or 10:30 options.

Who gets to eat at 6, 7 and 8 PM?

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  1. Not sure if NYC is that much different from SF, but:

    It could also be that this moron has hosed up all the prime times:

    1. I have found that at most restaurants, including Babbo, that if you call at whatever time they start taking calls on the day they open the book you can usually get the time you want +/- 30 minutes. Being even a day or even hours off can make the difference. Annoying but what are you going to do.

      If you have an amex card (not sure if its gold or platinum and above) their concierge can usually get you table even if you are shut down when calling yourself.

      I think it also comes down to pacing. Restaurants need to time the kitchen to keep things as smooth as possible and maximize turnover so they may only seat 2 tables at 8 then 2 at 7:45, 2 at 7:30 etc... so the "prime time" tables go quickly since only a few exist.

      2 Replies
      1. re: matt

        Not any Amex card, it's the Centurion (a.k.a. black) one that does the trick:


        1. re: RicRios

          Not true. Platinum Card & Gold card services also have concierge assistance and "premium tables". I also know the Amex Circles concierges use opentable.com for their basic requests, but they also have arrangements with select restaurants that will release held tables for them.

      2. This is precisely why I don't eat at very many places that require reservations. I don't need the attitude; I don't need to be told "5:30 or 9:30, but we may have a cancellation" followed by an hour of walking from restaurant to restaurant begging to be taken in and fed as though I were a vagrant or a stray cat. The last time I took a 9:30 reservation, when we were finally seated (at 9:50) I was told that the entire kitchen was closing at 10:00 and to order all of my food in those ten minutes. We got up, had words with the manager, and went to a kabob shop.

        I'm fine with making reservations in advance -- days or a week in advance, even. I'm aware how valuable reservations are in terms of planning. I hate the attitude. I don't eat "over the hill" in LA very often because I always get this sort of treatment -- and I'm not likely to become a regular if I'm forced to dine at such hours.

        1. i'm in the business and would prefer to eat earlier. the kitchen is fresh, the servers aren't harried and you're not being elbowed and eavesdropped upon by people shoved in next to you. you're also not being made to feel like you have to rush so they can turn your table. chances are, they don't need it back till 8:00. afterwards, you can hit a movie, take a walk or go someplace else for a nightcap. dinner for me is not "the event".

          everybody knows everybody wants an 8:00 table. yet everybody still insists upon trying to get exactly that. for pete's sake, loosen up and try to be more flexible. it's dinner, not brain surgery.

          4 Replies
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Sure, I don't need to eat at 8 -- but I can't get a 7, a 6, or a 9 either -- it's always either 5 (or 5:30) or 9:30/10:00/10:30. And it sucks.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              The most popular dining hours are 6:30-8;30. When the edges of that time slot get filled, they cut into the time slots outside those edges.

              For example, let's say a restaurant is filled for the peak slot by a rezo for a table at 6:30. That table is not going to be made available at 5:30 because it won't have been turned in time for 6:30 -- it will be held vacant for that 6:30. If the restaurant feels confident about a 90 minute turnover, then they might make it available at 5. See how it works? The dance is more complicated than we might like to think.

              This also helps to explain how difficult to make a good margin on restaurant operations....

              1. re: Karl S

                Well, I guess that this explains the experience my husband and I had at a restaurant in Breckenridge, Blue River Bistro. We went in at 5:45 on a Thursday without reservations. We saw 3 reserved signs on tables and about 9 open booths (big booths for parties of 4 or more). The hostess wanted to seat us in the bar at a nose bleed table (you know the ones - they sit super high in the air with high chairs). We refused the table - it would be OK for lunch, but when we're going to be spending $100 + for dinner for two we want to be able to sit and enjoy it. We were told that she couldn't seat us as in 20 minutes the entire restaurant would be full. I was very put off as I'm sure if there had been 4 or 6 of us in our party we would have been seated. Ah well, it worked out for the best. We found a fantastic new restaurant - Steak and Rib on Main Street (try the filet mignon stuffed with blue cheese and garlic cloves) and the didn't have to waste their precious large table on two.

                1. re: Axalady

                  Actually, that's sounds like the right resolution of the issue. As a frequent single diner, I am well used to this experience.

          2. We had dinner at Maestro last Saturday night and we could get reservations at 5:30 or 9:30. I (reluctantly) accepted the 5:30. It was a great experience. First of all, we ate fairly sizeable breakfast about 10 that morning and had no lunch, so we were hungry but not starving when the time came. The staff was fresh and we felt we could really take our time and make an evening of it. After dinner, it was still early enough that we could walk around and do other things and not feel like it was the middle of the night. And when brunch came the next morning at 10:30, we didn't have a food or drink hangover because we didn't go to bed feeling overly stuffed or drunk <g>.

            1. Call me clueless, but what is wrong with taking a reservation at 5:30pm? If you pace yourself and take your time, your meal won't come until much later anyway. I just recently ate at a great restaurant; meeting friends at 5:30 (with reservations) enjoying drinks, then some appetizers and finally ordering our dinner around 7:00pm. We didn't leave the place until after 9:00pm. And it was delightful. So what's the problem??

              6 Replies
              1. re: cooknKate

                if it was a busy night, and you kept that table for 3.5 hours, the maitre d' must have been clawing out his own eyes.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  And the waiter deserves a double tip up.

                2. re: cooknKate

                  cooknKate, I guess there wouldn't be a problem for a diner who doesn't work or who leaves their place of employment at an early hour. Most people don't even leave their offices until 5:00 or 5:30 and that's a conservative guess. When I was in corporate life, nobody got out before 7:00 and to impress the boss, others stayed later.

                  It's my own personal belief that hot and popular restaurants save their good time slots for their regulars and celebrities. That leaves the majority of people they don't know with the 5:30 and 10:30 slots.

                  1. re: cooknKate

                    If I left my office right at 1700 hours, and wore my "dinner" clothes all day, I might be able to get to a restaurant near my house by 1900 hours. In order to make a 1730 reservation on any day except Sunday I'd have to leave at 1600 hours.

                    1. re: cooknKate

                      Believe me.....no one was telling us to move or clawing eyeballs or anything and it was a Saturday night. It was a party of 14 and no holds barred for ordering, even the Veuve champagne. It was a celebration and easily into four digits. I think they would have rather gargled glass than tell us to leave.

                      1. re: cooknKate

                        fair enough. a 14-top is something else. glad you had fun!

                    2. If you go to Babbo early in the week, you can always get a table for two in the bar area without a reservation -- as long as you arrive before 7 pm. Of course, it's a whole different experience. Very crowded, not much room. But I prefer it to the main dining room. Much more fun. And I don't feel any obligation to order more than an appetizer, wine, and pasta, so the price stays (semi) affordable. If you don't order dessert, they will bring you free cookies, which are better than the ones on the menu. The wine is fantastic and the music rocks. What a great restaurant.

                      1. I very much prefer a 5 or 5:30 reservation, you beat the crowds, get better service, your choice of seating, and have plenty of time to catch a movie or just go home and relax.

                        1. I wish I could remember the book, but I think I read somewhere that even when the reservations for a day open up usually 30 days out, approx the 6-9 time slot is closed often by the chef - to fill with regulars, vips, etc. That when someone calls, they have to speak to the maitre d' and only he takes the reservations for that time. The reservationists can't book that time. Damn, I wish I could remember the book, maybe about the opening of DanieI or that was one chapter? I hate not being able to back this up. I'll have to look when I get a chance..

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: happygrrl

                            that entire chunk isn't closed, but slots are definitely blocked to be used by the chef, general manager, maitre d'--whomever.

                            1. re: happygrrl

                              Yeah, I read that in the book about Daniel, the 4th Star, or something like that.

                              When I was there for late night dessert a while back, I snagged the Maitre D's' card. Unfortunately, i haven't been back to NY since then, and so haven't gotten a chance to find out whether I could reserve a 7:30 or not.

                              As a tourist, 5:30 is a problem because it limits my ability to maximize the number of meals I get in a day. I'm still full from lunch at that point.

                            2. I dont believe I have ever made a dinner reservation. I'm not that organized. We go and try for a table, if none available, try our back-up. Of course, my wallet prohibits me from going to the fancy reservations only type places.

                              1. Yes, the Leslie Brenner book about Daniel.