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is it me - or are restaurants still really tough to get into???

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mark r Apr 20, 2009 12:11 PM

seems like everytime i want to go someplace good (scarpetta, convivio, allen and delancy), most top restaurants are booked. i wont even mention momofuku...

doesnt seem like there is much of a recession at these places.

i guess this is a good thing, but it sure is frustrating!

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  1. c oliver RE: mark r Apr 20, 2009 12:25 PM

    I read somewhere (perhaps the /SF paper) that restaurants are just as busy but people are ordering a lot less.

    1. q
      quizkiddonniesmith RE: mark r Apr 20, 2009 12:27 PM

      it depends on the day of the week. Fridays and Saturdays are still really busy, but Ive found that earlier on the week even popular places are a lot less busy.

      1 Reply
      1. re: quizkiddonniesmith
        a
        acidity RE: quizkiddonniesmith Apr 20, 2009 02:27 PM

        Yeah, I agree, and off hours too. I have much better luck getting tables early and even late.

      2. Miss Needle RE: mark r Apr 20, 2009 12:43 PM

        I think Ko is definitely in its own category. Ssam seems to be doing pretty well too, even on off-days (though it doesn't take reservations unless you're doing bo ssam).

        If you're basing your statement on opentable, you'll find that you can get into a lot of the restaurants, even if opentable says they're booked by just calling them. Most restaurants don't rely on opentable to do their entire booking. They will save a few seats for walk-ins, phone reservations and VIPs.

        I do think that overall reservations are easier to score these days. I was shocked when I got a Friday night reservation at Alinea in Chicago less than two months away from the date. And with Table Xchange shutting down earlier this month, I think it will make it even easier to obtain reservations.

        But I agree with both coliver and quizkid that people are ordering more economically and that a lot of restaurants may be doing OK during weekends, but are pretty slow during the week.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Miss Needle
          m
          mark r RE: Miss Needle Apr 20, 2009 01:01 PM

          not basing them on open table at all.

          i am taking clients out to dinner wed night (5 people total) and am having a really tough time getting into a really good place at a normal time.

          1. re: mark r
            Miss Needle RE: mark r Apr 20, 2009 01:16 PM

            Oh, that's interesting. Personally, I would make a reservation at a not-so-hot place that you can get into as a back-up and call on the day of to see if there are any cancellations at the places you really want to go to. I've also had luck making a prime time reservation for a party of 6 (which was totally booked on Open Table and when I called them) by stopping by on my way home from grocery shopping. I didn't do it on purpose, but I think that when they saw me with my grocery bag, they assumed I lived in the neighborhood (which I do) and made a special allowance. Either that, or making the reservation in person helped. I don't know.

            ETA: Of course, if you get into the reservation of your choice, you should cancel your back-up res.

            1. re: Miss Needle
              m
              mark r RE: Miss Needle Apr 20, 2009 01:46 PM

              agree- seems like we both have the same strategy.

              and of course i would cancel back up. i do believe in reservation karma...

              1. re: mark r
                k
                kathryn RE: mark r Apr 20, 2009 02:26 PM

                Well it would probably be easier if you were a group of 4 (party of 5 usually means taking up a 6 top, right?), not doing it late minute (two days in advance seems kind of last minute), and were willing to accept an earlier or later reservation time.

                Agree with Miss Needle to call on the day of to catch any cancellations (or call now and ask if they have a waiting list).

                Where else are you trying? For Allen and Delancey, they don't have that many large tables, it's not a huge restaurant.

                I just looked on OpenTable and I see openings for 5 on Weds for Aquavit, Craft, Cru, Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern, Hearth, Insieme, The Modern - Dining Room, or Per Se if you are willing to go a bit earlier or later than 8pm.

          2. re: Miss Needle
            k
            kathryn RE: Miss Needle Apr 20, 2009 02:16 PM

            Anything with a bunch of buzz (like Ko, Corton, etc.) seems to be doing really well still, and the hip but lower priced places also seem to be doing OK as well.

            1. re: kathryn
              Miss Needle RE: kathryn Apr 20, 2009 02:42 PM

              I'm wondering if I'll ever get into Ko. Personally, the idea of sitting by my computer at 9:59A getting all ready to speed click doesn't thrill me (and, yes, I've tried it a few times to no avail -- I must be slow). I know I probably should check for cancellations from time to time. But I think I kind of have a bias towards working so hard just to get a reservation. I once spent two hours on four phone lines trying to getting reservations for the French Laundry. Not fun.

              When I was at Corton a couple of months ago, there were a lot of empty tables even though the restaurant was supposedly fully booked. Drew Nierporent was bitching to the couple next to me about how he had so many no-shows, and it's probably from those reservation scalping services. I'm hoping that with Table Xchange shutting down that restaurants don't have to face these issues as much anymore.

              1. re: Miss Needle
                a213b RE: Miss Needle Apr 20, 2009 03:30 PM

                I will say that my wife and I have been doing quite well thus far on our trip with getting reservations. Of course, we're quite willing to go later, which might help.

                Nevertheless, even on Friday night at Per Se (review to come; salon) we were offered a table in the main dining room at 8:30 if we wanted, and when walking out set up a reservation for the following week.

                Too, just Saturday I looked online and (I'm assuming due to a cancellation) was able to book dinner tonight at Momofuku Ko.

                I'd never heard of Table Xchange before, but I think that's deplorable ... it's hard times for many restaurants, but here (as well as LA) there are still more than a few people who have fabulous amounts of $$$ to spend, and they still enjoy eating out ... so the hot places stay hot while the rest sag a bit.

                1. re: a213b
                  Miss Needle RE: a213b Apr 20, 2009 03:43 PM

                  It does help if you're willing to eat at 9:45P. Unfortunately my digestion just can't handle that very often anymore.

                  Can't wait to read your reports on Per Se and Ko. : )

                  Yeah, I'm not a fan of those reservation scalping sites. It seemed to be a huge problem for restaurants when the people never bothered canceling if they couldn't sell a reservation. The restaurants and diners wanting to get in end up suffering, which is why I don't really have a problem with some restaurants taking your credit card information when making a reservation. I'd prefer not to give my credit card info out because sometimes emergencies do happen last minute. But I totally understand why some restaurants do it.

                2. re: Miss Needle
                  terrier RE: Miss Needle Apr 20, 2009 06:26 PM

                  I got a lunch res at Ko on my first try by setting up my account in advance, logging in on Saturday morning shortly before 10 EDT to see how far off their clock was from my own (they tell you their system time when you try to get a reservation but there are none available - it was ~16 seconds slow when I tried.) Then, accounting for the time lag, I clicked at what would be 10:00:01 on their system. Got right in, got a lunch reservation for last Friday. It was worth it, even though 10 AM EDT was 7 AM PDT where I was when I made the reservation. Fortune favors the person who can be arsed to spend 5 minutes planning ahead and who is willing to set an alarm clock for a Saturday morning.

                  Honestly, the system at Ko is a huge, huge breath of fresh air. I'm a nobody, but a smart one. Ko put me on equal footing with those who can use their name, connections, or personal assistants' time to get in to places that are inaccessible to me. I appreciate that. It was a breeze to get in to Ko compared to Nobu in its heyday (to say nothing of the French Laundry, Chez Panisse, El Bulli, etc etc.)

                  1. re: terrier
                    Miss Needle RE: terrier Apr 21, 2009 10:54 AM

                    Good for you that you were able to get a reservation. I've parked my ass in front of the computer screen 3 minutes before 10A and just kept hitting reload or whatever the button is until it synced with Ko's 10A. I'd get to the stage where I can click on a time. But once I clicked on the time slot, it would be taken! This happened numerous times for me, and I got a bit pissed and have taken quite a break from trying again. It may have been because I was aiming for dinner as opposed to lunch. Heard lunch reservations are easier, and I'm always out and not near a computer on Saturday mornings -- heard Saturday reservations were easier to get as well.

                    Apparently it seems a few people have found a way to beat the Ko reservation system as they were selling their Ko reservation services on craigslist -- perhaps they're computer tech people or they've got a souped-up mouse or something? Ko isn't easy but probably easier to get than El Bulli. I've already given up on El Bulli without trying. I really don't I have the capacity to have an entire trip hinge on whether or not I get a restaurant reservation (though that is essentially what happened with the French Laundry). But planning a weekend in Napa is a lot easier than planning a trip to Spain.

                3. re: kathryn
                  financialdistrictresident RE: kathryn Apr 20, 2009 03:52 PM

                  Corton was tough, going next month. When we were at Gordon Ramsey Dining Room the other month there were a few empty tables in the room. I just don't understand how someone can no show unless they are ill/hospitalized. How hard is it to call and cancel or advise you're late? It's rude and ruins it for the rest of us (mastercard deposits, etc.).

              2. steve h. RE: mark r Apr 20, 2009 02:46 PM

                deb and i went to casa mono on thursday. i booked a reservation wednesday night.

                1. a
                  addictedtolunch RE: mark r Apr 20, 2009 03:53 PM

                  Except for Fridays and Saturdays, yeah, it's you.

                  1. s
                    Simon RE: mark r Apr 20, 2009 04:59 PM

                    hi mark,

                    what i've noticed is that things have become bifurcated:

                    the really popular places (places that are either really good and/or really trendy and/or have managed to land in some kind of clever comfort food sweet spot) are just as popular as ever (if not *more* popular), esp on Friday and Saturday night...

                    but places that are either mediocre or new or serve a niche market or haven't managed to find their lucrative groove, those places are struggling mightily...

                    sort of Restaurant Darwinism, but not necessarily in a way that's good for "Dining in NYC" in an overall sense...

                    for example, a decent, comfy but far-from-perfect place like West Branch on the UWS is fully booked at 6pm (so said the smug hostess when my buddy and i walked in at 6pm on a Saturday)...

                    but if you walk around Soho, Nolita, East Village, West Village, and the Meatpacking on a Sunday or Monday night around 8pm, you'll see a *truly shocking* number of restaurants w/ *literally zero* customers, each with a sad couple of waiters and a bartender standing glumly in an empty room, and then you'll also see dozens of restaurants w/ merely one or two or three tables occupied...

                    i think, in the current economy, a lot of people are saying something like: "Damn, i'm still going to go out to eat, but if i do, i'm going to do it on a Friday or Saturday when i can enjoy it and when all my friends can meet me, and i'm not going to take any chances on a new/adventurous/unknown place! If i'm spending money, i want an old favorite or a known quantity or something that everyone says is great"...(i.e. in this environment, Batali and McNally joints will still be crowded, but lots of cute neighborhood, non-chain/franchise/spinoff restaurants will suffer)...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Simon
                      m
                      mark r RE: Simon Apr 21, 2009 08:49 AM

                      i hear ya - and i realize it's the "hot restaurants" that are doing well - but i had the same problem with west branch a couple of weeks ago and it was a tuesday!

                      i have to say that i have now called 25 restaurants for a wed night that do not have seeting for 4 or 5 for 7-8pm.

                      i know this is a good thing and keeping people in their jobs...

                      1. re: mark r
                        r
                        RGR RE: mark r Apr 21, 2009 10:39 AM

                        No success for a Wednesday night? Hard to believe.

                        You say upthread that you are looking for "a good place at a normal time" (b/t 7 and 8 p.m.) for 5 people on a Wednesday? I just checked OpenTable for tomorrow, Wed., 4/22, and came up with the following restaurants that have a table for 5, and which I think most people would classify as "a good place":

                        Allegretti - 8 p.m.
                        Aquavit Dining Room - 7:30
                        Aureole - 7 or 7:30
                        Cafe Boulud - 7:15
                        Daniel - 7:15
                        Eleven Madison Park - 8 p.m.
                        Picholine - 8 p.m.
                        Tabla - 7 and 8
                        Tocqueville - 7:30

                        And, btw, If it's 4 people instead of 5, there are several more possibilities.

                        1. re: mark r
                          s
                          Simon RE: mark r Apr 21, 2009 01:24 PM

                          i have mixed feelings about West Branch....i'll prob post a full review sometime soon...

                          Part of their popularity stems from that fact that food on the UWS is so incredibly mediocre, that even a place that provides a moderate improvement can be a huge success...

                      2. MMRuth RE: mark r Apr 21, 2009 11:19 AM

                        Not quite the same league in terms of "newness", but a couple weeks ago I got a table for 9 at Balthazar at 7:30 or 8:30 - don't remember which, by calling that morning (Wednesday). I also called Lupa and got a table for 9 at 1:30 that Friday (Good Friday).

                        1. t
                          taboo RE: mark r Apr 21, 2009 11:38 AM

                          I have experienced that all the higher end restaurants are still jammed. Went to Grammercy Tavern and not one table open. Same with Fishtail, Avra (any night of the week is packed), etc. I did score a 8:30PM at Babbo on the same day since someone had cancelled....

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