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Jun 15, 2010 05:26 AM

MiniBar: How Many Calls Before You Were Able To Get A Reservation?

This is the most difficult reservation in the United States: six seats, two seatings and one month to the day that I am told books up witin five minutes of the 10:00AM start time. We've been once in the past and this was before Jose Andres' Made in Spain show first appeared. It was difficult enough then!

Everyday (when MiniBar will be open one month out) my wife and I start with two cell phones and two house phones calling @9:58. Consistently the phone is answered and a lengthy recording essentially directs us to call back @10:00AM which we dutifully do without any hesitation. At 10:00AM the busy signals start-when we can even get a signal; often there is no connection at all. At 10:10 we give up. Yes, we're already on the waiting list but we were on the waiting list before. Five or six times and never once were called.

We'll keep calling and sooner or later we'll get through. But in the meantime I'm just curious for others' stories of how many times they had to call before getting a reservation?

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  1. I once had three of us calling on different phones. I got through once and got the recording directing us to call back (but didn't get through again), another of us got on the wait list, and the third didn't get through at all. Periodically we have tried again and gotten nothing but busy signals.

    1. I called once and got in. Luck of the draw I guess, it was for a weeknight in August so perhaps not as busy though.

      1. I've heard recently from two people who have gotten in on their first try. Someone has to be getting through, right?
        As lucky as they were to get the res, I was lucky enough to fill an empty seat when someone dropped out!

        1. My husband got lucky last month and got in on the first call for a Friday night this June, for 4, but we had to cancel and I was not happy. We'll try again another time.

          10 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            When this experience is over I'll write an essay on here about it. Of all the reservations I've ever been "challenged" with in the past (i.e. El Bulli, Schwarzwaldstube (as bad as El Bulli in Germany), L'Astrance, The French Laundry, Eiginsinn Farm...) this may be the worst.

            On our only visit a year ago we had an incredible experience. At the end of the meal the man sitting next to me pushed his stool back, got down on his knees and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small case, opened it and offered the ring to the girl he was with as he proposed marriage. She said yes. Everyone on that floor of Cafe Atlantico applauded them.

            Afterwards he and I talked and he told that he'd waited six months for this moment. I thought he meant that he'd known her for six months and that was how long before he felt comfortable proposing. No, he said, that was how long it had taken him to get a reservation, calling every day at 10:00AM.

            Cafe Atlantico
            405 8th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

            1. re: Joe H

              Ha! You've also had good luck at Volt - advertising well before the fame of the place.

              Your story reminds me of a place in Columbia, MO - long gone, but a Spanish tapas place (I think the town still largely doesn't know what tapas are). Anyway, a classmate and I used to go there to study. They had a bar area that showed taped bull fighting, and then a main dinner area. I think I only ate in the dinner area twice. Once was after this story:

              We're in the bar area studying (drinking tea and lemonades to start - honest! drinks would come when we were done); when all of a sudden a loud round of crashing glass came from the main room. I forget which, but the son or daughter of the owners had just proposed or been proposed to. Oh what a party! Largely food and drink were on the house for a while - at least up to when I left.

              1. re: Joe H

                That's a sweet story. I wonder how his fiancee learned after the fact that she had to wait six months for a proposal because he couldn't get a reservation! My husband has been lucky (in more ways than one I keep telling him:-) ) because he's seemed to be able to get reservations to many restaurants fairly easily. I don't know if Chez Panisse is as hard to get into as it used to be but he could always get reservations back then when he called, too. We never plan to eat at places like that on key days, though, eg. Valentines Day.

                1. re: chowser

                  MiniBar is absurd: four telephones being used with each an average of six calls per minute from 9:58 to 10:10 for a total of approximately 250 attempts per day. We call five days week (they are open five) and have been doing this for almost three weeks. That's a bit more than 3,000 attempts now without success. As noted above the waiting list is irrelevant to me; we've been on it five or six times in the past without a call.

                  1. re: Joe H

                    Oh, no--we had reservations for June 25, Friday for four and had to cancel. Had I known, I could have passed them on to you. You've been persistent!

                    1. re: Joe H

                      Maybe they have caller id? ;P

                      Seriously, if the process is so irksome, go somewhere else. I myself would not make more than 2 or 3 calls for a reservation, anywhere.

                      If they are that busy, they should just raise their price. But the advertising value of stories such as yours are worth the bad feelings generated to folk who don't like to be a part of the system like you.

                      1. re: fudizgud

                        They DID raise the price. It's now twice as much as it was 3 or 4 years ago.

                        They should just set up a web app and do reservations that way!

                        1. re: DanielK

                          I think there is a market clearing price. Ko in NYC has a web ap and it is no different. The chance of getting a reservation is very low. The publicity of not being able to get one and the fact that you need to confirm your reseravtion with a credit card and only the credit card holder is allowed to claim the table is further advertising.

                          It may be that they would need to charge 200 or 300 a pop, maybe more, to make getting a reservation. Same thing with Volt Table 21 etc.

                          While I might be willing to plan a year in advance or spend a lot of time on the phone or web to reserve for a musical experience or for a show at a museum with a limited run, there is no way I'd do so for a restaurant. Others, obviously, don't agree.

                  2. re: Joe H

                    We also got into the French Laundry on the day we needed, but we didn't call, Amex Platinum did, my husband had told them in advance that he wanted that reservation and they arranged it for the one night we had a stopover in CA before heading to Australia.

                    It sounds like you have terrible luck with this. Thank goodness it is a repeat, but good luck. I hope you get it soon.

                    1. re: ktmoomau

                      Thank you, ktmoomau, I have a Platinum card (I travel too much!) and just called them to see if they can help. It will be interesting. They told me to give them two days; in the meantime we'll be back on the phone (all four of them!) tomorrow morning to try again.

                2. I'm hoping to go here in October, but 30 days before the dates I have open are a Sunday and a Monday (Labor Day) -- when the restaurant is closed. Should I try to call that Saturday then...which is 32 days before? Or will I need to wait until that Tuesday?