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I want to take a lovely foodie couple to Schwa as a thank you for a large favor. We are all really excited about it and can be really flexible with our schedule since we live on the north side. i was finally able to leave a message the other day asking for a call back (prior to that their vm was full) but am doubtful that will happen (as they said it's hard for them to get back to people). Here's my question, what's the trick to get a reservation here? I hate to call in the middle of dinner rush but is that my best bet? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. Maybe others will chime in with better first hand experience then I. But from what I hear there is no trick other then patience. And if there is any truth to the story I linked below calling during service won't get any results as the phone is unplugged during that time.

    I'm interested in visiting Schwa myself and would love to hear how it turned out for you.

    1 Reply
    1. re: oysterspearls

      I tried twice. The first time I left a message that was never returned. The second time I left a message it was returned promptly and politely the next morning and I was thrilled to get the reservation I wanted. It all seemed very random.

    2. Thanks for confirming the randomness. I'll just keep trying - I think it'll be worth it! I'll get back to you with the results of my efforts. Maybe I'll try earlier in the day....? We'll see.

      1. I should've waited to reply. Called Schwa at 12:30 and got a real person! Am on the waiting list for a couple of dates in Sept. They'll start taking res's for Oct. the last couple of days in August. Lesson - call early in the day and toward the end of the month. Am very very excited, even w/o a res, I feel like I've cracked a code. Like Dorothy, I believe that I will get to Schwa soon!

        1. I don't really get this reservation "gimmick" for Schwa. I'm visiting Chicago (a NYer) and I've had my share of hard reservations to get (Babbo, Momofuku Ko, etc). I had a hard time getting a call back. I'm not really ranting, but you would think you could add $5 per person to the menu (which people would surely pay) and hire someone who at least part time would be a reservationist. If you serve even only 30 people a night (I don't have a guage on how big the restaurant is), that's $150 a day for that person. Or if you serve 60 people, add $2-3 to the menu.

          I guess it adds to the allure to this restaurant. If that's the case, I get it.

          4 Replies
          1. re: deepfry7

            If I had the answer to this often discussed grievance I could likely sell it on ebay. I don't, and won't speculate. Though I do have my own opinion and theory for those interested.

            I don't believe for a second that the reservation policy is in any way a gimmick or genius business plan. I can't imagine Michael Carlson's mind working that way. I won't say he doesnt care about the inconvenience but believe that area of the business may not be his strong point.
            Could it be he sees little purpose in hiring someone only to return calls informing people there are no available tables? I would not be surprised at all.

            I truly understand the frustration from those whose calls reach a dead end. But keep trying as I believe its a slight obstacle within the big picture. For a truly off the wall analogy but one I think seems to fit? Schwa is like having a wonderful good natured favorite Uncle. You know, the life of the party guy always bearing gifts at family reunions. The one family member that no one has a bad thing to say about. Well that is accept for one head scratching puzzlement everybody whispers. Why does he wear those awful gaudy neck ties?:) In the large scope of things its nothing.

            Just my two cents.

            1. re: oysterspearls

              I think your perspective is accurate oy-pls. Michael Carlson is something of a mad genius. He very much marches to his own drum but there is definitely no marketing gimmick.

              1. re: chicgail

                Thanks for the responses.

                I just read Alan Richman's profile on Carlson and I now "understand". With David Chang in NY, I feel more like it's a marketing (genius really) ploy. But not with Schwa.


                I look forward to the opportunity to eat here.

                1. re: deepfry7

                  Can not agree more. David Chang is a master at marketing.

                  Hope you enjoy Schwa as much as I did!

          2. While it might take some persistence, I don't think it's as difficult to get a reservation as people believe. I think the best route would be to not leave a message and hold out for a 'real person.' I suggest calling in the middle of the week during the middle of the day (after 11 Central time). You may have to call a few times, but that should do the trick. Hope this helps. I had one of the best meals of my life at Schwa and suggest you take advantage of the BYO policy if you get a reservation.

            6 Replies
            1. re: ZJY82

              FYI Chicago hounds, I think they're requiring credit card #'s when reserving. I had no problem with it. I forgot what was the $ charge for not showing up, but I can't believe anyone who is persistent enough to try and get this reservation wouldn't actually show up.

              Thanks all.

              1. re: deepfry7

                I don't believe they require a card number unless that is something very new.


                1. re: uhockey

                  They did each time I made a reservation. Though yesterday they said my number is on record. Hoping that's a good sign. LOL

                  1. re: oysterspearls

                    ...that they are buying stuff from amazon.com on Mr/Ms. Oysterspearls. :-)

                    I just cannot fathom their "records" department looking better than a sticky note!

                    I mean, is there an office? If so, where?


                    1. re: uhockey

                      Considering only a select few can operate the credit card machine (Seth and Chef, I believe), the 'office' is probably just the phone and the 'records' is merely a book of reservations. Incidentally, I called once and actually got through but was unable to make a reservation because someone had misplaced it! Talk about an epic letdown.

                      1. re: uhockey

                        I never assumed it was nothing more then turning the page of their reservation book.

              2. I echo everyone's sentiments here. Persistence, patience and flexibility. I've been three times, and it's always been a return call on "day of" or shortly before. Keep trying to get a live person - you catch them at odd times - and, failing that, leave a detailed message with what you note above (the fact that it's a special occasion, you're flexible, etc). Notwithstanding all the gripes about how hard it is to get them on the phone, once you get them, they will do what they can - and a little courtesy, excitement and details regarding your special event may stick in their mind when they get a cancellation.
                Good luck, it's well worth it.

                1. I'm from Toronto and will be visiting Chicago for a weekend in mid-November. Schwa is at the top of my dining to-do list. I've read all related threads and various blogs on how to get a reservation at Schwa but this is ridiculous. I've been calling every single day about 4 times per day starting at 10am CST for the past 2 weeks. Every single time I get a "voicemail is full" response.

                  I'm guessing that the only counsel you can provide is "have infinite patience", but I am missing something? Are they closed because Carlson broke his foot or the sewage is acting up again?

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: vidkid

                    Yesterday my wife called maybe half a dozen times before someone picked up. Got reservation for next month. Have yet to have much difficultly getting a reservation but maybe I'm just lucky.

                    1. re: oysterspearls

                      Agreed. I was back in town a couple of weeks ago and had a wondeful meal, even more memorable than my last one at Schwa (even though we didn't even get to finish the meal!). I'll admit I called a great deal more than four times each day I tried (it probably took 4-5 days of trying), but it didn't really seem all that bad b/c I'm sitting at a desk all day. Keep trying and yes, be patient. It is absolutely worth it.

                      1. re: ZJY82

                        I went in April and went through a similar situation. Try calling around 11am Chicago time. Unfortunately, you might have to try for 10-20 minutes.

                        1. re: deepfry7

                          Thanks all for the tips. I'm also a desk-sitter and call several times per day, but due to the time difference, 11am CST is 12pm EST which is often when I take my lunch. Looks like I might be missing the brief window. I'll report back when I'm successful.

                          1. re: vidkid

                            For the record, I suggested 11 because that was the earliest anyone ever picked up (because that's probably when they start rolling into the restaurant). You should continue to call up through the end of your day. The last reservation I made, I'm pretty sure it was closer to 4PM central.

                            1. re: ZJY82

                              Yesterday I called at around 6:45PM CST and got through to someone. Unfortunately my booking was for December which they will only start taking on November 1st.

                              1. re: nextguy

                                Well after 2 weeks of non-stop calling, I finally got through at 1:20pm CST today and spoke to a nice guy about making a reservation for 2 for either Nov 18 or 19. Unfortunately the only slot they had available was on Nov 18 at 5:30pm which is when our plane lands. We're on the waiting list and I was told we would be ready to come by with an hour's notice.

                                Thanks all for your help and fingers crossed that we'll get the call. I'll probably have to lug a couple bottles of wine around all evening just in case we get phoned :)

                                1. re: vidkid

                                  FYI, I wanted to get some wine for my dinner at Schwa and ended up going to this place, Cellar Rat Wine Shop (yes, the name isn't that appealing) a couple of blocks away. The person who helped me was extremely helpful and mentioned that they've provide wined to Schwa customers on many occasions. Extremely reasonably prices as well. I bought a couple of bottles of wine to share with the kitchen crew and other patrons.


                                  1. re: vidkid

                                    Woohoo, I finally got through today too (around 4:25pm Eastern Time) and was able to secure a reservation for end of November. Had been calling a few times per day for past couple of weeks! Hopefully I don't get canceled on!

                    2. somehow i managed to get through on my very first time calling, last week wednesday around 5:00 central time. we got disconnected halfway through the process, my heart dropped, but then i called back a few times and they picked up and got me in for two weeks later. they seemed to have lots of options open still for times in december, which i found surprising.

                      regardless, i'm really looking forward to it. especially BYOB, as being a broke 25 year old, fine dining excursions can really break the bank when wine pairings are considered. i've got an extra seat on my reservation if any chi-town area hounds are particularly itching to go.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: keefgr

                        Nice job getting through so fast! Have a great time; I loved my meal there a couple of weeks ago.

                        1. re: keefgr

                          ate at schwa last night - the meal was incredible, quite possibly one of the best i've ever eaten. every dish was excellent; gorgeously plated and DELICIOUS... flavors really developed over time with the dishes and i found myself loving the last bites of each dish more than the first ones. our menu (prob out of order):

                          -red hook 'manhattan' amuse
                          -crab salad with avocado, guava puree, pink peppercorns
                          -potato soup with garnishes of fried potato skin, scallion oil, bacon, cold melted cheddar. this was meant to mimic a wendy's baked potato bar; the cold melted cheddar was particularly amazing.
                          -quail egg raviolio
                          -fruit loops course. i don't even know how to describe this. it tasted like fruit loops, yet was somehow savory. part of it involved cured salmon roe in a passion fruit gelee. there was a piece of papaya on the plate that had been pickled with jalapenos and tasted amazing, and i loathe papaya.
                          -salmon in pink lemonade with black truffles and grapefruit. they told us the lemonade was made with sumac in the traditional native american way.
                          -rabbit with strawberries and bruleed bread pudding. when this was served they poured hot water over mint leaves scattered around the bottom of a second bowl.
                          -a piece of seared foie gras topped with a cocoa nib and brioche brittle, accompanied by a curried mango puree and pickled clementine rind. this was the greatest bite i've ever tasted; i got goosebumps just typing the description
                          -what i would call a gougere made with a pretzel-y tasting dough and stuffed with chimay cheese.
                          -lamb leg and tenderloin with pickled blueberries, blueberry sauce, and cashew puree. absolutely sensational.
                          -tumeric ice cream on top of date puree with mustard caramel. incredible. when i went to the bathroom after this course they were plating more of these and popped another one in my mouth
                          -the dessert was a deconstruction of Dr. Pepper flavors, served with a can of the soda to drink.

                          overall i was most impressed with how much sweet components they used in each course while still having great balance. the pickled fruits were also brilliantly done. despite the loud music, the dining room is so small that i found it to actually be on the quiet side compared to many places; i never had to ask my dining companion to speak up once. i will certainly be back - the meal easily trumped one i had at Alinea three months ago.

                          1. re: keefgr

                            Carlson is so damned talented - there is a part of me that so wishes he would really dedicate himself and take his skills to the next level, yet at the same time there is a part that really respects him doing whatever the hell he wants.

                            I agree with your assessment regarding the sweet components - his beef mole smores dish blew me away and that fruit loops course sounds insanely good.