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Seating politics in New Orleans

  • Gabweb Jun 19, 2012 07:31 PM
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Hi, fellow Chowhounds:
First of all, thank you all so much for your recommendations of restaurants for my upcoming 20th anniversary trip. Hubby has never visited, I was there before Katrina and don't know what to expect but want to support this treasure of a city.

I hope this is not insulting, but I'd like to know how to get great seating in restaurants. Is it like Vegas, where you have to grease the m'aitre d'? Ditto New York and Chicago?

Or do you get better seating when with a man as opposed to two women dining? I only ask because when I visited many years ago -- 1986 to be precise, with a female friend who was in remission from cancer and wanted an incredible memory -- we two women were ushered to the WORST possible tables in nearly all restaurants, except for K-Paul's Kitchen. It was really upsetting and sexist. We were not militant at all, but started to "get it" by about the third night. Plenty of great tables open, but we were seated nearest the stinky, noisy bus stations, the drafty entry doors or, most charmingly, the men's restrooms where we had a parade of men walking out of the loos zipping up their trousers. That was in Commander's Palace. We finally, nicely, asked for a better table and got a great one in the Garden Room. But, how can we avoid this now? I will be with my husband, so if restaurants are sexist, maybe we'll have a better chance at better seating. Sorry to say, but my friend died a few months after our trip and although she loved her visit to New Orleans -- her final "bucket list" destination, she was very disappointed in our restaurant seating problems. Was the only sour note in a wonderful trip. Any advice is valued, thank you.

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  1. I don't have a ton of specifics but will offer what I can:

    - Ask for what you want: When we went to Mr B's the last time we were initially seated in the dark, hot, weird back area. Given that I'm Mr. Mr. B's on this board and it was our first meal off the plane we were not having it, so we asked to move up front where the "scene" was and were promptly moved.

    - Perhaps arrive early: When we go to Commander's for lunch we always request the garden room but of course when we get there the hostess tries to seat us immediately in whatever downstairs table is available. This last time we arrived about an hour before our reservation. We said we planned to have a drink at the bar first. She told us that we could be seated downstairs right away. We held firm about the drink and that we would gladly wait until a garden room table opened up. Ti herself got a glint in her eye at our tactic and it worked out perfectly (plus we ended up hanging out with an assortment of NOLA hospitality magnates at the bar)

    - Greasing palms probably can't hurt: We always tip heavily on vacation but NOLA is the place where we practically have to set up a tip fund. I can't imagine that that would hurt in your efforts to get the seating you want.

    - When all else fails, tell them it's your anniversary! Luckily for you it really will be. When we were there for our anniversary we mentioned it on making reservations and got extra-special treatment everywhere we went. We never tried lying about this but I bet that would work too! Make sure they know!

    It all really comes down to making sure you get what you want. People mostly don't want to cause waves (and we are guilty of that as well) but speaking up politely for a few seconds early on will create a better experience for everyone in the long run. I'm sure Mr. B's would much rather have people like me continue to funnel diners to their BBQ shrimp rather than have me swear off the place because they treated me like a tourist.

    7 Replies
    1. re: kukubura

      In all the times I've dined at Commander's having requested the garden room, they have never attempted to seat me elsewhere.

      1. re: JazzyB

        That is great, and also fortunate.

        Enjoy,

        Hunt

        1. re: Bill Hunt

          I request the room, not a specific table. No explanation as to why no problems. II book with open table. Perhaps they check for local phone numbers?

          1. re: JazzyB

            That could be it. We don't request a specific table but are still told that no tables are available the the GR. We elect to wait it out while sipping glorious cocktails and eventually someone comes and fetches us for a terrific GR table. It probably helps that we plan to linger at CP for hours. The last time our server ended up taking us to see the wine cellar and private dining room across the patio. We may not be local but once they get to know us they see that we "get" it. Actually, folks who don't see our area code (like bartenders) usually assume that we are local (or they're buttering us up.) One of my proudest moments was when the late Walter Payton of the Preservation Hall band asked me "what do you play." I don't actually play anything well enough to mention but I feel like him assuming I'm a musician was a big compliment. I told him that I "play" the paint brushes, which he enjoyed.

            1. re: JazzyB

              In my last instance. I did the table request via telephone (before OpenTable), then followed up with three telephone calls, a FAX and a letter. Oh well, guess that I did not get their attention? That, as of the day of the reservations, they told me that that table was set aside for us, but when we arrived, say 4 hours later, we were informed that "important people had requested it." Such is life. I vote with my AMEX card, and guess who has not received a reservation, until I was pressured to host there?

              Nah, I know when a customer for 30 years, hosting groups up to 25, is not "important." I can take it, and will just always dine elsewhere. Too many restaurants in New Orleans, which respect me. I do not feel that I owe CP's anything, and that feeling is very obviously mutual.

              My suggestion is to "rest on your laurels," maybe there are enough people, who only want $ 0.25 martinis, to fill all of your tables. We are just not to be counted in that group.

              Hunt

          2. re: JazzyB

            Maybe this is one of the subtleties of being a local vs. being a visitor? I mean, we arrive dressed up and ready to have a great time but it's possible that they still detect that we're not local and figure they can stick us wherever? I don't mind that there's a difference between locals and visitors but you have to be able to overcome it if you play your cards right. Otherwise you turn people off. Heck, we even won over the pivo slingers at U Zlateho Tygra in Prague, but damn if it wasn't a lot of work!

            1. re: kukubura

              Yes, could be. However, a "local" today, might have a Paris number tomorrow.

              Half of my reservations, table specific, were after we moved away from NOLA. Also, during that time, we hosted several very large groups at other tables, keeping # 8/308 for our annual "birthday" trips.

              Many restaurants, where we dine, have a dossier on our table preferences, my wife's dietary restrictions (very light), and plenty of info on us. They welcome us, upon our return, and on several continents.

              CP let us down, and I have not forgotten that night. They made us feel like free-loaders, and certainly "second-class" citizens. When we walk into real 3-star restaurants, around the world, we are greeted, and treated, as "old friends."

              Unless I have to book there, for some event, I will not dine there again, as I do not feel welcome any more. Even when I have been forced to book, they have not been even close to "their game." Others can have them. Our table is free.

              Hunt

        2. That is a great question.

          I often book via OpenTable, and request general tables, with some details. I have never had a bad table.

          However, after many years of getting one specific table, at a specific restaurant, after three telephone calls, two faxes, and two letters (special occasion, as per usual - wife's birthday), we arrived to be told, "Important people decided that they wanted your table, so we will seat you wherever we wish." OK, so that is how it is then. Last celebration for US there. Amazing that a half-dozen other NOLA restaurants could get us the exact table, that we desired. We have one at Galatoire's, one at The Grill Room, and one at Brigtsen's. For that other restaurant? Well, I will let the "important patrons" have whatever they wish. After two decades of dining at that table, they sort of turned us off, and it shows, in our hosting (only twice there, ever again) dinners, when we are in NOLA.

          I believe in communicating with the management (usually works perfectly, though that time, it failed horribly), and explaining what I want.

          As an example, I am hosting a group of Adobe Software engineers in a very popular San Francisco restaurant, on Monday, July 09. We dine there, almost once per month, per our travel schedules. I have been able to request the ultimate table, for our party, with no issues. I got a PDF of the exact seating chart, though I know most of the table numbers, and they were more than willing to work with me. Maybe they think that I am "important patron?"

          Communicate, and so long as it's not a particular restaurant, you should be fine.

          Good luck, and enjoy,

          Hunt

          2 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Shouldn't the Adobe software engineers be hosting (paying for) you?

            fyi: David Lynch has left Quince/Cotogna (two of my favorite SF restaurants) to open his own place, St. Vincent. Lynch was the wine guy behind Batali and Bastianich here in Manhattan. His new shop has a small plates/good wine theme. I'll be checking it out next month but maybe you can do a little recon and share your thoughts.

            re: seating in New Orleans. I'm not a mover and shaker but CP has always been accommodating when I call ahead. Same for Brigtsen's. It's ok if I'm bounced but that's a rarity. Galatoire is Galatoire. At least they give me a table on the first floor (yes, I have a waitress).

            --steve

            1. re: steve h.

              Actually, the did. Now, as they did not allow wines into the mix, and as how I do not drink lesser wines, I picked up that tab, and we had some great Montrachets and a mighty fine Pinot Noir.

              Along those lines, we are back at Farallon next month, and have our "favorite table" for our dinner. It is basically a 3-top, so we have more room for our wine glasses - often up to 12 for a party of two.

              For CP, I called many times, sent a letter, and also FAX'ed. All to no avail, as we were not "important patrons." That left a mark.

              Thank you for your concern.

              Hunt

          2. I've dined at some of the finest establishments in NYC, Chicago & New Orleans and have never had to grease anyone's palm. It may have something to do with my being a former industry person but I've pretty much always scored great tables. However, I will say this one time we were in Chicago and dined at Alinea. We chatted up our server there and she and some others highly recommended we go to The Publican for dinner the next night. They had no tables available & I think wouldn't seat 3 (on Opentable). I phoned and spoke w/ the Hostess and told her they came highly recommended by the folks at Alinea and the next thing I knew is we had the pick of when we wanted to come in for dinner. This also worked when we went to Violet Hour. I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected benefits of our Alinea experience.

            All that being said, charm and smile go a loooong way in New Orleans. We made out quite nicely at Galatoire's Friday lunch and dinner at August.

            2 Replies
            1. re: lynnlato

              Just to be clear, we've never greased any palms to get a table either. We do tip really well once service has been rendered, however. And at a place like CP when you tip the bartender really well it seems like they let the servers know to take extra care of you. Maybe that's another good tip.

              My wife is semi-in the biz as well but we've never tried to use that anywhere. We mostly get by on our winning smiles! ;)

              1. re: kukubura

                Winning smiles and that certain je ne sais quoi go a long way indeed! But yes, always tipping well is a good thing - period (as industry peeps know).