Snagging a last-minute reservation at a fancy restaurant?
June 27, 2012 2:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm going on a trip to New York in the middle of July, and I'd like to have a meal at one of the fancier restaurants in the city -- say, Eleven Madison Park or Jean Georges. Unfortunately, I didn't plan things out very far in advance, so I don't have a reservation. What should I do to maximize my chances of getting a seat?

First of all, is it even possible to get a seat for the week of the 16th at this point? If so, what should I do to maximize my chances? Should I call and put myself on the waitlist? Go up to the restaurant and ask in person when I get to New York? Refresh OpenTable incessantly?

(And on a related note, what are some New York restaurants with strange modernist food that would still be open for reservations at this point?)
posted by archagon to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
11 Madison is an amazing experience. Call and find out if a single or pair can eat at the bar without a reservation?

Strange modernist food -- try WD 50. I wasn't nearly as into it when I went 2 or 3 years ago, but it might be exactly what you want.
posted by kestrel251 at 3:08 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

EMP isn't really very modernist actually. WD50 is really the only game in town there. Atera too I guess but I thought it was pretty weak ( and a knockoff of Mugaritz)

Anywhoo. Call places don't use opentable. The 16 th is far
enough out that it's easier to name the places you won't be able to get into then those you will. Also don't forget Ko only takes bookings either one or two weeks out so that's def an option. Also if you are fixated on EMP they've opened a second resto that is more casual "NoMad"
posted by JPD at 3:53 AM on June 27, 2012

I think you can make this happen IF you can shift your focus from DINNER to LUNCH.

I've had success at ELEVEN MADISON PARK by showing up right at the lunch opening -- a few minutes before noon -- and requesting a seat at the bar. The experience is not completely the same as the elegant dinner service, but the food is the same (and wonderful).

Likewise, the prix fixe lunch at JEAN GEORGES is an incredible bargain, but I would suggest calling to make a lunch reservation (usually easier to get than a dinner reservation). When you call, you are likely to be asked if you want a "formal" or a "casual" lunch -- say "formal" for the JEAN GEORGES dining room; otherwise, you'll be having lunch in the less formal space, NOUGATINE.

If dinner is your only option, I'm going to make a suggestion that you try Anita Lo's ANNISA in the West Village. The restaurant is lovely, the prices are not obnoxious, and the food is superb. I've been twice -- once ordering a la carte and the second time going with the chef's tasting menu -- both experiences were wonderful.
posted by tmharris65 at 3:55 AM on June 27, 2012

What tmharris65 says about lunch. You won't need a reservation for lunch at Mercer Kitchen.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:43 AM on June 27, 2012

Call and ask for any time, lunch or dinner. You'll get in.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:36 AM on June 27, 2012

Yes, call ASAP and get on any waiting lists you can. Be flexible. Accept lunch as an option. For example, EMP will have a huge wait list for dinner by now, but not lunch.

Per Se, Del Posto, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, and EMP all serve lunch. But not every day of the week.

It will be very difficult to get into the NoMad at this point because they just received a NY Times review. And they have eliminated bar dining. But they have a rooftop space with a $125 tasting menu that only sells tickets on the morning of, when the weather is good.

Additionally, you can also dine at the bar at Eleven Madison Park (a la carte, not the prix fixe, for dinner) or the bar at Le Bernardin, or in the salon/lounges of Per Se and Daniel. I think Del Posto also very recently added bar dining. For EMP you should note that they will serve the full prix fixe at the bar for lunch but not dinner (call to confirm this is still the case). So if you done at the bar for dinner you will miss out on a lot of the little extras the tables get.

Another option is Ko as JPD mentions. They take reservations six days in advance (seven counting the current day), at exactly 10am Eastern time. Only on their web site.

For modern, experimental cuisine, WD-50 does bar dining. Only bar diners can order a la carte. The prices are a great deal: two dishes for $25, each additional is $15. The dishes vary widely in size, so ask for the bartender's help.
posted by kathryn at 6:45 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention--if you like modernist techniques and cocktails, have a drink at Booker & Dax. Centrifuged ingredients, liquid nitrogen, force carbonated drinks, and other cool stuff.
posted by kathryn at 6:55 AM on June 27, 2012

You may want to consider tipping the maitre d (even if you have no reservations). It's not as taboo as you might think. A well-placed $50 could get you a table at almost any of New York's top restaurants without a reservation. This article from Gourmet explains the process better than I can.

Just dress well and bring a fifty and an air of confidence. Good luck!
posted by plasticbugs at 7:28 AM on June 27, 2012


Amazing modernist food, and strangely underappreciated. It definitely costs, but if you're willing to spend the money, one of the best meals in town. You should be able to get a reservation, no problem.
posted by neroli at 7:30 AM on June 27, 2012

Elaborating on my previous post, here are the basics on tipping from the third page of the Gourmet article:

1. Go. You’d be surprised what you can get just by showing up.
2. Dress appropriately. Your chances improve considerably if you look like you belong.
3. Don’t feel ashamed. They don’t. You shouldn’t.
4. Have the money ready. Prefolded, in thirds or fourths, with the amount showing.
5. Identify the person who’s in charge, even if you have to ask.
6. Isolate the person in charge. Ask to speak with that person, if necessary.
7. Look the person in the eye when you slip him the money. Don’t look at the money.
8. Be specific about what you want. “Do you have a better table?” “Can you speed up my wait?” A good fallback: “This is a really important night for me.”
9. Tip the maître d’ on the way out if he turned down the money but still gave you a table.
10. Ask for the maître d’s card as you’re leaving. You are now one of his best customers.
posted by plasticbugs at 7:34 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love Corton, and if you want experimental food ex WD-50 its your best option. Food wise I prefer Corton - I just don't think the execution is perfect all of the time. And you will absolutely be able to get in there.
posted by JPD at 8:19 AM on June 27, 2012

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone!

As for wd-50, unfortunately they seem to be booked for the week of 7/16.
posted by archagon at 8:42 AM on June 27, 2012

Are you completely opposed to dining at the bar? It may be your only way into many of these upscale restaurants.

Did you try to get on a waitlist at WD-50?

Periodically checking OpenTable may be a good way in as well, as people often cancel last minute.
posted by kathryn at 8:47 AM on June 27, 2012

I'm fine with sitting at the bar, but I'm most interested in the tasting and prix fixe menus above all else, and I don't know if all of these places have that at the bar.
posted by archagon at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2012

How many people are in your party?

If you go at either an early-ish hour or a late-ish one, you may be able to eat at the bar if you're solo, or slip into that last available two-top if there are two of you.

Why not pick a few places and call around to see if there's anything available, at all, on any of the days you'll be in town? You never know, especially if you're a small party.

The big problem with restaurants like this is if you need a table for six or something.

All this "ask for the person in charge" and "slip them money" is pretty gauche. If they can't seat you, they can't seat you. It's extremely unlikely that restaurants like this would turn people away just because, like, they seemed like rubes or whatever, when there is a table available. Haute cuisine restaurants want your money.

Also, don't count on being able to ask for a "better table" or get snooty about wait times. If you walk into Per Se without a reservation, and they can seat you at all, or they tell you they have something opening up in 20 minutes, that's what there is. There's no magic awesome table sitting open waiting for you to throw your weight around to "win" it.

If you're an out of towner on vacation to New York for your first and possibly only time ever, you are never going to be the Maitre D's "new best customer". This isn't meant to be insulting in any way, but people who work in the service industry here can pick out who is potentially a regular and who's on vacation. Though honestly it doesn't matter, because you don't need to be the Maitre D's best customer. You just want to eat in the restaurant. Either they can accommodate you, or they can't. Everything else is just noise.

BTW I've been to WD-50 twice, and it's actually quite laid back considering its reputation. I've definitely seen people eating at the bar, empty tables, and the like. If it's on your list, call them for sure -- you may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to get a table there.
posted by Sara C. at 9:02 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Le Bernardin serves the full prix fixe and tasting at their bar but not the lounge tables.

Daniel also serves the full prix fixe and tasting in their lounge. You can reserve on OpenTable.

Del Posto serves the prix fixe menu but not the tasting menu at the bar last I heard.

EMP and Per Se only serve a la carte at their respective bars and salons.

Jean Georges does not really have a bar; the bar is inside of Nougatine and they only serve the Nougatine menu.

One candidate you should really consider also is the formal dining room at the Modern. Much easier to book than EMP or JG, great view of the MoMA sculpture garden, and on the level of the others that have been mentioned. I just checked OpenTable and there appears to be lots of availability.
posted by kathryn at 9:20 AM on June 27, 2012

Get on a number of wait lists.

I got a lunch rez at Per Se with like <8 days warning. It was, quite frankly, an incredible meal. YMMV, especially with dinner, but do try and get on the waitlist. Perhaps mention that you're celebrating a special event (they asked me, I responded in the affirmative, dunno if it helped).
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 10:18 AM on June 27, 2012

Thanks for the great answers, everyone! I'll call around.

While we're all here, let me piggyback a few more quick questions:

* What's the tipping rule at upscale restaurants? I tip 15%-20% at most restaurants, but I'm afraid of looking like a cheapskate if I did that. Or is it the opposite, since the meal price is so high and the tip is proportionally bigger?
* I'm travelling light, so I can't exactly bring full formal attire. If I wear a pair of black dockers and a button-up shirt, is that acceptable, or is it too casual for these places?
posted by archagon at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2012

Or is it the opposite, since the meal price is so high and the tip is proportionally bigger?

20% is fine unless you feel that you have been served exceptionally well.

Note: at Per Se, the gratuity is included in all pricing. Tip on top of that only if you feel you want to.

If I wear a pair of black dockers and a button-up shirt, is that acceptable, or is it too casual for these places?

This will be a problem.

Regarding dress code, Per Se is jacket required both at lunch and dinner (they only serve lunch Fri-Sun).

Jean Georges is jacket required for both lunch and dinner (it used to be just dinner but there was a change in lunch policy in early 2011).

Le Bernardin is jacket required both at lunch and dinner.

Daniel is jacket required (they don't serve lunch).

Eleven Madison Park is jacket preferred, not required, at dinner.

Del Posto is jacket preferred.

Corton is smart casual (they don't serve lunch).

The Modern's Dining Room is now business casual, as they did away with the jacket requirement about a year, year and a half ago.

If you don't bring a jacket, you may be asked to wear a loaner jacket at Per Se, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, or Daniel.
posted by kathryn at 11:02 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I see. Where would one go about getting a loaner jacket?
posted by archagon at 12:02 PM on June 27, 2012

By loaner jacket, I mean that the restaurant will often have some extra jackets to lend out to patrons who arrive without a jacket.

Of course, there's no guarantee it'll fit you well at all or look good on you, but that way you can still dine, and conform to the dress code.
posted by kathryn at 12:11 PM on June 27, 2012

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! I've learned over the past few days that OpenTable generally lies, and that calling the restaurant has a good chance of snagging you a reservation. I still have a couple I really want to get, but I'll try calling them closer to the date to see if I can get in on a last-minute cancellation.
posted by archagon at 2:30 PM on July 3, 2012

kathryn — I just realized you posted several of the answers in this thread. Thank you for your help, both here and elsewhere on the green! I've been adding a lot of stuff to my "must-eat" list from your NYC restaurant recommendations.
posted by archagon at 4:21 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're welcome! Have a great trip. It's not that OpenTable "lies," so much that restaurants usually need to hold some tables back for friends, visiting chefs, investors, regulars, etc. Or a human can do some shuffling and re-jiggering of the books that a computer can't. Plus, the restaurant usually pays a higher OpenTable fee if you use versus their own web site or book via phone (OpenTable powers the entire reservations book no matter how you reserve). So they'll put most but not all the tables on
posted by kathryn at 2:31 PM on July 4, 2012

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