Help me get into the French Laundry
August 1, 2008 8:09 AM   Subscribe

How do I best go about making reservations for dinner at the French Laundry? Is there a trick here? Can I get in easier if it I'm flying solo or with friends?

I'm a food nerd and have been pining after the French Laundry for a long time. I've decided to make a trip to the Napa Valley for the sole purpose of eating there. Problem: I can't even get into the reservation line. Always busy. Wikipedia confirms this.

So what's the trick here? Keep trying? Is there an off-season to this? What if I show up by myself with a puppy dog face and try to convinced the maitre d' to let me eat in the back?

Also any recommendations for what to try when I actually get a reservation are also welcome.
posted by geoff. to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Just making sure you've seen this other FL question.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on August 1, 2008

i have not used it in years but *66 used to be great for getting through to numbers that were busy.
posted by phil at 8:25 AM on August 1, 2008

Just making sure you've seen this other FL question.

Completely missed it, there's good advice in there. Thanks.
posted by geoff. at 8:28 AM on August 1, 2008

I wouldn't bother trying to get a res when they first start answering the phones. Call an hour or two later and ask to be put on the waiting list for all the days you're going to be available, for dinner and lunch if you're in town over the weekend. Tell them you'll take a table for 1, 2, or 4, whatever they can do and explain that you're traveling to Napa to eat there. You'll most likely get a call a week or so in advance offering you a table.
posted by foodgeek at 9:26 AM on August 1, 2008

Open Table? I've never used it for anywhere that needs reservations two months in advance, but that's where I'd start.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:33 AM on August 1, 2008

I had a 10-day window in which to make my FL reservations. I called every day for three days and only stopped calling each day when I got the "all reservations have been filled" messages. I finally got through on the fourth morning and got the reservation. There were only the two of us, so I don't know if the size of the party would make a difference. I imagine it might, as the restaurant is only so big and there are limits as to how many people can eat there in one night. Open Table has some helpful hints about securing a reservation.

As for what to eat, we had the chef's tasting and it was phenomenal. Four hours, nine courses (plus a few additional little, in-between courses), lots of wine, and the most incredible food I've ever eaten. Amazing.

Good luck!
posted by cooker girl at 10:41 AM on August 1, 2008

former concierge here, and at our shop we got folks seated at the french laundry as often as anybody else could . . . and you're right: there is a trick, but i'm afraid i'm only good for (i.e., can only remember) half of it. the key is to call them as soon as they open their books, and make the reservation that day.

i'm not sure (this is the part i can't recall), but i believe that fl opens their books 6 months in advance? this means that they'd not take reservations for the 5th of july until the 5th of january. i could be wrong . . . however . . . they could open their books three months in advance, or two months in advance, or four months in advance (i'm pretty sure it wasn't more than 6).

i think they would tell you how far in advance they open their books. but you'd have to ask them; i can't imagine it would occur to them to volunteer this information, because folks who make reservations at places like this are usually juggling three to four calls at once, and just don't really have the time to fully explain themselves.

so here's what you do: call and make your reservation as soon as you can. then, book your travel out there around those days.

if $$$ is no object, you may want to consider staying at the auberge du soleil, out in rutherford (not too far away from yountville).

on preview: okay, i just went to 'their' online booking system, and it appears that they open their books two months in advance. my suggestion is that you call them first thing tomorrow morning (like 7.00 a.m. california time) and secure a date two months from tomorrow. at least, that's how we used to do it . . .
posted by deejay jaydee at 11:13 AM on August 1, 2008

Almost three years ago, I solicited Aren Sandersen's help in obtaining a reservation to the French Laundry. I sent him an email and ended up with a reservation on my desired day. He uses an automated system to grab tables from So... 1)You won't get a 7:00 table because I don't think those are ever on OpenTable. 2)Aren requests a small donation for his effort. I had my table before I sent him anything. 3)I don't know if he's still doing this. It didn't seem like this was an important source of income for him and he may have decided it's no longer worth the trouble. 4)OpenTable or The French Laundry may have changed their policies so that his system isn't effective anymore. 5)If I recall correctly, the process involves you giving Aren your credit card number and the password for your OpenTable account.

His web page is still up, though. It's certainly worth a quick email.

I've also read about a few commercial services that do this sort of thing. is alive and well but their SF page is down for re-tooling. The placeholder says it will be back in a few weeks but that could have been put up yesterday or a year ago. I've never used tablexchange. This option doesn't look as promising, but it can't hurt to send them a quick email, too.
posted by stuart_s at 2:48 AM on August 2, 2008

Very recently I was successful in obtaining a reservation at The French Laundry for a friend. Here's what you must know to get one:

1) You do indeed need to call exactly 2 calendar months ahead of the date that you'd like a reservation for. That means if you're going for April 5th, call on February 5th, etc. If you are looking for a reservation for a date that doesn't have a corresponding day in the 2nd month prior (i.e. the 31st of a month like August), then call the day before that (the 30th of June).

2) The reservation line opens at 10:00am Pacific Time, sharp.

3) The reservations for that date are usually long gone by about 10:25am.

4) Use a land-line phone with a nice quick redial button, and start at 9:59am!

5) Hope for the best! :-)

When I tried it, I happened to be successful on my first choice date. But as others have pointed out above, you may have a few days of failure before you get through, so it's best to have a flexible schedule and if possible not make travel plans until the reservation is in-hand.

But all in all, it's not an impossible process. I ended up rapidly redialing for about 10 minutes (to busy signals), then got through to hold music for about 10 minutes, then to a receptionist. The trick is to start dialing by 10:00 and hope you get the receptionist before she has given away the last reservation.

As for OpenTable, I have previously gotten a table for 4 at per se (TFL's East coast sister) through there, with one month lead time. I'm not exactly sure how that happens (since OpenTable does 1 month ahead as standard, but per se and TFL are booked 2 months ahead), but I have seen it out there on a few occasions when I've played around on the site. It does appear (and the FAQ linked to above confirms) that most OpenTable reservations are for parties of 4.

However way you get the reservation, I can assure you the meal will be an incredible experience! If I'm not mistaken, at this time you only have the option of the Chef's Tasting menu or the Tasting of Vegetables menu, though they will make almost any change to it that your dietary restrictions might require.

Also, FYI, while this is a wonderful (and long--be prepared for 3-4 hours) meal to share with a friend, you should know that if you do happen to end up having to go alone, you will automatically be "VIP"d. According to the account that Thomas Keller gives in Michael Ruhlman's book Soul of a Chef, all solo diners at TFL are given the same special treatment that friends of the Chef receive--which I image is an even bigger bunch of extra courses and such.
posted by Dr. Sam at 12:17 AM on August 4, 2008

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