How to Get Into the Busiest Restaurants

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There’s a particular kind of defeat that we run into a lot around here in the Eater newsroom, and it’s that of failing to get into a restaurant you really, truly wanted to dine at.

You’re probably familiar with the sensation: walking up to a restaurant critics have raved about only to find a line out the door and an absurd wait time that forces you to punt to Plan B. It’s a feeling we do everything in our power to avoid, so we’ve come up with some foolproof workarounds to avoid the dreaded second-choice scramble that follows a swift rejection from a host and their iPad.

On the first episode of our new podcast, Eater’s Digest, we gathered Eater editors’ best tips and tricks for getting into restaurants with crazy waits, and then put a theory of our own to the test on a recent Saturday night at five of New York’s most notoriously busy restaurants. Listen to the episode or read on for the tl;dr:

Wait until that big TV season finale

Game of Thrones. The 1991 Dallas finale. The Super Bowl. What do they all have in common? Lots and lots of people glued to their TVs, aka not at restaurants. Sonia Chopra says debate night in particular is a good time to shirk your political duties and snag an otherwise hard-to-come-by table at the next restaurant on your list.

Literally save it for a rainy day

People are wimps, and when it rains, they cancel. Ryan Sutton recommends turning on the “notify me” setting in Resy when the forecast looks cloudy, and being ready to pounce on a last-minute table. “It’s really truly incredible,” he said. “If it rains, people will cancel their reservations literally anywhere.”

Get a business card and call directly

Daniel Geneen, co-host of Eater’s Digest, is a fan of a method that has also succeeded at making him a regular at several of New York’s buzziest restaurants: After successfully getting a table, he gets a business card at the end of the meal, whether it’s the manager’s or his server’s, and asks if he can make a reservation with them directly the next time he wants to come in.

Seasons matter

Amanda Kludt, Eater’s editor-in-chief and co-host of Eater’s Digest, suspected that the buzziest restaurants in wealthy neighborhoods would be empty in the summer, “because everyone is out of town.” On a sticky August evening, she and Daniel hit five restaurants in fancy neighborhoods with notoriously long waits — I Sodi, Via Carota, Frenchette, Pastis, and Atla — to put her theory to the test. Find out how they did on the first episode of their new podcast, Eater’s Digest.

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Below, a lightly edited transcript of our adventure putting Amanda’s theory to the test.

Amanda Kludt: Everybody has their tips and tricks and hacks for how to get into the hardest to get into restaurants, the places with crazy long waits. Here are some of our favorites from the experts at Eater.

Serena Dai: Just go on a Monday. Not everyone loves dining out on Mondays but I think it’s kinda nice, like a little treat at the beginning of the week.

Ryan Sutton: Typically I eat out later than most people. I’m kind of a night owl, so generally speaking my easiest tip is to show up early, or for people like me, show up late.

Stefanie Tuder: You’re going to have to make peace with sitting at the bar. Max three people, just make it a little easier on yourself.

Sonia Chopra: Go on a day where everybody else is watching TV. So Super Tuesday, election night, the Super Bowl, things like that.

Stefanie: What I recommend doing is talk to the bartender. Tell them that you’re looking for a seat, is there any people they think are nearing the end of their meal, winding down, any place you should stand.

Ryan: I simply used the alert notification on a service known as Resy. They send you a push notification that tells you when someone has cancelled their reservation and it usually works out really well on rainy days.

Stefanie: Always have a backup, so you’re not standing in the West Village scrolling through your phone.

Ryan: It’s really truly incredible. If it rains, people will cancel their reservations literally anywhere.

Serena: See if you can find an email for the restaurant and say, “hey, I’m in from out of town. You are one of the top places on my list.” And see if they’re the kind of place that would be open to that.

Amanda: Dan, I know you pride yourself on your ability to talk your way into restaurants and to get into restaurants in general. Can you just give us, rapid fire, some of your favorites?

Dan: I’m gonna give you my mentality. First of all, I want to say these tips are all great. I would say dont use any single one of them. Use them together. Have them all ready to go. Second point, and I can’t remember the quote exactly but there’s a quote from Melisandre, the magician, the red woman, talks about, “Magic is about doing all the work ahead of time, and then looking effortless in the moment.”

Amanda: I mean that’s just a good motto for life.

Dan: So I think a lot of the work for getting into restaurants should be done ahead of time. It is not good to think of a city with hard-to-get-into restaurants and think, “I want to go anywhere.” Pick four or five that you want to get good at getting into. And then establish yourself in those places. Make sure you’re frickin’ wonderful… huge tip. I don’t know if I’ve added that much to this, but I think in general overall approaches in life is to ask people for things when you don’t need anything from them.

Amanda: Love it.

Dan: So once you’re already in the nightclub thats when you establish yourself as a person to know with the bouncer, not when you’re like “Hey bud, let me in.” Gotcha?

Amanda: Yes. Another great life lesson. I love it. So I have this theory which is very relevant given we’re in the dog days of summer and this is the one we’re testing out on the show today. So the theory is… in the summertime, in rich neighborhoods, the people who live there go away. So in New York especially, they go to the Hamptons and I’m sure there are other examples in LA or Austin or San Francisco or Chicago. So my theory is if you go to a neighborhood where the residents are wealthy, the restaurants will be easier to get into. So like if you go to Bushwick right now on a Saturday, it’s jam-packed because people don’t have a ton of money in Bushwick, they’re younger. If you go to Tribeca, people are older, they have lots of money, it’s one of the most expensive zip codes in New York… easier to get in.

Dan: What is unique about Tribeca though… it is not slammed with tourists. So we came up with a list of 5 restaurants in different neighborhoods, all pretty wealthy neighborhoods that we thought would be good case studies that are all very busy. Atla, which is close to me, is usually about 30 to an hour to get into.

Amanda: In the West Village, Via Carota and I Sodi, but super super hard to get into.

Daniel: Probably the hardest in the city. Pastis, which is newer, it’s a reopened version of an old famous restaurant that’s in Meatpacking which is slammed with tourists. And then your darling…

Amanda: Frenchette! In Tribeca, which was the inspiration for this theory because it’s a neighborhood that just completely empties out on the weekends.

Dan: Alright Amanda, let’s do what we do best, which is leave the office and go to restaurants.

Amanda: Let’s do it!

Daniel: So, it is 7:00-ish. 7:15? We are in a cab, on our way to stop one, Pastis. We are gonna hit a bunch of different restaurants and see if we get in…

Amanda: Yeah, this is fine, we can walk from here.

Amanda, to the host at Pastis: Hi. We’re wondering what the wait is for two right now?

Pastis: Wait for two. Did we have a reservation by chance?

Amanda: No, no, just walking in.

Pastis: I can do something on the patio right now if you’d like.

Amanda: Really? Okay, cool. Just wondering. Thank you so much.

Amanda: Well, that’s great. The theory worked. You could walk in, 7:22 on a Saturday night, and you’re in.

Daniel: That was a win.

Amanda: That was a win, total win.

Amanda: I think I Sodi next.

Daniel: We’ve gotta cab it then, right?

Amanda: So then we hopped in a cab and made our way to I Sodi which… Daniel tell me what you think… I think it’s one of the hardest reservations in the city.

Daniel: A hundred percent. It’s a guaranteed two-hour wait.

I Sodi: Hello. How are you?

Daniel to I Sodi host: We don’t have a reservation. We were wondering if we could walk in for two?

I Sodi: Just give me one moment, and I’ll give you an estimate for bar seats.

Amanda: We waited outside for a bit while he checked on bar seats….

Daniel: How long did he quote us an hour and a half?

Amanda: That’s 9 p.m., I Sodi, Saturday night. That is primo. If we weren’t doing this we’d go across the street and have a drink and maybe get called in at 8:45.

Daniel: So that’s what I’m saying. Even though it’s still an hour and a half, that is an hour and a half against what I would have expected to be three hours…

Amanda: 7:30 at I Sodi I would have expected over two.

Amanda: See?

Daniel: You’re two for two.

Daniel: And then from there, we went to another West Village hot spot, maybe the West Village’s hottest spot, Via Carota, where you go a fair amount and the wait is always insanity.

Amanda: There’s, you know, like seven people walking in right in front of us to a restaurant that’s completely packed.

Amanda: I didn’t have high hopes for this one because I feel like it’s kind of insurmountable. It doesn’t matter what… it could be a blizzard, and there still would be a wait there.

Daniel: And even when we got there there was a group walking in ahead of us, a guy and a girl, and the girl said “absolutely not” when she heard how long the wait was.

Amanda: Yeah all we heard was, “absolutely not”

Amanda to Via Carota host: Hi. What’s your wait for two?

Via Carota: We’re full until around 11 right now.

Amanda: Full until 11.

Daniel: Initially she quoted us three and a half hours..

Amanda: Three and a half hours.

Via Carota: Yeah, I mean there’s not a lot of people physically here, if you want to have a drink, see if anything opens up sooner, you’re welcome to.

Daniel: … and then she sort of walked that back…

Martha Daniel, Eater’s Digest producer: So what did they tell you when you walked in and asked for a table for two?

Amanda: Okay, so she said she didn’t have anything for two until 11, which is 3 hours.

Daniel: Three and a half. Yeah.

Amanda: Three and a half. Three and a half hours from now. But.

Daniel: But.

Amanda: She did say that if we were to just hang out, have a drink, that something would probably open up, because she said, quote, “A lot of people aren’t coming back tonight.” So I feel like it’s actually way easier than we would have thought.

Daniel: It was a soft three and a half.

Amanda: According to her list, technically three and a half, but according to her ninja maitre d’ skills, I bet you’re waiting around for twenty minutes before you actually get to eat.

Martha: And what time is it right now?

Amanda: It’s 7:42.

Amanda: At this point I was feeling pretty confident.

Martha: All right, let’s find a cab?

Amanda: Let’s go to Atla.

So then from Via Carota we headed to Atla…

Daniel: This place is slammed, always.

Amanda: But that night they had a table right away…

Atla: We only reserve the inside the patio is first come first served, so it gives us double the restaurant so it’s way easier to kind of throw people around.

Daniel: Yeah, right, when we walked up they clearly had some tables inside, we talked to the host and she even said the neighborhood felt a little dead.

Amanda: Yeah, because rich people live there.

Atla: But even the neighborhood, you see how it’s a little more quiet. This is prime time too!

Daniel: What’s our… what is our score right now?

Daniel: I’ll give you a point on Pastis.

Amanda: We could have sat down immediately at Pastis.

Daniel: I’ll give you a point on I Sodi, because…

Amanda: I’ll take half a point on I Sodi.

Daniel: Half a point on I… I’ll give you half a point on I Sodi.

Amanda: Yeah, because we were still gonna have to wait an hour and a half, which was low for I Sodi, but still, not ideal, I guess.

Daniel:Via Carota, another half a point?

Amanda: Half a point for Via Carota. Because she very strongly implied we were sitting down soon.

Daniel: A full shiny point for Atla.

Amanda: Frenchette is number five, yeah. Frenchette, final one. All right. Should we get this cab?

Daniel: Alright but the fifth stop to me was the most important because this is the one you based this entire theory on.

Amanda: This inspired the theory.

Daniel: And it’s not that I wanted you to be wrong…

Amanda: You did.

Daniel: I didn’t, I didn’t not want you to be wrong, but it was certainly the stop that I was most looking forward to…. And we hopped in a cab and headed over to Frenchette.

Daniel: Frenchette was the inspiration for your theory?

Amanda: Tribeca’s the inspiration for this theory. My sister had her bachelorette in Tribeca last year and the whole neighborhood was empty — it was in August. The whole neighborhood was completely empty, and it’s because everyone is so rich in Tribeca that they just leave. And that’s what made me think, oh, this is a theory for restaurants. And then I went to Frenchette last month and it was not that busy, so people were, you know, it was still full, but they told me that there were more walk-ins than usual….

Daniel: When we got to Frenchette….

Amanda: This is fine right here…

Daniel: It was a nice night out…

Amanda: But there was also a crowd of people waiting so it wasn’t for sure

Daniel: It wasn’t a lock down. And just because you seen an open table doesn’t mean there are open tables.

Amanda: It’s 8:15, we’re standing outside Frenchette. It looks like there are open tables on the patio behind us, so I’m feeling really good. But I also see a lot of people loitering.

Amanda: Okay.

Daniel: Let’s go in. Final stop.

Amanda: Okay so… what was our final score? Where did we have dinner that night?

Daniel: We had dinner at Frenchette. Seated right away. And you know… the very kind maitre d’ even confirmed our theory unprompted.

Frenchette: I would say on an August, specifically an August Saturday, yes, it’s slower.

Amanda: Yep. He said he used to live in Williamsburg and there was a real shift when the neighborhood got fancy. All of a sudden you could get into the best restaurants on summer Saturdays when all the neighbors started headed for the Hamptons on the weekends.

Daniel: So at what point did you call him ahead of time to get you to say that?

Amanda: Ha!

Daniel: I guess in the end of this you were more right than not right

Amanda: More right than not right is fair.

Daniel: I was expecting a few of these places to be porous. Atla because I am close to there so I am familiar with it. The one that really proved your point for me was I Sodi because we had already established because that area was filled with tourists and i sodi is a culinary destination, a place where somebody who knows what they’re doing comes to NY that may be the only restaurant they want to go to.

Amanda: I wish we’d had time to actually test out VC because thats the one where I think if we had gotten to sit it would’ve proven the theory, because she gave us this crazy long quote but then kind of wink and a nod hang out you can probably get a table. I think that would really show….

Daniel: You mean you wish we ate some food there instead of running around a bunch of restaurants in NY with a microphone and asking how long it would take to sit down and never eating?

Amanda: In retrospect it might’ve been a more enjoyable time.

Daniel: No I agree, based on her wink wink nudge nudge I have faith as well that we would’ve gotten in there quite quickly.

Amanda: I think the moral of the story is… if it’s August and you live in a city with popular restaurants… go to them!