Nowadays with everyone owning a smartphone, it’s simply foolish not to try to get a reservation first before you head on out to a restaurant. This is especially true for super-trendy establishments that require a long wait of weeks before you can secure a table.
But sometimes it just can’t be helped. What if you just want to impress a lady you just met, who wishes to dine at a particular restaurant that very night you meet her? Or what if you and your party are hungry, and you’re in front of the only restaurant nearby?
If that’s the case, then there’s always a chance that you can get a table. That’s because most of these places keep a couple of tables free, just in the off chance that someone important will drop by unannounced. This can be a favorite patron, a friend or relative of the manager or owner, or even a local celebrity. If you have the guts, then that table may be given to you.
Here are some ways that, according to hosts and hostesses, have been used by diners to beat the reservation system. We’ve listed them down from the least to the most effective means:
1-Just seat yourself. If the host or hostess is busy somewhere else, you can always just sneak past and get an open table. This obviously requires a bit of chutzpah, however. There’s always the chance you will get caught, so if you don’t want to be embarrassed this may not be the best move for you.
However, once a waiter hands you a menu and some water, and you ask for some pre-dinner drinks, you’re all set. It’s not very likely that the restaurant people will make a scene to forcibly remove you from your table. But be warned that you’re probably not going to get great service. They’ll probably water down your drinks and rush you through your meal.
2-Throw a tantrum. Again, you’re operating on the principle that restaurant people don’t really like a fuss that may disturb their other patrons. This works for you, since the hosts can simply elect to get you seated as the easy way out. Most people are just nice and they don’t want a scene. For this to work, you have to be obnoxious and loud when you accuse the servers and hosts of various types of bad behavior.
Now this can work too, but you’re going to be regarded as a jerk. At least you’re a jerk with a seat and a table. Just don’t overdo the nastiness—act too outrageously and your antics may be shown on YouTube by other patrons with smartphones.
3-Be a good guy. Instead of being the bad guy, you may want to try being super nice instead. Act apologetic about not having a reservation, and tell them that you’ll take any table. Mention that you’ve heard great things about the restaurant, and emphasize just how you really want to get a taste of their special dishes. Let them know that you realize how overworked they all are, and show your appreciation for their assistance. The point is to be nice and patient, so that they’ll want to accommodate your need.
Surprisingly, this works more often than being a jerk. You may have to wait a little bit, but at least they’ll regard you as a “good customer” and the service should be okay. Thank them by name when you leave, and make a point of entering their phone number on your phone so you can make a reservation next time.
4-Fake some sort of connection to the place. Get to the hostess stand, and profess some sort of connection to anyone who works here even if it’s all made up. Say that your aunt used to babysit the bartender, or your mom used to go to high school with the maître d’, or you used to be neighbors with the chef. It helps if you do some online checking to get your facts straight, but just make sure you get the name of the person right.
Now this may or may not work, but it makes you memorable without being a jerk. You may have to wait, but it’s only going to be for a short while.
5-Pretend that you made a reservation, and then the restaurant lost it. There are several ways that the restaurant can disprove this, but then all you need to do is say that you’re early for your reservation and you’re willing to get a drink at the bar to wait. And you also need to mention that strangely, this time you didn’t get a call from them to confirm in advance.
This can take a while to resolve, as some hosts aren’t familiar on what to do in such cases, and the upper management people may have to step in. But there’s a good chance that you’re going to get your table after about half an hour waiting at the bar, just to make up for their “mistake”.
6-Give them money. Just make sure that you’re discreet when you hand the $50, and if you want to get a table for sure you better make that $100. While upper management doesn’t exactly endorse this kind of deal, it still works. Often the host will share the money with the other workers so everyone’s happy.
7-Pick the right time to go. All these tactics may not work at all during the peak hours, and even Benjamin Franklin may not help when it’s a popular restaurant at 8:30 PM on a Saturday evening. So you have to come in way early, like at 6 pm, or wait for the dinner crowd to decrease by waiting until after 9:30 PM. And if you’re going to wait, why not call ahead with your phone? Explain that you don’t have a reservation, and then see if you can get a table at such a late time. That works too!