A Restaurant Insider’s Secrets to Getting VIP Service at the Busiest Restaurants in Town

May 7, 2019

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Life should be great if you’re summering in the Hamptons, so don’t let finding a restaurant reservation get you down.

Most restaurants have a reservation book with predetermined availability at different times throughout the night. This availability is based on the size of the restaurant, average table turns (how long you dine) and the capacity the kitchen can handle at one time. While hosts are instructed to stick to the predetermined number of openings so that the night runs smoothly, there is usually some wiggle room to squeeze in guests last minute. But there’s definitely some legwork required to become a guest that gets “squeezed into” the reservation book when there’s simply no space available. Follow these tips and tricks to get treated like a regular and confidently navigate the host stand like a pro.

Introduce Yourself

Stop by the restaurant just after it opens one evening and introduce yourself to the manager while the restaurant is calm. The manager hires and trains the hosts, and makes final calls on reservations and seating.

Establish a relationship, over the phone or in person, with the restaurant staff. (Photo by Hero Images / Getty Images)

Dine on a Quiet Night

If you’re not a VIP regular, start by dining on weeknights or early in the evening (before 6pm). Find an opportunity to make small talk with the staff, and say goodbye and thank you to the manager at the end of your meal. This additional face time with the manager is important if you want to solidify your relationship and get on a first-name basis.

Name Drop, a Little

When it gets to high season and you’re craving a very particular tuna tartare, call the restaurant to secure a last-minute table. My colleagues may cringe when I say this (because of all the, “Is Paul there?” phone calls), but ask for the manager you met on your previous visits when you call. Remember, if it’s a holiday weekend or the last week of August, the busiest time of the summer season, there really may be no seats available. After all, the volume of guests in the Hamptons far exceeds the number of restaurant seats. Otherwise, your personal connection should land you that hard-to-get reservation.

Go Online and Get in Line

If you don’t have the time for restaurant recon, online reservation platforms such as OpenTable and Resy are your friend. Resy offers a cancellation list feature called Notify Me that can immediately text you when a table opens. Sign up for a few online cancellation lists and see who buzzes first.

Making a reservation in advance online may also require a credit card number, depending on your party size. (Photo by filadendron / Getty Images)
Making a reservation in advance online may also require a credit card number, depending on your party size. (Photo by filadendron / Getty Images)

Ask for a Table

If you’re more of a last-minute planner, ask if the restaurant accommodates walk-ins. Most restaurants save a certain area for guests without reservations and will try to get you seated in a reasonable time frame. Restaurants love walk-ins, because they fill unexpected open tables and bar seats and turn a full restaurant into a bustling one. Whether you end up at a high top or in a booth, walking into a hot restaurant without a reservation can sometimes be your best bet for actually getting accommodated. Grab a drink and hang tight until seats are available.

Be Prepared to Wait

And of course, having a reservation doesn’t always mean your table will be waiting for you the moment you arrive. Even if you’ve scored a coveted 7:30pm reservation on a Saturday night at the hottest spot in town, you could still stroll into the restaurant and find your table isn’t ready. Instead of being annoyed by the delay, play it cool. Head to the bar for a cocktail or a comfortable space to wait. You might be tempted to hover near the host stand, waiting for an update. But on behalf of all hosts, I beg you, please don’t. Your proximity to the host may disrupt the flow of incoming guests, will likely make the delay feel much longer and will certainly not get you seated sooner.

Try not to hover too close to the host stand... (Photo by vectorarts / Getty Images)
Try not to hover too close to the host stand… (Photo by vectorarts / Getty Images)

After 20 minutes have passed, if you haven’t received a status update, check in with the host stand. Remember that there are many factors causing the delay, and likely none of the them are the host’s fault. If 30 minutes have passed, give the restaurant a chance to offer an apology. If the wait is longer than expected, the manager will probably get involved. He or she has the power to appease the situation with complimentary food or beverages (a round of drinks, for example, or starters or desserts). The manager will also gauge guest demeanor, consider reservation notes and extenuating circumstances before deciding what exactly to offer as a gift.

Know When to Throw in the Towel

A warning specifically to Hamptons diners: Some restaurants get completely overbooked, and your wait could be more than an hour! This can happen when a server calls in sick or the host is having a difficult time managing what industry insiders call “dining room flow.” Save yourself the hour by recognizing the signs of a restaurant in duress (large lines formed at the host stand; an abundance of angry guests; people seated at tables with menus but no food). In these situations, unfortunately, there is really nothing you can do except dine elsewhere if you’re really hungry.

Eat Quickly

In a last ditch effort for a table (if you see any open spaces at all), you could tell a restaurant that you are willing to sit anywhere and commit to a specific timeframe. If you can find out exactly when the restaurant needs the table for a reservation, you can decide if that’s enough time for you to comfortably dine and allow the restaurant to stay on track. Win win.

(Photo by Tetra Images / Getty Images)
Let the host know that you are OK with finishing dinner in advance of your table’s next reservation. (Photo by Tetra Images / Getty Images)

Paul Weinstein is the director of hospitality at Wölffer Estate Vineyard. Please don’t bombard him with last minute reservation requests, but do stop by to say hello!

Featured photo by Patryck Sobczak / Unsplash.

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