Open Tables?


Fresh shelling beans and pork soffritto at SPQR

A few weeks ago, in No Reservations, Jessica blogged about the latest no-reservations-taking policy that’s sweeping the city. Being a type-A sort, I’ve racked up a mighty big share of points on Opentable (even if I’ve never redeemed any of them)—so, yes, I’m all for reservations. How else can you squeeze a zillion things into a day if you have to wait two hours just to sit down to dinner?

Beets with ricotta at SPQR

But I don’t mind the no-reservations thing, so long as I can plan for it and strategize accordingly. You definitely need a game-plan (especially if you’re like me and get moody when you’re hungry). Last week I finally made it to SPQR and Laiola—and didn’t have to wait for a nano-second. Here are a few strategies to getting a table without reservations in SF:

1. Wait for the buzz to die down.
Both SPQR and Laiola opened about a month and three months ago, respectively, so the serious restaurant hawks have come and gone.

2. Dine at the bar.
Most people prefer eating at a table. However, if I’m in a group of two, or maybe even three, my vote’s for the bar—there’s tons to see, the service is often more personal and the wait’s way shorter. Last Friday, my friend and I got to Laiola at 7:15 p.m. and snagged two seats at the bar. True to form, the bartenders and our waiter couldn’t have been nicer or more attentive.

3. Eat at off times.
Show up either before 7 p.m. (maybe 7:30 p.m.) or after 9:30 p.m. As a grandma in training (no kids, I just act old), I love eating at 6 p.m., which means my poor dinner dates and I are usually the first in the restaurant. I asked our servers at both SPQR and Laiola about when they’re at their busiest, and both said from 7:30 p.m. to about 9 p.m.

4. Go out on Mondays.
Check first to be sure the restaurant is open, as some spots are closed on Mondays. My philosophy is that Monday is the new Thursday, which was the new Saturday; however, I’ve noticed that most people still go out on Saturday and need Monday to recover. Fewer crowds mean more open tables and little to no wait.

5. Opt for lunch over dinner.
Some restaurants actually serve the same menu for lunch as they do for dinner—as is the case with SPQR. And the pace and noise level are often more pleasant. Plus, if the restaurant has skylights (like SPQR does), then you get to enjoy a light, airy ambiance. Even better, it’s best to eat big midday and light at night—a la the folks in Spain, Italy and France.

Meyer lemon sorbet, cookies and pistachio-chocolate gelato at SPQR

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