How to Get into the Best Restaurants Without Having Reservations

How to Get into the Best Restaurants Without Having Reservations


There's something that my husband, a longtime restaurant industry person has taught me: When going out to dinner, have no fear.

Before I met Joe, I would never in a million years have attempted to go to the most popular restaurants in town, on say, a Friday night—with no reservations. But he never thinks twice about it. His attitude is, it'll work out, and it almost always does.

In fact, in the past couple months, we've dined at Frances, A16, Range, Flour + Water, Locanda, Bar Agricole, and Absinthe with nothing to show for ourselves except a nice smile and some patience. (Should you think it's because I'm recognized as a food writer, I will swear to you that in all of these instances, no one had a clue who I was.) In fact, for most of them, we just walked right in and took a seat. At a few, we waited maybe 15 minutes.

The beauty of this kind of guerilla dining is that you can base where decide to  go on your whims and cravings—not necessarily on an izakaya restaurant reservation you've been committed to for two weeks when you're now jonsing for pasta and a glass of red.

A few tips:

1. Every restaurant holds tables. They also often have a table or two that they've deemed inferior and are saved for last. Often, they're not so bad at all.

2. Dine as a couple. Any more than that and you're requesting that a host find you a four-top table or larger to occupy.

3. Dine at the bar. This is the real key to success. For some reason, most people wait for a table over the bar, but almost every bar allows you to order the entire menu. Plus, as I've written before, bars rule.

4. Be nice. There's no way that you're going to get past a host if you're rude. They're the keeper of the table.

5. Dine later. San Francisco might tout itself as a late-night dining town now, but the truth is that restaurants start to clear out early on, especially ones without full bars.

6. Choose wisely. Go to a part of town where there are a few desirable restaurants within walking distance. If you don't succeed with the first one, try try again. Because we all know that finding a good parking space is a bigger bitch than getting a good table.

Now go be spontaneous tonight.


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