Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Don't worry, you can still get a table tonight

Posted by on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 at 4:01 PM

For the Fat City reader who neglected to make a dinner reservation for tonight — Valentine's Day — or maybe just found that one true meaningful love over the last 48 hours (I mean, it does happen, I've heard), it's not hopeless. "Does bribing a host or hostess help get a table on a crowded night?" a Fat City reader asked. I've never known that gambit to work in Kansas City, but I'm sure there are exceptions to that rule.

The best advice I can give is to just go out and see what happens. Valentine's night is one of those holidays where customers have been known to reserve a table at two or three different restaurants, pick one at the last minute, and then neglect to cancel the other reservations. That leaves tables empty on one of the busiest restaurant nights of the week. Waiter, author and blogger David Hayden says he wished there had been Valentine's-night walk-ins at the busy Plaza restaurant where he was working a year ago: "We could have used two or three walk-in customers at 7:15 p.m.," he says. "The reservations on the books never showed up."

I experienced this myself on at least two holiday nights at a midtown boite. A couple took a gamble and walked in — without reservations — on Valentine's night. They were stunned when they were told they could have a table at that very moment.

"Aren't we lucky?" the gentleman said, unfurling his napkin.

Luck had nothing to do with it, I thought. But the couple who didn't show up or cancel their reservation were assholes. Happy Valentine's Day!

Some other suggestions: You can try bluffing the host or hostess ("I tell you, I made our reservation three weeks ago! Our name has to be on that list!"), but that typically backfires and the embarrassment can be very public — you're at the entrance to the restaurant, for God's sake. A better ploy would be to throw yourself — figuratively, of course — on the mercy of the host or hostess or, better yet, the manager. If you're dealing with a sympathetic soul, the person in charge might come up with a table somewhere in the dining room. A lot of times, it's the rotten deuce near the bathroom, but then again, beggers can't be too choosy.

David Hayden says restaurants that don't take reservations at all are often good bets for walk-in business.

"But to be on the safe side," Hayden says, "it's better not to make the dinner the focal point of the evening. I mean, you might end up at Winstead's."

Another possibility? Make dinner at home tonight and go out to celebrate tomorrow night. The night after Valentine's night is notoriously slow. You may even be the only customers in the dining room.

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