The Tasting Panel magazine

JULY 2012

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Page 30 of 132

MERRILL SHINDLER'S WORD OF MOUTH A World without Reservations H ere's how making a reservation at the Restaurant of the Moment in New York used to work: About a month before the desired date, you started calling. For the next week or so, you got a busy signal. When you finally got through, you were put on hold for several hours—until a harried sounding young woman informed you that the only available times were 4:30 and 11 pm. You opted for one or the other—and then were warned that you had to call back 24 hours before the reserva- tion, or it would be dropped. You tried to call back. You got the busy signal. And so, when you showed up, you were informed you didn't have a reservation. But there was a Sabrett's Hot Dog stand across the street—and they had an avail. Here's how making a reservation at the Restaurant of the Moment in New York works now: You just show up. You line up to give your name to a harried looking young woman, who informs you that nothing will be available for at least two hours, and maybe three. And then, you spend an hour trying to get an ornate bit of mixology out of the barkeep, which you drink squished into a corner like a sardine on the wrong edge of the can. And then, you order another. And another. And somewhere around the time Leno finishes up, you get a table. The good news is, you didn't have to wait on hold. The bad news is . . . you had to wait. A long, long time. Now, restaurants that don't accept reservations aren't new— McDonald's has never demanded reservations. Neither has Burger King. But then, they don't charge north of $20, $30 or $40 for mains—as they do at no-rez New York destinations like The Breslin, The Fatty Crab, The Spotted Pig, RedFarm, Roberta's and David Chang's Momofuku Ssäm Bar—all of which are jammed with foodies offering their first-born for a table. Restaurateurs say it's a way of dealing with reservation no-shows. Insiders say that's baloney. The knee-jerk is that it's a clever ploy to increase the bar tab—and to increase the buzz—for everyone wants to go where they can't get in. Los Angeles restaurateur Richard Drapkin (whose restaurants all accept reservations), says, "I think this falls into the category of 'because they can.' If the object is maximizing profits over a short period for greatest possible return, it may be a sound decision. If on the other hand they have a long-term vision that actually involves making customers happy and giving good service, it's probably not a great idea." Or as legendary Manhattan interior designer Mario Buatta, a longtime staple at New York's most stylish high-end restau- rants, succinctly told the New York Times: "I can't think of a place I would go that doesn't take reservations." 30 / the tasting panel / july 2012

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