There are 24,000 restaurants in New York City, but there are less than 100 where you want to eat. And the entire city wants to eat at those same restaurants. Even more, they want to eat at the same handful of tables: the one upstairs at the Lion, Table 62 at the Standard Grill, the back corner booth at Minetta. And they all want to eat on Friday night at eight. Every city has its own collection of money tables, and no matter where you are, there’s only one sure-fire way to get them: Be a celebrity.
Failing that, your best bet is to cultivate a relationship with the man (or woman) who runs the front of house.
Some restaurateurs, like Keith McNally of Minetta Tavern, Balthazar, Pastis and sundry other hotspots, have Byzantine reservation structures wherein each patron is awarded a designation that corresponds to a level of priority. Anna Wintour is reportedly an A. I myself am a B, I think. (But that’s what everybody with the private number thinks—part of the system is that its participants never know exactly where they stand.) Joe Schmo? He’s definitely a C. I got my nominal cachet by meeting a regular there for breakfast. To gain entry with a simpatico ally is a good strategy—think of your dining companion as a Trojan horse. It worked for a certain party of Greeks, and it works for a last-minute party of six as well.
Whether via breakfast (cheaper) or dinner (more fun), investing in becoming a regular is your best bet for obtaining those coveted digits. But be warned that this is a long con and there’s always the chance that, by the time you’ve achieved coveted regular status, the place will no longer be hot. Another method of cultivating a relationship is to find out where the staff hangs out after their shift—it will be a bar—and buy them a round. This is both an efficient and enjoyable technique, though its success is by no means guaranteed.
Once you’ve got the number, you’re still not in like Flynn. “It’s not something you should overuse,” advises Eater NY editor Amanda Kludt, “but it can come in handy when you have a last minute out of town visitor or a date or business partner you’re trying to impress.” So limit yourself to using the number only once or twice a month and remember: as with any transactional relationship, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.