How do you skip the line and get the corner table? (photo: Thomas Hawk)
An evening out should be special, especially if it’s an expensive evening.
But too often it’s a disappointment. Does the following scenario sound familiar? After weeks of trying to score a reservation at that new restaurant that just got a great review, you finally get one – only to find yourself waiting until 9pm for the table you were promised at 8pm. When you’re finally seated, you find yourself waiting – for a drink, for your food, for your check, even for your coat.
It might be somewhat tolerable if you looked around and saw that everyone was treated the same, but that’s rarely the case.
There always seems to be at least one table getting the VIP treatment. It’s like a little oasis: The diners aren’t kept waiting; the waiters are particularly attentive; and the chef may even come out to say hello or send over some extra desserts at the end. Who doesn’t want to be treated like that?
I’m not fussy and I’m not high maintenance. I think those are two reasons I stumbled upon the secrets of being treated like a VIP…
For years, I was editor in chief of a publishing house and edited cookbooks by some of the world’s best chefs – so my friends always assumed that’s why I got treated so well. But the truth is – the restaurants where I was treated best never knew what I did for a living. Trust me: If you get pitched books all day, the last thing you want is to be pitched books over dinner.
Here are 9 tips for becoming a VIP who skips lines and gets tables. Test even a few and you’ll almost always get amazing treatment at the very restaurants others can barely get into.
1. Start at the bar. Try having a meal there. Chat with the bartender a bit; introduce yourself to the Maitre d’ and get her or his card. Ask if the owner is around and introduce yourself to her or him.
2. Ask the waiter to ask the chef two questions: First, What does everyone order, and Second, what does almost no one order but the chef thinks everyone should. Then order them both. Chefs want to show off their popular dishes, but often have an item on the menu they are really proud of, and really want people to try. I first did this at The Slanted Door in San Francisco. A cook actually came out to say hello because he thought it was so unusual.
3. Be one of the first customers. If you read local food-blogs, or visit sites like chow.com or zagat.com, you’ll know what’s opening and who’s opening it. If it sounds good, go. Businesses frame their first bucks and treasure their first customers.
4. If you like it, come back for two more meals that very week. I went to a great NYC restaurant called Union Pacific for lunch the week it opened. I loved it and came back for dinner that night, lunch the next day, and dinner later that week. They never forgot me. After Union Pacific became white hot, I could score a reservation any time I wanted – even if I hadn’t been there for months. Even though the restaurant is sadly gone, I’ve kept up with some of the alums – and they now work in some of the city’s best restaurants.
5. Be forgiving. Even VIPs sometimes have to wait, get spilled on, or get the wrong dish. VIPs are often simply people who were good sports when all didn’t go as planned. You don’t have to be a milquetoast – but if the restaurant knows it messed up, you can score major points by not making a big deal about it or using it as an excuse to try to score freebies.
6. Send compliments to the chef – especially when you are specific about what you like. I know it sounds dorky – but it’s almost always appreciated. If you really love the place, send a note to the chef. Very few people do this.
7. Tip 25% if you like the place and got pretty good service. At very fancy restaurants, tip the Maitre d’ too. If you can’t afford to tip properly, then you can’t afford that restaurant. Go someplace you can afford.
8. Choose the cheapest wine. Or choose a wine you know and like. Or one that intrigues you. Or just ask for help. But don’t choose the second cheapest wine, unless it’s a wine you know and like. (The cheapest is often a good, smart value; the second cheapest is sometimes a sucker’s play – a bad deal put specifically on the wine list for all the people who don’t know wine, don’t want to ask, but don’t want to look cheap by ordering the cheapest).
9. Ask to be treated like a VIP. Okay, I saved the most obvious for last. But it works. There’s a restaurant called Matsuri in New York. I went and loved it. So I called the manager, told her that I was crazy about the place, and would entertain there a lot if I could be pretty sure that I would be nicely looked after. I’ve been treated like a prince there ever since. And I do entertain there whenever I can – both for business meals and with friends. There may be new restaurants cropping up all the time, but Matsuri is still one of NYC’s best and has me for life.
About the author: Will Schwalbe is the former editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, one of the powerhouses of New York publishing. He is, along with David Shipley of The New York Times, co-author of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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106 Replies to “9 Tricks for Getting a Table (and Being a VIP) at Hot Restaurants”
How exactly do you tip a maitre d’? Walk up to them and hand them cash? What’s the protocol?
Fold up some cash in your hand where you cant see it, shake his hand and tell him “Thank you for taking care of me tonight, we’ll be visiting you again soon.”
my dad was a maitre’d…taught me the same thing as a ten year old lol
Interesting post…… I used to do similar things for getting into nightclubs but never thought of restaurants. Thanks
Tim, I have a general question if you could help me please, privately or publicly is fine.
I have read the book twice and focused in on key areas over and over but the main issue holding me back is not really having found a product that I feel confident enough about or has not been done to death
I have a website in logo design outside of the US and it only makes pretty average returns for the work involved despite SEO and being 3 on google for the main keyword. I act as the middle man…..
I have other online ideas (although not a developer myself, I also outsource like you) for camparison websites but most of these have a bit of competition already and they seem to have done exclusives in some cases so will be hard to beat.
My day job as a national accounts manager invlolves selling to the likes of Kmart etc in my country and also have experience selling hard goods and consumables (soft drinks etc) via distributor networks….. but I cant think of anything that is truly unique that I could test and could have enough distribution…..sounds pathetic I know but nothing jumps out at me. Worst part is I never stop thinking about becoming an entrepreneur but just cant seem to make it happen……
I tried your magazine idea but I could not find anything or think of anything significant….
I could just go ahead with my comparison site idea and hope to do it better and get better seo postioning (take at least 6 months) but as I said it will be a lot of work with no guarantees (wont work on PPC as too expensive)
Have you any other ideas on how to stimulate product ideas. I think the rest of your book is fantastic and whilst you cant do the thinking for me or others finding a potentially successful product or service is my biggest hurdle.
PS I have been trying to start something part time for years and am passionate about becoming an entrepreneur but I think I need a mentor to help….(hint, hint)
Sell other people’s products at retail until you stumble upon your idea. Global Trade is huge right now, as retailers will soon fade into the night as the younger generations will prefer to click rather than wait in line, and deal with traffic.
Bottom Line- Get in the game.
Almost a decade later and one reply. Peter, how’d things work out for you?
Very intriguing – There aren’t any overly fancy restaurants where I live, but when I visit another big city for an extended period, I’ll be sure to try some of these.
Tim – Long time fan and frequent visitor to your forums, Kamakiri here. I know you didn’t write this one, but a lot of the tips included in there were a bit off. Starting at the bar is great, but don’t ask if the owner is around. If they wanted to talk to you they would be at the bar. This is especially the case on a busy night. The last thing they want to hear is that a customer wants to talk to them, as it is generally a complaint. Even if you have flowery praise, the owner is probably more preoccupied with the schedule, payroll, slow food, food order…
An owner is going to make the rounds of they have the time, if they aren’t doing it then calling them over will be a no no in most cases.
Be careful with #2 as well. In many restaurants, the cooks can’t stand the waiters and vice versa, and can easily get you branded as a pita.
Never, Never order wine by price. If you use that as your ordering criteria, you should be having a beer and a burger at the local greasy spoon instead of eating in a restaurant with waiters.
This is great advice.
Having worked in 2 of Sydney’s hottest restaurants in the early 90s I know what lengths some people will go to secure a table… usually by trying to throw their weight around.
Those sort of people often end up with spit in their soup (metaphorically speaking).
25% tips sound good. When I was a waiter we’d average 5%.
If you want to be treated as a VIP in the evening make your favorite a regular lunch stop. They are usually less formal and you may have an opportunity to get to know the management.
I was able to get into a favorite restaurant on Valentines Day without reservations because I am a regular…it was a nice to get an unplanned meal out with my wife. The owner just pulled me into the first available table.
Good post Tim
Folks in the restaurant world are artists and really don’t get a chance for some applause. You tips here give them that chance at the spotlight. People remember fans as they usually get complaints all the time. So of my best friends have been chefs and restaurant owners. These folks are in the hospitality business and will give you VIP treatment if you give it to them first.
No one is too busy to take a sincere compliment.
Kamakiri, that’s no way to make friends around here. I don’t even remotely believe in ***-kissing but you could have been a tad bit disingenuous. After all, the article, in general, is about how to get into others’ good graces. As a member of a successful, industry-praised, oil company and a world class theater venue that has played the white house, I can honestly say that as long as the “flowery praise” is kept simple, sweet and sincere, the owner of any establishment should be glad to hear it… psychologically, it helps offset the complaints to which you referred.
Perhaps you could have given alternative suggestions… like bringing very small “thank you” or “simply amazing!” cards with you… business card size cards with your info on one side and the other side saying,
“This card reserved solely for those who are SIMPLY AMAZING!”
Anyways, your rebuttal was obviously well intended… so thanks.
And thanks to both Will, the author of the article, and Tim, the author of the blog… for an article that presents some fine starting points. Thnx..!
I think the idea of asking the chef what his or her favorite meal is is a great idea, but I’m a vegetarian and a very picky eater. I’d be a little scared that they would recommend something I know I wouldn’t like – and then be forced to order it. Should I use my diet to my advantage and twist the question by asking what the chef recommends as the best “vegetarian” meal? Or is that impolite?
Another diverse and interesting guest post – thanks.
I really like the ideas presented here, and I have not really though of doing something like this despite being a lover of eating out and expecting good service. Like the old saying that “you make your own luck” I suppose the same principle applies here in the fact you get out what you put in. Paying attention to the chef and the staff will reap rewards. I’m sure this is true of many situations where you receive service.
Love the asking for the popular and chefs recommendation. Hope to have the guts to try that soon.
Thanks for the comments!
CW: Most common is the “tip handshake.” Walk up (some people think you need to do this as you are being shown to your table; I usually do it after the meal) with some folded money in your right hand. Look the Maitre d’ in the eye, say thank you, and shake hands. You don’t need to tip every time — every few times is usually fine. Tips can range from $5-$20 for a modest restaurant or up to $100 at a very fancy one. You can also send a thank you card at holiday time with cash or a gift certificate. But I know that many people have different theories on all of this — so it would be great to hear them. Oh, and you never tip the owner.
Kamakiri: I’ve found that while it can be very problematic to interrupt a chef during service, if the owner isn’t the chef, she or he will rarely mind being interrupted if it’s just to receive the thanks of a grateful customer. But to your point, it’s probably a great idea to add, “I would like to meet the owner to say thanks…if the owner isn’t too busy.”
Marc: Great point about being a lunch regular! Restaurants that are packed at night but sparse during the day really appreciate the support.
Darren: I find it’s best to make sure you are in a restaurant’s “sweet spot” when you do this. So if you are at a vegetarian restaurant or one with a really vegetarian-friendly menu, you should be in good shape. But I wouldn’t do this if I were you and eating at a restaurant that didn’t have lots of great things you can eat — even if you make your restrictions clear.
10. Be an actual VIP
Having a NYTimes #1 book is also a start 🙂
We were n Miami shooting a video and decided to have dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab. The restaurant was a hot commodity because stone crabs we’re in season. When we arrived we were told that there was a 2 hour wait. I discretely went up to the Maitre d’ and handed him a $50 dollar bill. He promptly handed it back to me and said “we do this on the way out”. I couldn’t believe it. I followed his advise and did what he asked and from that night on I never waited more than 1 minute for a table.
What was his advice?
Thanks for the insight. I’m curious about the choosing of the cheapest bottle of wine. . .can you elaborate a bit more on this? Is merely asking for help the driver of better treatment?
P.S. I’ll apologize if this post shows up twice, I posted it a while ago and it seems like it got snagged by my wireless connection monster.
Choosing the cheapest bottle of wine won’t make you a VIP. But neither will choosing the second cheapest. (And I know a lot of chefs and owners and sommeliers who put tons of effort into finding a really good cheapest wine.) The real point — as you sussed out! — is that many of the people who work at good restaurants really like to help customers. Asking for help with the wine is a great start to establishing a personal relationship with the people who work there. And you should be able to be honest about your budget needs. Many people aren’t — so that’s why they reflexively order the second cheapest bottle on the menu.
I’ve used most of those tricks above for years, and I have to say, they always work. Plus, there’s nothing that impresses a date/business person more then the owner knowing your name, and getting treated like a prince (princess).
Is anyone else not as interested in reading his blog since other people are authoring these?
We had dinner at a great restaurant once where we gave the chef carte blanche – surprise us! That dinner was memorable, both for us and the chef. It is not often that a great chef gets the chance to display his creative talents.
I hate when you let other people post on your blog – especially this crap.
Thank you for the suggestions. I will try them to take along my wife on great dining experiences.
Hey Tim man. You always entertain me by thinking different. I love creativity and ideas and your blog is full of them. I never know what to expect next. Hat’s off to you, I’m feeling inspired.
Who cares? The economy is melting down, people jobless or in foreclosure, and lots of people do not have the money to go to fancy restaurants. In fact, going to fancy restaurants is not why we read this blog. Please give us more info on how to deal with the present crisis – and no obscene gestures. Thank you.
Handing someone a 50 is just another bribery, yeah it may work but it kind of defeats the purpose of the whole discrete VIP notion…
Dear Christine, in this blog lies a clue to the answer (in concept). Think different and you will break the mold. Others are not doing all they can – so the one who differentiates himself will create value. And yes even here they are creating value! Where value is created, results will flow back to you. There’s often more you can do than you may think. Use it as inspiration.
Great post Tim, I’ve been doing most of the same myself for awhile now, plus a couple more, I got my inspiration from Tony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, can’t remember if the reco to read it came from you or elsewhere…keep on keepin’ on, good stuff!
Sounds like some pretty good tips to me.
Thanks for the response, Will!
Great tips! As for the suggestion of making a place a lunch favorite, I know for a fact this one works.
That 25% tip tip is bs. Sorry, I’ve become a ‘VIP’ at many restaurants over the years. The secret? Consistently frequent the place. That’s it. That’s the big secret. Because, when you scrape away all the cruff, the reason you’re a ‘VIP’ is because your presence translates to $$$ for the restaurant. And that’s what the restaurant is at the end of the day: a money making business.
The other big secret: give them business when they need it the most. Everyone wants to hit the restaurant on Friday and Saturday night. Do that 10 times and you won’t leave a mark, because they can always find another schlep to replace you on hot nights. You’ll leave more of an impression by coming in every 3 weeks on a Wednesday with a standing than you will by being a weekly guy on Friday at 8pm (if you can manage to get that Friday table).
The ‘tip 25%’ is ridiculous. It might work, but honestly, if that’s what it takes to get a good table or to become a ‘regular’, I’d think twice about the restaurant. It’s probably going to be out of business (or substantially different from its current incarnation in the next 5 years) – that shallowness never sustains a place.
Consistency, not gauche overtipping, is the route to VIP status.
For me to believe these tactics really work, Schwalbe would have to relate their success at the very very top tier Manhattan restaurants like La Grenouille, La Bernadin, Daniel, 21 Club, and Le Cirque. Being treated as a VIP at 2nd tier restaurants isn’t exactly a culinary coup (the Pareto principle naturally applies to restaurant status, too). Incidentally, I’ve eaten at all of the above and was treated very well, got good seats (at La Bernadin, one row away from Clive Davis) by just being a civil customer who paid my bill (and no frigging 25% tip, nor one to the Maitre d’, for God’s sake!). Yes, the chef came out personally to say good-bye to Clive Davis and not to me, but my ego doesn’t require that, believe it or not.
Hi, can I have some money to go to a restaurant? I’m completely broke as the recent financial markets wiped me out. I’ve been eating ramen for the past month. Haven’t done that since college. Other than that, great article I think
These are great! There so clever that its funny,
and they make sense. Very cool.
Let’s see if it is applicable in italy 🙂
I found that I slipped into the ‘VIP’ catagory at my favourite restaurant by mistake – because I’d go and eat at the bar and chat with the bar staff regularly – because I liked chatting to them.
Now, whenever I go, it’s like being welcomed into someone’s home – a lovely feeling. I suppose this is proof that Tip #1 works!
Tim, just wanted to say many thanks for leaving a comment in Michael’s blog! (Esprit-riche)
Javi (From Madrid reunion)
I hope you haven’t forgotten about climbing El Cap this spring (maybe I’ll give you two days to practice first!).
Get in touch.
Sorry for this off topic request. I would like to hear your views and tactics on how to deal with jealousy from friends and family when you have achieved your goals and live an alternate lifestyle.
I have been living a lifestyle described in your book for the last 20 years. I only work one day a week managing my business and take time off to pursue other interest. I also do some charity work. I get a lot of flack from my parents and my wife that I should work harder and make more money ect. I do quite well and make a very good income and do lots of cool stuff like racing in the Colorado grand prix a couple of weeks ago. Friends and family however are baffled. How do you deal with it.
While this may be a bit obvious, it’s always good to treat restaurant staff as you would want to be treated. People reciprocate good behavior.
I find that chatting up the waiter and forming a relationship with them works really well. I get their name, find out who they are and ask for them the next time if they did a good job.
Also for small restaurants where the owner is very hand on, I try to chat them up as well.
As with one reader said, I also try to go on the down days. Several times my wife and I would go on slow days like Mondays on when the weather is bad. When you are one of a few people at the restaurant, not only do you get to chat the people up more, you get treated so much better because they are not in a hurry.
This article was great! I love technical tips like this. Hope to see more, and wanted to leave my comment love to draw more attention here.
Why do you have a hurl in your hand in the photo at the top of the page?
I just thought it was random/funny.
The hurley is from when I was training in Galway with a team there, believe it or not. I wasn’t great, but it was a blast.
It was also a prop for the shoot that I thought we be sufficiently confusing/amusing to include with a pagoda 🙂
Good tip. It always helps to be seen as a person first, and not just a customer.
I think this is a great list and, hey, who couldn’t use a break from the phrases “credit crunch,” “mortgage meltdown,” and “economy in crisis?”
I’ve found that the best way to get treated like a VIP is to treat everyone else like a VIP too. Be nice, make people laugh, and let the servers know they did a great job. They’ll appreciate it and remember you when you come back. I know I did!
UPDATE… I tried all 9 of these out with the staff at DENNY’S and, guess what? IT WORKS!
I got my “Moons Over My Hammy” so fast it made my date’s head spin! And they let us sit at the corner table 9-seater all by ourselves!
Thanks, Tim and Will!
#8 seems so obvious yet I never even thought about that. Definitely noted for the next time I go out to dinner!
@Sam ROTFLOL Thanks for the first hee-haw of my day! Hey, Tim, look for a special note in your Inbox — I’m on assignment with Canfield this week 😀
@Will, I enjoyed your tips ~ we always make a point to say Thanks to the server and staff at our favorite restaurants in more ways than one, and they express their appreciation tenfold! 😀
Celebrate Life & learning ~ I AM!
Penne and the CanDo! Crew :o)
iLearn in Freedom Network
(Click username to visit see what we’re all about!)
I enjoyed reading this post… especially the tip on not ordering the 2nd cheapest wine. I’m guilty on occasion.
I’m new to your blog but will definitely be back. It seems as though you’ve got a great mix of content and a lot of readers!
Hej all ! This post about fancy restaurants is too much. Come on get some real topic about crisis. We all (the whole world) be in a new 1929 . Not only US americans. As David Bowie’s song “Five years” will take to re born ?
Ellen — Thanks for the comment. Glad it worked. And thanks, too, to Ed and Viviane and others. I’m pleased that so many people realized the intent of the post — which is to remind people the rewards of being nice (not that it needs a reward), of being loyal, of being generous, and of being interested in advice from the staff about what to eat and drink.
I know that some parts of the post may sound tone-deaf in this really horrible economic climate — and appreciate the humorous ways people pointed this out. But especially when people can’t afford to eat out much, they really want and deserve it to be special when they do — particularly if it’s for an occasion like a birthday or an anniversary. And while some of the hottest and best new restaurants in my neighborhood are fairly reasonably priced local spots — in tough times even theses are a splurge. As B.D. rightly points out, in the fanciest of fancy restaurants, you probably will be treated pretty nicely no matter what you do.
Very interesting post. I have a challenge for you, what about getting upgraded on planes. Since you travel so much, I would be interested to know what your tips are on air travel as cattle class is getting more and more uncomfortable.
The cheapest wine? I know several people who are hardcore wine lovers and systematically order the best wine on the list. Or, even better: after making appropriate arrangements with the restaurant, they bring a bottle from their own cellar (usually far superior to anything that the restaurant has on the list) and then generously share it with the sommelier, maitre and chef. Everybody wins. These people get the real VIP treatment.
# 7 is lame! “If you can’t afford to tip well (25%), you can’t afford to eat there.” STFU!!!
@JC… I used to think the same way to an extent. But one little known fact (unless your in the service industry), is that in many, if not most states, Waiters are paid “tip compensated wage”. This means that whether they get tipped or not, tips are figured into their wage. So, if your dining in Washington, Your waiter is making approx $9 before tips. But if your in michigan or texas, he/she is raking in a solid $2.17 an hour. Tips is how they make a living… and not the actual wage. Not to kick a dead horse, but in many cities, the service industry is a profession and not just a job. So, that waiter at the high end eatery has probably worked his way up the ladder to get the good high paying tables, or…. is the owner’s nephew on summer break.
Just a thought.
I enjoyed reading the article. I like the idea of being treated like a VIP.
Sorry if this is off the topic. But the main reason I am writing is because of the comment posted by Peter on Oct 19th….he says: “Have you any other ideas on how to stimulate product ideas….”
I have the opposite problem. I work for an inventor who has hundreds of product ideas and keeps getting more, but I can’t keep up with him. We need people who would like to market these, so we can keep thinking up product ideas and creating prototypes, instead of getting caught up in marketing.
Just one example is a software program that increases your brain wave coherence while it runs in the background of your computer. We are looking for people like Peter who know how to market, but don’t have a unique product to market.
I own two restaurants in NYC that are very successful and stumbled upon this. This guy has no f*cking idea what he’s talking about. The thing about the second cheapest bottle of wine especially irritated me. You want to be a VIP, be nice, get to know the staff, and truly enjoy the place. A lot of our VIPs don’t spend a lot of money or tip a lot at all, we just really like them.
Great post on how to get ahead before eating dinner. Another way is to use a website service call the opentable. Here you can reserve a seat within in seconds. Confirmation is fast plus looks impressive to other. I have used it several times and always got a table with a confirmation message within 2 minutes of making the arrangements.
Works well with web enabled phone pda’s etc…
PS Love the book thanks for the read
It’s a shame that people seem to have to have a ‘plan’. Why not just enjoy the restaurant for what it is. We’ve had some of the best times in restaurants that were’t booked, weren’t expensive. One comes to mind in Paris where we were shoe-horned in with other diners, the place was heaving, passing plates back and forth having a great time with new friends. Spontaneity is king!
In referencing Rudi’s comments, that it is a shame people always need a plan. Why is that a bad thing? To make my life easier, a little planning seems to go a long way. Most of the tips Tim gave seem to be based on the same idea, treat people how you would like to be treated. Especially staff at restaurants, cause most people treat them like ‘the help’.
Also, looking at Christine’s comment on why we should care about dining in a fancy restaurant in these tough economic times. Doesn’t have to be a fancy restaurant. And, what about those who do business over food and drink? Spending a bit more, having a strategic plan, and being ‘in’ with the staff will help your social capital in front of an important client.
These tips are very useful, and could make the difference between looking good in front of an important client or looking like an ass. And, who likes to do business with an ass?
Thanks for the wine hint. Will be using that tonight. It was great meeting you the other day. Loved the photo shoot.
Tip 25%….just so that you can get a table when you need it – you must be joking! I’d rather visit a restaurant that wasn’t so pretentious!
Great post, I will have to use that wine tip, I always chose the 2nd most expensive, I haven’t tried the cheapest much.
I just wanna say that these tips really works.. i have tried many of them and its been great.. cant wait to try the rest 😀
As a server at high end restaurants, the 25% tippers generally get the same service as anyone else. The tip happens after the meal, remember? Come back consistently and be a nice human being. That’s what changes the experience for you. As for ordering the cheapest wine, as much as people will bitch, it’s one of those things where you generally get what you pay for. No sommelier pads the list with crap wine in the hopes that you’ll be suckered into buying something for more than it’s worth. If it’s on the list, generally there’s a reason. If you want to know what’s good, ASK YOUR SERVER! They know what’s good, and if you’re looking for value, say so. They can help you find it. Also, ask what to order. You’ll get better food and a better evening, pure and simple. Remember the server’s name.
Thanks for the post, i enjoyed reading it. blogging is not as easy as many think it is, it’s hardwork. any how thanks.
Hiya, Tim. I realize this is a late question for an old post, but I’ve recently become aware of El Bulli, a restaurant in Spain that has received 2 million reservation requests in one year. Was wondering if you’d have any tips for that type of situation? 🙂
I had to respond here to clear up some bad ideas that this article proposes…
I state this as someone who has been in the restaurant industry for almost 15 years and has been a part of it all his life.
1. Do not EVER ask to talk to the owner, unless you have something specific that you would like to talk about. 1) The owner will likely not be there anyway and 2) if they are there and are not highly visible, they do not want to speak to anyone. If the owner would like to talk to people, they will make the rounds through the restaurant.
2. When you ask the server (dear god, don’t refer to them as waiters if you want to be treated like anything other than an dingbat) to ask the chef what his two favorite items are, you’re doing one thing wrong: pissing off your server. Any server worth his or her salt will know the answers to those two questions and they are the front line to you getting proper service the next time anyway. I have met very few chefs in my day who exert any sort of presence with guests in the front of the house. Those that do are typically “celebrity” chefs and trying to kiss their ass is futile.
8. Don’t choose the cheapest wine. That’s absurd. Anytime you order wine by price, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you aren’t familiar with a wide range of varietals, ask your server or the sommelier for guidance. And that thing about the second cheapest wine makes absolutely no sense and I don’t know why you would ever bring that up as anything resembling a fact. Restaurants do not arbitrarily mark up wines at different percentages based on perceived value. Food, yes. Beer, sometimes. Booze, almost always. Wine, never.
9. DO NOT EVER DO THIS. PLEASE DEAR GOD, DO NOT DO THIS. If you call a restaurant and have the audacity to tell them that you would give them your business more often if you were looked after better is so effing rude that I would consider asking you to dine elsewhere based simply on that. Every single guest in a restaurant deserves the same quality of attention from the staff, whether they order the filet or hamburger, a bottle of Grange or 2 glass of water. If you somehow feel that you deserve more attention than any other person sitting in that restaurant, you’re out of your mind.
If you’d like proper advice, do this:
1) Become a regular.
2) Get to know the staff. Shake their hands and tell them your name.
3) Tip them well, but do not overdo it.
4) Order the same thing three or four times in a row and suddenly the staff member will know what you want. I assure you that if they remember that, you are officially a VIP.
5) Once they remember what you order, throw them some curveballs and they’ll still remember you.
6) Do NOT ever act as if you deserve treatment any different than anyone else. That is at your server or bartender’s discretion.
Ok, clearly this wasn’t authored by Tim. As a bartender, if you tip me 25% on a tab, I will remember you, but since it’s after you’ve gotten you bill, that will probably be next time.
Some owners aren’t out dealing with customers for a reason, particularly executive chefs. The reason is they are either busy riding the wait staff and/ or have a near complete lack of people skills. Remember, they are artists first and foremost.
Asking to see people(owner, chef, etc.) when an establishment is busy, is a terrible idea. We’re already running around like the proverbial chicken, don’t make our life more difficult. We’re having a hard enough time remembering 3 different martinis, two entrees, and the extra mayo for table 2, if you make more work for us than we already expect, you WILL NOT be in our good graces. Instead, come see us in our down hours. Come in and get to know us, and it’ll go a lot further.
Tim, “Ask to be treated like a VIP?” We can’t all be Tim Ferriss! Must be nice. Must be nice. I enjoy your blog. Thank you
Just FYI, this post was guest written.
I just can’t believe how cheesy the whole American restaurant scene is. I get great service from all the restaurants I’m at frequently and I couldn’t give a toss what everyone else orders or what some chef thinks I should order – how pathetic! You lot can suck the butt crack all you like, I simply expect to be served politely and professionally, and I tip accordingly. That will usually be anywhere from 15% to 0% depending on performance. There is nothing that bugs me more than an arrogant minimum wage plate chucker with a veneer of lingoladen bullshit passed off as wine knowledge. If you accept my reservation for a table of 12 at 8pm and seat me after 9, you won’t be tipped anything at all unless some heartfelt apologies are made and something is done to make me happy. And I won’t be coming back. Conversely, if you’re at the top of your game with an attitude to match I’ll tip 25%. I just don’t do “begging” for service. Although this post seems to suggest bowing, scraping and making pathetically cheesy platitudes is somehow necessary. I’m the one with the wallet, paying top whack to eat in a nice restaurant. Treat me like a valued customer or you won’t see me again. Restaurants who expect to retain a loyal customer base of grovelling sycophants don’t last very long anyway.
I’ve been working in food service for thirty-one years, and Jeremy I’m here to tell you that non-tippers almost always get the barest minimum of service. That’s a fact of life that can either be accepted, or ignored at your own risk.
That being said, most of these tips are “spot-on”. In all of my years in the business, I’ve never once seen #2 done, and only one time in all of those years has a hand-written note been sent to the kitchen; it was enormously appreciated.
I don’t think asking to see the chef or owner in person is wise on a busy night. On a slower night, it’d be a much-appreciated request, but keep in mind that chefs in particular are often found lacking in the most basic social skills—that’s one reason why they’re in the kitchen, and not out working with the public. Typically, they have Mercurial personalities.
Overall, I find #4. #5, and #7 the most useful. As I said before, I’ve never seen #2 done, but I’d be profoundly impressed if I did.
Table for TWELVE?! Tip 15%?! Wouldn’t the waiter PRAY that you didn’t come back? I was a waitress once for about 15 minutes and it made me appreciate the impossibilities of this thankless job. I became a nurse instead and the comparison was obvious. I ran around like my hair was on fire same as the waitress only my patients were nearly always extremely grateful and the restaurant patrons were too often like you. Do the restaurant world a favor and STAY HOME!
I think it’s funny that people posted on here with profanity and ignorance, yet they were the ones who read the blog. Tim didn’t force anyone to read this, he puts up what he finds interesting and guess what? It’s his blog.
Best comment here!
Going in off-season is the way to do it. I went to the fanciest sea-front restuarant in Cape Town a couple times in mid-June (mid winter here). After that I not only got the seafront tables instantly in summer but a 50% discount on my food from that day on 🙂
Building rapport with key people tends to work in most situations…Think flattery…
Sir, it is customers like you that we restaurant people tire, sweat, bleed and burn for. A customer whose passion for the restaurant is only matched by the passion of the restaurateur. If you ever make it to Melbourne, Australia, I have a nice bottle of 10 year-old Chateau Moulinet with your name on it at The Point Albert Park restaurant.
Haaaaaaa, this is by the author of that book that Hillary Clinton checked out about how to erase emails.
I know this is an older post, but I just came across it. With 20 years in the restaurant/bar industry in Chicago from pizza joint to high end steakhouse, I will throw my endorsement into the approach above! Distilled, the keys are timing (don’t show up at 8 on Saturday looking for special treatment unless you are a regular), frequency and most of all realizing that everyone’s human and values praise, pleasantness and just being given a break. People take care of folks they like. Be likeable! Restaurant folks are just like the rest of humanity.
And 25% is NOT over tipping by the way.
[Moderator: offer removed]
Hi Tim, there is a number 10. which you missed from your rather comprehensive list. If for people like yourself, who are busy educating and building a army of learners, there is a more time effective solution to score hard to get reservations. The service is based in NYC, called Touch (subsidiary under SEVENROOMS). In a nutshell it acts as your personalized social entertainment discovery and booking tool. We are rolling out beta in the fall and love to have you as one of our select 50 beta members.
Look forward to hearing from you.
The slanted door is an awesome restuarant. Really great tips Tim.
Hey tim, what do you think about the no tips no policy Danny Meyer started to implement in some of its NY restaurants?
It’s intention is to reduce the gap salary that exists for non-server employees.
Good stuff! I tip the 25 % up front, in cash. I estimate the likely bill amount, then when I give them the tip I apologize ahead of time for the prodigious amount of water I am likely to drink. (I do) I have done this enough to pull it off without sounding condescending or demeaning. I keep it self deprecating & friendly. (Often I say I went for a run earlier) The water glass always stays full & I never lack for attention.
From someone who’s first career was the restaurant business, I agree with most of these. Not so much with #8-if it’s a quality place, they take pride in all their wine selections, including all the lower priced wines. Another tip to try -If it’s a smaller place, buying the kitchen a round of shots or bringing in a case of beer for the kitchen says quite a lot to everyone that works there. And just plain being a kind and pleasant human being goes a long way.
Lucky me. I never bother getting into the hottest restaurant. Don’t be part of the hype. 🙂 If you are a “VIP”, you will be treated like a real VIP. All these tips probably are for the wanna-bes…
Great !!! As always awesome job Tim .
What beautiful restaurants that are shared by you. Extremely Cool