New York's buzzy new restaurants are ditching the byzantine reservations policies of their predecessors for a seemingly democratic "first come, first served" method. Too bad that even the most unpretentious customer might find this approach a bigger pain in the ass than the reservations crapshoot it's unseating.
Glen Collins notes the pros and cons of the reservations rotation in the Times today. The move is part of a general shift, sped up by the recession, toward less starchy restaurants. (And that doesn't even account for the furor over salt.) A few years ago, getting into nearly every attention-grabbing new restaurant required a sisyphean effort involving an 8 am phone call to the eatery one, two or three months to the day before your desired meal.
Many upscale places still do this, but a younger breed of eatery catering to a younger clientele has ditched it all together. Hungry folks just line up, put their names down and hope for the best. It's good for restaurants who save money on a reservations system and make money off patrons killing ungodly amounts of time at the bar. At least those patrons reap the benefits of a bill reduced (by up to 15%, according to Collins) thanks to those lower operating costs. (They can also enjoy a buzz before they even get to their table.)
But wait! Isn't twiddling your thumbs for a half hour or more ("die-hard New Yorkers have a 30-minute rule...after that, leave it to the tourists," says one man in the article) even more annoying than dealing with a snobby maitre d an entire season before you intend to visit his place of work?
Speaking of the snobby maitre d, what will happen if one of the most enduring, albeit unbearable, New York characters is driven to extinction? He's safe for now, as the no reservation policy sticks mostly to the modest, pint-sized downtown and Brooklyn restos from whence it came. (Momofuku guru David Chang did bring it to midtown with Má Pechê, despite introducing one of the most maddening and elusive reservations gauntlets on record at the East Village's Momofuku Ko.)
There was something oddly comforting about getting laughed at when you requested an 8 pm table at Dorsia. Once attained, success was that much sweeter after the struggle, that much more of an ego boost.
It was also much kinder to your feet.
Photo via Hiroko Masuike/NYT