Foodies are a strange bunch. How else do you explain people (or their assistants) spending weeks or months calling or emailing some hotsy-totsy restaurant in pursuit of a dinner reservation at 5:30 in the afternoon? And for all that hassle, you get to shell out several hundred bucks for a meal that might not be very good and for service that will often be indifferent or worse. Talk about a deal! The WSJ examines how absurd the reservations game has gotten by canvassing 40 of the hardest-to-get-into restaurants around the world - using a special software program to check for table availability every half hour or so for six weeks. The paper concludes that it's best to plan ahead but not too far ahead (four weeks out seems to be the sweet spot), be ready to pounce on last-minute cancellations (say a couple of days in advance), forget about certain places (Del Posto in NY and Dantanna's in Atlanta are hopeless), go for early times, and if all else fails, beg.
One trick is to call the person in charge of doling out last-minute tables. These are often set aside to be used at the discretion of the chef, the owner or investors. Several restaurateurs provided contact information for publication. Theodore "Teddy" Suric, managing partner at davidburke&donatella in New York, says he can currently be reached at 917-584-9295, though he warns against people calling during certain hours: "2:30 to 4:30 a.m., that's when I need to sleep," he says. Once a potential patron gets someone like Mr. Suric on the phone, they have to make a case for why they deserve a last-minute table. Restaurateurs across the board say they're turned off by people claiming to be hot shots or big spenders. There are no guarantees, they say, but special circumstances -- a spouse's birthday, an important client coming to town, a burning desire to visit the restaurant while in town for the weekend -- often get consideration.
Spago in Bev Hills is one of five restaurants the Journal closely examines for availability, and the good news is that even if you're a nobody, Wolfgang Puck is willing accept your money - as long as you book two or three weeks in advance, eat at 6:45, and not linger over dessert. You'll do better if you have an American Express Platinum card. Spago reserves a table each night for those folks. Here's the breakout:
Six days out: Forget it. The place is virtually fully booked six days out - save for a few tables at 5:45 and 8:45.
Ten days out: You'll be stuck at 5:45.
Eleven days out: 6:15
Fifteen days out: 6:45