A wing and a prayer is what you’ll need to clinch a table at Michel and Alain Roux’s latest venture, Roux at Skindles in Maidenhead. It opened today, Tuesday 6th November, and is already fully booked most days as well as all Friday and Saturday’s up to Christmas. Whilst demand is of little surprise for this long-awaited brasserie, it being less than five minutes drive from Michel’s Waterside Inn and the most awarded Michelin-starred restaurant ever in the UK, waiting lists of several months are far from uncommon elsewhere.
If you are looking to bag yourself a highly prized seat at the restaurant of the moment, you may need to ramp up your booking tactics. Here are twelve tips to get a restaurant table when it’s fully booked:
Just because it’s booked online doesn’t necessarily mean the restaurant is fully booked
There are two ways restaurants take online table bookings: Real-time, meaning your booking goes directly into the restaurant’s reservation diary, either using their own software or third party booking portals on their site, or via third party websites; or secondly using third party booking portals or sites where the restaurant chooses to work by allocation. There is no way of telling as a customer which is which. So best advice is if it’s fully booked online, pick up the phone.
Get a membership to a concierge company
This is the most guaranteed way to get the hottest seats in town, but it will be pricey. Some of the best concierge firms, but definitely not all, will hold a small allocation at a handful of the most popular restaurants. You’ll need to become a member which will ordinarily set you back a few thousand a year and another initial thousand on top to join. But read the small print, as some will limit how many table bookings they will make each year for you. Usually concierge companies work by averages, so if you are booking more than say 20 tables in a year you may find yourself not covered or needing to upgrade your membership tier.
Find out when the restaurant reconfirms its tables
Most popular restaurants will reconfirm table bookings 48 hours ahead, usually by phoning the guests. Handy info if you want to slip your reservation in if anyone happens to cancel.
Add yourself to the waitlist
If there is one, get yourself on it. If there isn’t, ask if you can create one.
Be flexible on your times
Peak days and peak times may be out, but if you are really interested in dining in the restaurant then be flexible on when you can dine. Suburban restaurants and hotels will often be quieter midweek for lunch, and sometimes dinner, City restaurants quieter at weekends, West-End will always be busy Fridays and Saturdays.
Don’t tell them it’s for a birthday (if it’s a lie), or that you know the chef/ manager/ owner just to bag a table – or, use the line, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’
Trying it on will fall on deaf ears. Restaurants hear the above all the time. Saying it’s a special occasion when it isn’t is a particular peeve, or that the restaurant has some sort of obligation to provide free drinks, cakes as it happens to be a celebration. Normally reservations know that if someone has to tell them that they know the manager/ owner it’s pretty much a guarantee that the manager/ owner doesn’t know them.
Some restaurants have non-reservable tables at the bar, or other areas specifically kept for walk-ins
Many restaurants, despite popularity, leave a certain amount of tables at the bar unbookable to allow for walk-ins. Le Caprice and Scott’s are great for this, and The Ivy Collection has seating areas specifically for those just turning up. Other restaurants such as The Coach by Tom Kerridge are fully unbookable to ensure that it offers a flexible, relaxed and accessible pub atmosphere where everybody is welcome – a welcome take on Tom’s other restaurant The Hand and Flowers, Marlow, where the restaurant is currently booking six months ahead. That said, you can always try a midweek ‘chance’ booking at The Hand and Flowers. Likewise, Core by Clare Smyth is taking booking three months in advance but there are non-bookable tables in the bar area where you can walk-in and enjoy bar snacks, but note, not the restaurant menu.
If you’re staying at a five star hotel the concierge can sometime work tables
Leading hotel concierges make it their business to keep themselves professionally networked. So if you are staying at a hotel and not dining in their restaurant (you should always be able to get a table in the hotel restaurant when you book your room), then it’s worth asking their concierge – they may have a few favours up their sleeves they can pull, but don’t forget to tip.
Zeitgeist is just that
Restaurants that are très hip right now will always be one opening away from being less hip. So what was ludicrously difficult to book once may be less so a few months down the line. Which leads us to the next point…
Don’t believe the hype
…PR agencies make it their business to make restaurants look popular. Sometimes (but not for Skindles we hasten to add) being fully booked is a launch myth cleverly deployed to create demand in the first place.
Consider taking a private dining room
Pending your dining party size you could always see if private rooms are available for a more intimate atmosphere with your own personal waiting staff/ butler service. It’s a great way to curate your own very personal dining experience.
Join the Luxury Restaurant Club to get insights and invites
There are over 30,000 diners enjoying a weekly e-newsletter giving insights, news on latest openings, exclusive privileges at the best restaurants, hotels and cookery schools. It costs just £10 per month but can get you champagne on arrival, discounts, meet the chef and even free dining. It may not bag you the highly prized table at the most in-demand time, but it will keep you at the cutting-edge, showcasing and collaborating with the best venues only. Download the FREE Luxury Restaurant Guide app here to discover all the finest restaurants and to join the Club is optional and costs £10 per month.
So if at first you don’t succeed getting your table …. ‘Don’t dream its over’ Neil Finn, Crowded House … there may still be hope!