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cabrales

French Laundry Reservations

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While I have been fortunate of late with respect to French Laundry reservations, I have been researching articles on obtaining such reservations. Below are certian relevant materials, the points of which have in part been addressed elsewhere on the board.

1. 2000 San Francisco Chronicle article

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...&type=printable

-- "At the French Laundry, for example, there are essentially three tiers of waiting lists: a rolling waiting list for locals who might be able to come eat at a moment's notice, the regular waiting list for ordinary Joes, and a sort of special waiting list made up of people the owners want to get in but for whom they simply don't have a table. These are other chefs, movie or music stars -- or their relatives -- or relatives of the restaurant's investors. They'll get the first free tables."

-- "At the French Laundry, reservationist Betsey Gooch knows that most VIPs will call the manager's line or talk to chef/owner Thomas Keller himself."

-- "Here's another French Laundry tip: Show up."

-- This article also suggests table size is set. Therefore, I imagine one back-up plan is to ask for tables of another size, and cut/increase party size accordingly (e.g., 2 to 4, 4 to 2).

-- As an aside, the article notes: "Allowing people to make reservations six or 10 months into the future would be too difficult for the staff to manage, Keller says. People constantly call to cancel or change reservations. Two month's worth of names and times makes those changes easier to manage. And the system keeps down the number of daily calls to the restaurant."

2. 2002 Business Week Article

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflas...002035_5880.htm

-- "Every table is booked within 15 or 20 minutes, and the waiting list in case someone cancels is long."

-- "General manager Cunningham says the restaurant is less busy from January through March."

-- "If all else fails and you have money to burn, the closest thing to a sure-fire way of getting a table is to spend a night or two in a top hotel in the vicinity."

3. jordyn's highlighting of opentable.com

-- This is a relatively good strategy

-- "* Two tables are available online via OpenTable.com for dinner service, one at @ 6:00 pm (party of 2) and one at 9:30 pm (party of 4) every night.

* Two tables are also available online for lunch service, one at @ 11:00 am (party of 4) and one at 11:15 am (party of 2) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only. The French Laundry does not offer lunch Monday - Thursday.

* If an online booker cancels one of these tables, then it will immediately become available again on OpenTable.com."

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Did you have trouble getting your reservation, Cabby? I am becoming increasingly sceptical about some restaurants' reputations as being hard to reserve. Take the comments about the difficulties of getting a table at Testuya in the Asia, etc forum. I got a table with about two weeks notice, and the dining room was by no means full.

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This article also suggests table size is set. Therefore, I imagine one back-up plan is to ask for tables of another size, and cut/increase party size accordingly (e.g., 2 to 4, 4 to 2).

Just to clarify this suggestion Cabby, you are saying that if there isn't a table for 2 available for the date you want, you ask if they can do a four, and if yes, you actually show up as a party of 4 people? Rather than saying something like "2 of the party had to drop out" when you arrive on the day, which would be a very naughty hing to do in my opinion and wind the restaurant up no end.

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"This article also suggests table size is set. Therefore, I imagine one back-up plan is to ask for tables of another size, and cut/increase party size accordingly (e.g., 2 to 4, 4 to 2)."

Andy -- That would be what the conventional understanding of "to ... cut/increase party size accordingly" might mean. Instead of "pretend to cut" or "indicate the party size is cut".


Edited by cabrales (log)

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Indeed, but I felt it was worth clarifying as it may have potentially been misinterpreted, as I very nearly did. Thanks.

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Did you have trouble getting your reservation, Cabby?  I am becoming increasingly sceptical about some restaurants' reputations as being hard to reserve.  Take the comments about the difficulties of getting a table at Testuya in the Asia, etc forum.  I got a table with about two weeks notice, and the dining room was by no means full.

When I was trying to get a French Laundry last year, it took several (6?!) weeks of trying. This is not quite as depressing as it sounds, as I was looking only for dinner reservations on a Friday or Saturday night, as my ability to travel was a bit limited.

I am actually about to start the process again, as I'm hoping to visit the restaurant sometime in April or May. I'll report back on how it goes...

Also, with regards to the strategy of OpenTable, the dinnertime table for four seems to be much less in demand than the tables for two, based on my looks at the system so far.

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jordyn -- Did you succeed last year, and how much time each day you attempted did you on average spend on calling? Given that reservations begin at 10:00, what happens when one calls at 9:30? I seem to get busy signals even then.

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I did eventually succeed. Initially, I spent long periods of time each day attempting to call, but I discovered that if I got through to a reservationist later than about 10:45, there were not tables available, so after the first few weeks I stopped calling after 30-45 minutes per day.

You're correct that it's often hard to get through even before they "open" for reservations. If you succeed in getting through early, you get a night menu that does not allow you to select the option of being transferred to reservations. So you have to hang up and re-dial. In some cases, the night menu continues to be played for several minutes after 10 AM as well. It can be extremely disheartening to get through at 10:05 only to discover that you can't actually make a reservation because they haven't swithced the system over yet.

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Perhaps an obvious point, but I will make it. Diners interested in cancellations are not necessarily better off calling during this "new 2-month reservations rush" (during which diners with existing reservations interested in cancelling would presumably know not to call or would fail to get through with some likelihood), as opposed to later on in the day. All my successes with cancelled reservations were not based on 9:30/10:00 am calls. :hmmm:

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Other FL information:

-- The Oregonian, January 2, 2001, Interview of Keller:

"Q: I hear it's difficult to get a seat at the French Laundry. Is this true?

A: If you got on the phone today, you'd be making a reservation for two months from today. [He doesn't charge a deposit, but doesn't think it's a bad idea.] You go to New York, you want to see "Miss Saigon," you buy your tickets, you don't show, you don't get your money back. Why should it be any different with a restaurant? ... We spend a lot of energy and manpower to man the telephones. We handle 300 calls a day. That doesn't count the number of people who call and never get through. We have a $50,000 phone system, open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with three reservationists. If I hired more reservationists, got more phone system in there, what would I be accomplishing? I'd be encumbering my restaurant. To do what? To say no? I only have 60 seats, we do 85 customers a night." [interesting -- that suggests that only the earlier seated tables are turned, consistent with my observations that diners are deliberately staggered with respect to reservations times]

-- Nations' Restaurant News, May 1999: "'We have two reservation lines, one reservation book and 62 seats,' Cunningham explains. 'We get 350 calls a day [for reservations] and probably aggravate another 500

people who try to call and can't get through," she says. ... To ease the reservation problem, Cunningham and her staff encourage customers to call on the night they wish to dine."

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Cabrales,

I noticed on the Blue Hill thread that you posted that you had reservations at FL on Feb 18. It seems that it is much easier for you to secure reservations at FL. Is this because you have become a regular diner? What "tricks" are you using?

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lizziee-- Definitely not, with respect to becoming a regular. Yes, with respect to having the upcoming FL reservation.

I do not have the private reservations telephone number, nor do I have any special techniques.

-- I call at times *other than the morning rush*. I usually get through in less than 10 minutes. This is impracticable for diners who might need to plan ahead and to know they have reservations before planning a trip to the region. I call trying to secure cancelled reservations, in the cases I have been successful.

-- I call many times a week (e.g., two times a day). I get the impression that being placed on the regular wait list is not a helpful means of securing reservations. One has to call.

-- I search Opentable.com for any cancelled reservations every day. I search for both tables for 2 and 4. I search lunch as well as dinner reservations for Saturday and Sunday, when I am available to take in lunch there.

-- I was told that calling about 2 days before an intended visit appears the best way to secure cancelled reservations. My own experience has been that one can call ahead more than 2 days ahead of the intended date for cancelled reservations.

-- It helps to show flexibility. "I would be grateful for any dinner in the next two months, for the 9:30 seating". Good telephone "demeanor" (e.g., clear, concise descriptions, good vocabulary) can only help, if it is relevant at all.


Edited by cabrales (log)

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Cabrales,

Thank you for your detailed reply. Your persistence has certainly been rewarded.

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If you guys can keep a secret I'll tell you how to score reservations at the French Laundry without lifting your fingers to the phone. It's so obvious, I can't see why nobody has thought of it...

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If you guys can keep a secret I'll tell you how to score reservations at the French Laundry without lifting your fingers to the phone.  It's so obvious, I can't see why nobody has thought of it...

our lips are sealed beet juice!

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If you guys can keep a secret I'll tell you how to score reservations at the French Laundry without lifting your fingers to the phone.  It's so obvious, I can't see why nobody has thought of it...

our lips are sealed beet juice!

On advice from the devil on my shoulder I'm going to refrain from gratuitous self-aggrandizement. Let's just say there's an easy way to get some chef's e-mail addresses. Ooops! Good luck.

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dial redial

redial

redial

redial

redial

redial

redial

redial

redial

redial

redial

redial

How long should I keep this up?


Edited by Stone (log)

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Let's just say there's an easy way to get some chef's e-mail addresses.  Ooops!

Let me guess: identity theft! (You can get their credit card numbers as well, but it involves poking through their garbage! Ooops!)

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Let's just say there's an easy way to get some chef's e-mail addresses.  Ooops!

Let me guess: identity theft! (You can get their credit card numbers as well, but it involves poking through their garbage! Ooops!)

nah, it's totally on the up and up. it involves a certain website...

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I am interested in a clarification that is probably a stupid question, but I am going to ask it anyway (because I want to make sure i get my reservation).

When they say two months in advance - they do mean two months to the day, right? In other words if I want a reservation on November 12th I should be calling on the morning of September 12th - right?


Bill Russell

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Unless things have changed since last year, you are much better off not calling the restaurant at all, and, instead, asking someone (eg local hotel, B&B, etc.) to do it for you in person.

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Unfortunately, I am staying in San Francisco, as I am tagging along while my wife attends a convention. We have three evenings and Saturday lunch when we have the time to make the drive up to Yountville - so four opportunities to get in.


Bill Russell

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