As ubiquitous as they are, we still devour them at every turn: articles about how to get upgrades on everything from airlines to hotel rooms, and even how to score a table in the best restaurants. But how many times do they actually work?
We can’t tell you how to get swept up to the presidential suite, carouse about in a convertible coupe, or acquire a pass to the sky bar on Emirates Airlines, but we can tell you how to get the most loathsome table in any eatery, all while earning the whiplash sneers of the entire staff.
Take it from those who’ve toiled for many years in the trenches of New York City’s better restaurants: The view from the other side of the gastronomic foxhole isn’t always so pretty.
Just follow the first three blunders listed below, and by the end of your meal, the maître d’ will be burning you in effigy on the dais, while the waiters stir the bubbling tar, and the sommelier guts a feather-down pillow.
1. Wear a Bluetooth
If you’re wearing an activated Bluetooth while speaking to the host staff, you may thank your lucky corn nuts if you get seated in the restaurant at all. Complain all you like as the hostess saunter back to the podium; she’ll have no idea to whom you’re speaking anyway.
2. Pretend You’re in France
If you’re greeted in a foreign tongue and can respond in kind, well, bully for you — pourquoi pas, non? If, however, you’re greeted in English (because, surprisingly, French restaurants are not actual territories of France) and you insist on marble-mouthing ninth-grade French, then you’ll be seated next to la toilette.
3. Demand a Specific Table and Say, “We Know the Owner! Where Is She?”
When the proprietor is standing next to you, and he is mouthing to the hostess, “I don’t know these people,” the prognosis for your reservation is fatal. Phantom name-dropping is a chronic disease accompanied by an onset of bullying and finger-wagging. Unfortunately, the only cure for this malady is immediate amputation of the guest’s name from the reservation system. “Sorry, I can’t find your name here. May I suggest Umberto’s Clam House? No? I understand the Manhole makes a fine chili dog.”
4. Don’t Speak the Lingua Franca
It’s not that the restaurant doesn’t want to give foreigners a nice table — of course they do. It’s just that, well, they can’t fight back. There are plenty more metaphorical fires for the staff to extinguish without trying to figure out why you’re doing jumping jacks in your seat. Speaking of fires, the last guests who sat that close to the fireplace ended up in the burn ward at Beth Israel.
5. Crane Your Neck Everywhere But Toward the Host Staff, Stride Your Legs With Arms Akimbo, and Bark, “Hey, where my Nicky at?”
Ignore the podium person at your peril, because when your Bronxian buddy isn’t there, you’ll surely wish you weren’t either; assuming your pal is present, however, you’ll be seated — this time. But your attempts at future visits may never see the light of day; your Nicky doesn’t answer the phone, nor does he have access to your pseudo-dossier in the computer system most restaurants use today, a system known as OpenTable.
OpenTable is a multi-use device for tracking guests’ visits; the most important feature being the ability to culminate information about customers. Like all methods of data collection, this one is a double-edged sword: the restaurant knows you’re allergic to sesame seeds, logs your anniversaries, birthdays, and even your wine preference, but they also know if you’re a parvenu and a 10-percent tipper.
If you notice the restaurant staff passing off a note in front of you, there’s a very good chance it’s about you. This little slip of paper is known as a soigné sheet, and it can affect your visit beautifully or hideously. It may say, “Lovely couple — once brought orchids for the staff — greet them with champagne and send an extra dessert.” Conversely, if you weren’t so delightful on your previous visit, your soigné sheet may read thus: