Bribing and Restaurant Seating

Does bribing your way into a busy restaurant work as well as it seems to in movies? Is it even possible? Bruce Feiler decided to find out by visiting some of New York’s most overbooked restaurants with nothing more than a pocketful of money (i.e. no reservations). His results were not quite as expected, finding that bribing hosts in order to get seated at upscale restaurants is absolutely possible and works more often than you may think.

Feiler’s adventures, detailed in an article for Gourmet, act as a more exhaustive guide than the Chow article on restaurant bribing, but the conclusion is the same: $15-30 per person, passed to the right person, can to get you into most restaurants without a reservation (or help you skip a long waiting list) — but be prepared to get turned away and even occasionally get burned.

What else did Feiler learn from his experiment? Here are his “ten tips on tipping” (read: bribing):

  1. Go.You’d be surprised what you can get just by showing up.
  2. Dress appropriately. Your chances improve considerably if you look like you belong.
  3. Don’t feel ashamed. They don’t. You shouldn’t.
  4. Have the money ready. Prefolded, in thirds or fourths, with the amount showing.
  5. Identify the person who’s in charge, even if you have to ask.
  6. Isolate the person in charge. Ask to speak with that person, if necessary.
  7. Look the person in the eye when you slip him the money. Don’t look at the money.
  8. Be specific about what you want. “Do you have a better table?” “Can you speed up my wait?” A good fallback: “This is a really important night for me.”
  9. Tip the maître d’ on the way out if he turned down the money but still gave you a table.
  10. Ask for the maître d’s card as you’re leaving. You are now one of his best customers.