Kojo explores the creative business strategies fueling America's boom in fast-casual dining - and why food has become one of the engines for innovation in the American economy.
At some restaurants, booking a table is as easy as opening an app and choosing a time. At others, no matter when you call, there never seems to be space. Booking a table at your favorite eatery can take advance planning, strategic thinking and flexibility. We’ll go behind the scenes to explore how restaurants allocate tables, how online booking works and how to get into the hot new bistro everyone’s talking about.
- Narisa Wild Vice President of Operations and Product, City Eats
- David Hale General Manager and Wine Director, Central Michel Richard restaurant
- Tom Sietsema Food Critic, Washington Post; author of "The Washington Post Dining Guide" (2003)
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the PBS News Hour sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Have you ever tried making a restaurant reservation online and found the place full, then called and gotten a table? Did you know that some restaurants hold back tables from their online listings to be sure they have space for walk-ins, regulars and VIPs? Washington has developed a lively restaurant scene and the competition for a table at a hot new eatery or even an old favorite can be fierce.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONISome places will only take reservations weeks in advance, while others require extreme patients during a long wait, no matter when you arrive. The growing number of online booking services is making it easier to figure out your dining options. But insiders say sometimes picking up the phone is still the best bet. Joining me to look at the challenges of eating out, Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post food critic. Thanks so much for joining me.
MR. TOM SIETSEMAI'm delighted to be here.
BELLANTONISo a lot of restaurants take reservations but many don’t. So how does a restaurant decide whether to book tables in advance or do they just rely on walk-ins?
SIETSEMAWell, you know, I think it really makes a big difference depending upon the restaurant. It certainly makes it convenient for consumers when they can book on OpenLine (sic) or City Eats, any of these services. You know, it can be in the comfort of your home in your pajamas late at night or early in the morning decide when and where you want to eat. I mean, that's the best way I think.
SIETSEMASome of us like to do it the old fashioned way though. I make about 60 restaurant reservations a month and I use a mix of City Eats and OpenTable and good old fashioned calling. Because I think that's a diner's first experience with a restaurant. And I like to -- I judge a restaurant in part on how they handle their telephone reservations. And it's very interesting, you know. How long you're put on hold, how they answer the phone, you know, what kind of music you have to listen to,...
BELLANTONI...if they answer the phone.
SIETSEMA...if they answer the phone, absolutely, you know. I do like the online services though because it does allow you the flexibility of making those reservations whenever you're free and ready to do so.
BELLANTONIWell, that is a great way for us to expand our conversation. Joining us from New York is Narisa Wild. She is vice president of operations and product at City Eats, an online reservation site that Tom just mentioned. Thanks so much for being here, Narisa. We're also joined by David Hale, the general manager and wine director for Central Michel Richard, a very popular restaurant here in Washington, D.C. near the White House. Thanks for joining us.
MR. DAVID HALEGreat to be here. Thank you.
BELLANTONISo a lot of -- Narisa, a lot of online reservations are relatively new on the scene. So how many people are making reservations using services like City Eats and OpenTable, your competitor?
MS. NARISA WILDHi, good afternoon. Thank you for having me. I think, you know, in terms of looking at online reservations in the world of the internet, surprisingly it's a very new and growing phenomena. People are, I think, (unintelligible) to this before, there is still a tendency to prefer to call up, if at all possible, for the large majority of the American nation. I would say, you know, booking online services, for restaurants in particular, has taken -- you know, it's been much slower than other industries when you compare to the travel industry or, you know, even insurance.
MS. NARISA WILD(unintelligible) those types of industries are much quicker in terms of the growth they've seen for online bookings. But I think that's a great thing certainly for City Eats and OpenTable. You know, people are becoming more and more savvy around online bookings. They're much more tied to their mobile devices now. I think mobiles, and cells, Smartphones will play a huge part in the growth of online reservations, for restaurants in particular.
MS. NARISA WILDAnd I just think that there's a sense of using all the time consumer's growing trust and earning trust to all these services that their reservations will be there. That, you know, their service will be honored, that the rewards -- all of those components that make up for what creates the reservation booking will be featured and honored for the consumer.
BELLANTONISo David Hale, what is Central's policy and how do you get a reservation at one of the hottest tables in Washington there?
HALEWell, we do, you know, use -- obviously we use OpenTable. City Eats is also a great service that a lot of restaurants in D.C. has picked up on. And we have -- you know, like most restaurants have, you know, a kind of a book we call it where there's slots through each time period. And there's so many slots per time period. Fifteen-minute increments is what we use. And the tables are, you know, sort of filtered throughout the evening. But I'm with Tom. I -- when I make reservations I use a little bit of a mix. I definitely do call.
HALEI think one of the big things about, you know, operating systems with -- as far as reservations is the operating system's only as good as the operators. And one of the things that Tom said I love is that he's calling in to try to check on the restaurants as far as their -- you know, not only their phone etiquette and what not, but just there's also that element of if -- there's the practicality aspect of it. There's the sort of like logistical, oh I see -- you know, I'm online and I'm trying to get a four-top at 7:00 and I only -- you know, the reservation system might only have two two-tops available.
HALEBut if you call in after that, you know, that person's hopefully going to be able to put two and two together and get you in.
BELLANTONISo what's your secret for getting a reservation at a popular eatery? You can join our conversation. Call 1-800-433-8850, email firstname.lastname@example.org, send us a Tweet to @kojoshow or get in touch with us through our Facebook page. So, Tom Sietsema here with me in studio, everyone in Washington considers themselves a VIP. There are some VIPs among the class here so is there a class of people in Washington who can just walk into a restaurant and say, do you know who I am? Give me a table.
SIETSEMAWell, I think if you're the president or the first lady it's very likely you're going to be able to get a table in even one of the hotspots around. And, you know, this really is a city where everyone really is a critic and where titles really count. And it -- I think you're absolutely right in that, you know, it's just really hard though in certain restaurants right now. The Diplomat, for instance, which I recently reviewed. It's a very hot French restaurant in Logan Circle, which itself is a hot neighborhood filled with restaurants.
SIETSEMAThey've got 260 seats and they're just packed. And people are booking, you know, a month out for a restaurant experience there. I think this is a lot about how we've changed as a city and how many good restaurants we have right now, which is kind of exciting. With a VIP I think, you know, I always think it's a good thing to be nice when you walk into a restaurant. It's the best way to get a table really is to -- if it's Friday at 8:00 -- I've done this several times by the way in San Francisco and new York and elsewhere where I've just, you know, anonymous Joe Doe going into a hot restaurant.
SIETSEMAAnd what I do is is I'll go and I'll say, I realize it's Friday night and it's 8:00 and this is crazy, but I'd really like to join you for dinner tonight and there are two of us. Is there any way you can accommodate us? And, you know, a live body is someone that is probably going to be -- a live body who is pleasant is somebody who's going to probably be accommodated by the restaurant owner. They don't really -- they're not in the business of turning people away.
SIETSEMAYou know, you might have a wait or something like that at the bar, but if you really want to get into a restaurant I think the best way to get in is, you know, to be flexible and also to show up in person. Everyone wants to eat at 7:30 or 8:00. So if you're willing to eat in a hot spot say 5:30 or do lunch instead of dinner, that's a pretty good strategy. Or, you know, sometimes I have the most fun eating at a bar of a restaurant. And oftentimes they serve the exact same menu as what is being served in the dining room.
SIETSEMASo, you know, there's a little more liveliness. It's a little bit more casual even in the more formal restaurants at the bar. And as a single diner I think it's terrific too. You know, you get to engage with people alongside of you. The bartender might be a little bit more attentive than a waiter who is handling multiple people elsewhere in the dining room.
BELLANTONIYeah, that's a good pro tip. So -- and of course don't show up starving if you...
SIETSEMADon't show up starving, right.
BELLANTONI...if you're going to wait for a while. So David from Central Michel Richard, do you guys hold back tables for VIPs or walk-ins? How does that work?
HALEI mean, we do have what we call -- I mean, there are manager slots in OpenTable which are not on the book. And there they are, yes, like, held back just for -- you know, it's not only just VIPs. It's just flexibility in a general sense in case a party size -- you know, they show up and they four -- reservation for four and now they're eight. And magically you have to find something that works. Or -- but, yeah, also I do have a lot of regulars that, you know, call at the last minute and expect to be accommodated. And, you know, those slots do help you do that.
HALEBut again, like -- you know, again like Tom is right again on this point just as far as like, you know, sometimes I think that human connection does help, like coming in and actually presenting yourself. And also, which I said in the kind of run-up to the pre-show here was the flexibility factor. Yeah, if you walk in at 7:30 on a Friday and you're rigid about where -- you know, what you're doing and how you're sitting.
HALEIf you have a little bit of flexibility to enjoy the lounge, have a cocktail and then, you know, know that you're going to be taken care of within, you know, not an inordinate amount of time, like you're definitely going to end up I think enjoying the experience just as much, if not more. Because then you expose yourself to a different part of the restaurant. Like, you know, Tom said, the bartender might be great, the cocktails might be great. You know, and you can really kind of enhance your night.
BELLANTONIYeah, and you might be willing to spend a little bit more too. It's possible. So Narisa Wild with City Eats joining us from New York, can you explain to us how the financial arrangement works between City Eats and restaurants? How do the restaurants you work with typically give you their tables to list online?
WILDSure. So, you know, I think in terms of the way we work with restaurants, we have exclusive relationships whereby, you know, the restaurant is using us (unintelligible) 100 percent. And there, you know, they're obviously -- especially in D.C. -- much more open to giving us a lot of their inventory. As a growing business, you know, we're much more interested in having the full inventory rather than saying, you know, there's going to be a specific charge for (unintelligible) . So for example between 7:00 and 10:00 pm which is prime booking for a restaurant.
WILDYou know, some services, they increase their fees in terms of their diner fees. So the way that most reservation systems work is there's a monthly fee for using the software. And then -- excuse me -- and then there's a what we call per diner charge, whether the reservation is made on the restaurant's website or the network, so in our case via CityEats.com. And those charges are, you know, per diner for the diner fee.
WILDAnd so for us when we work with exclusive partners we often -- you know, we're more interested in having the inventory in terms of growing a long term relationship and offering a much better service to consumers than, you know, in terms of strategically, we'll build a much bigger consumer base if we show that customers, yes, we do have inventory at 8:00 pm on a Friday night for very hot restaurants.
WILDYou know, and we work very hard with all the exclusive restaurants in D.C. who are, you know, hotspots. (unintelligible) Underground is a great example where they didn't want to take reservations. They wanted to only be wait lists. And so we worked with them. We show them the benefits of having some inventory, whether it's earlier as Tom mentioned for the 5:00 pm slots. And what we're finding is that attracts a very new type of diner for them. It's often families who have very specific time constraints. You know, they have a babysitter from this time to that time.
WILDBut ordinarily -- and they have more disposable income. It's a much more interesting consumer mix for the restaurant. So I think it works in both ways for them.
BELLANTONIYeah, with very interesting points. So you can join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850. Send us a Tweet with your secrets for getting a hotspot or tell us your restaurant reservation horror story. Julie in Fulton, Md. has a question about going out with a group of people to a restaurant. Thanks for joining us, Julie.
JULIEYes. I was wondering if you want to have a group where it's eight to ten people, my experience has been that they -- the restaurant charges like a premium price and it's almost double for that. And then ask you to be out in two hours. I mean, if you're going to a nicer restaurant. And I was wondering, like, why -- what that was about. Why they do that.
BELLANTONITom Sietsema, do restaurants have different policies for bigger groups?
SIETSEMAWell, they do, you know. And this is getting a little bit away from your question but, you know, whether or not a restaurant takes a reservation depends upon the style of the restaurant, the size of the restaurant and the location of the restaurant. For instance, I talked to Justin Guthrie who is the general of Estadio, a very hot Spanish small-plates restaurant in Logan Circle. And because of their proximity to Studio Theater, they do take reservations but only until 6:00. You know, so you can get that pre-theater crowd, get them in and out and then get ready for primetime.
SIETSEMAIt's also -- with Spanish food or Spanish small plates in particular, people eat a little differently. Mr. Guthrie told me that, for instance, people can eat anywhere from 45 minutes or three hours. Three hours probably indulging in those great Sherry cocktails.
SIETSEMA...and dessert, right. You know, so it really depends. You know, you wonder why sometimes -- I mean, restaurants do -- I used to think it was arrogance for restaurants not to accept reservations. This is a city that likes to plan. We are people who like to be -- know where we're going to be at a certain time. And we do that with our dinner reservations just like we do with our, you know, official business and everything.
SIETSEMAAnd -- but really it's an attempt to kind of control things by the restaurant and make it comfortable and easy and convenient for everybody sometimes by not taking reservations. Now why wouldn't a restaurant take a reservation? Well, there are lots of reasons I think. For instance, it can be very expensive to buy some of this machinery upfront from some of the online services. You know, you have fees for the equipment and such. So there's a huge cost savings by not having that sort of service upfront.
SIETSEMAAnd then you don't have any labor involved either. You don't have these calls to reconfirm reservations. And you don't have to deal with people with their, you know, special requests in that time. It's just very time consuming to, you know, follow up with people who have made reservations and everything. And when you don't have the policy, you save yourself from that.
BELLANTONISo you mentioned Le Diplomat and Estadio, two restaurants on 14th Street, which has just had this huge restaurant boom.
BELLANTONIAnd it seems like no matter how many new restaurants open up, there's always a wait, especially on a Friday and Saturday night. And what I've seen a lot of people do is go from restaurant to restaurant and put their name in everywhere. Is that like an etiquette no-no, Tom Sietsema?
SIETSEMAYou know, I really hate that when people do that. I know I've talked to concierges around town at different hotels and they get guests who come down and ask for, you know, prime tables at primetimes at three or four different restaurants. The good ones won't do that, of course. I think it's very important that once you're into a place -- I mean, it's okay to have these, you know, reservations in. But at a certain point, you really do need to cancel them, you know, and decide where you want to eat. It's really discourteous to -- not just to the restaurant but to other people who might want to eat in those three or four other restaurants that you've carved some time out for.
BELLANTONISo David Hale with Central Michel Richard, how far out do your reservations fill up in advance?
HALEWe usually -- you know, definitely on Friday and Saturday we're still, you know, filling up three weeks to a month. And then on the weekdays, depending on time of year it's, you know, a week or two sometimes. But, yeah, I mean, there's also -- I just think that, you know, if things come up and things -- you know, to dovetail back to the young lady that called in's question about large groups.
HALEI mean, like, you know, a lot of that is kind of topical I think. You know, we definitely have a lot of restaurants do, I think once the party reaches a certain size, they'll put it -- if they have a private dining department or whatnot they'll refer that to their private dining director who will then kind of treat it as a, you know, large group reservation. Even if it doesn't go into a private room necessarily, that they're just handling that and the logistics of it because there may be like a, you know, menu restriction or something small.
HALEI don't know about what -- you know, what she said about the pricing and things like doubling. We don't charge anything, you know, premium -- super premium to do that. But if you -- you know, I think the biggest thing is just making sure that you're clear in what you want, you know, as the diner is the biggest thing for me. It's like -- and I mentioned this when I was on Kojo Show a little while ago and we were talking about just dining etiquette in general.
HALEIt's like, you know, we do our best to be anticipatory. Everybody does, all the restaurants. I think people try to really, you know, anticipate your needs and make sure that you are enjoying yourself. But if you need to get out to that theater show at 6:30, you need to leave or if you need to, you know, wrap up early or wrap up late or if you want to take your time, please, no information is too much. I think it's best for you to make all those things clear when you make your reservations, either by leaving it on the, you know, notes option on an online system or calling in and letting us know.
HALEBecause it definitely helps us kind of -- you know, obviously kind of customize your experience to what -- more of what you would be expecting.
BELLANTONIAnd sticking with that transactional relationship, what's the sort of etiquette if somebody calls and says they're going to be late, what's a reasonable expectation that, you know, Central would hold their table for them if they're going to be 15, 20 minutes late?
HALEWe do about 15, 20. If you don't call me -- if you call me and you explain an issue and I can hold it, I'll hold it, you know. And if -- a lot of it -- that's the thing too is a lot of it kind of depends on how the night's going. If you're -- if we're super slammed and it's 8:00 and the prime part of our seating is about to come in from 8:00 to 9:00, like I might have to tell you that we will, you know, get you a cocktail at the bar and you'll have to -- you know, we'll work you in as best we can into the next round of seating.
HALEBut most of the time, you know, if you're calling me and taking the time to call, I'm going to try to get you, you know, hold a table for you at all costs if I can.
SIETSEMAIt's all about communication, I think, in interviewing different general managers from around town. If you're nice, if you're pleasant, if you let them know where you are on the road or wherever you are in the process...
HALEThat's important too.
SIETSEMA...you know, I have talked to general managers who have held tables as long as an hour for people on busy nights because they've been so good and communicative and they really want to eat there.
BELLANTONINow, Narisa Wild, bringing you back in, you're from City Eats, joining us from New York. On the flip side, if somebody makes a reservation through your site and then they don't show up, you know, what's the sort of reasonable expectation of etiquette there? If they're a frequent canceller, does that go on their account as a red flag?
WILDThat's a great question, and I think, you know, the interest of City Eats is to serve and protect both the diners and the restaurants, and, you know, it's really at the forefront of how we build our business and draw out our brand. So yes, if a diner frequently makes reservations, and then not showing, the system is able to record that and the restaurant tells us, and confirms that the diner did not show, there will become a point where they become blacklisted.
WILDAnd, you know, sometimes it's the request of the restaurant, or our system will automatically do it after a specific number of times. But we do have to, you know, it's in the interest of all diners. This is like democracy for online reservations trying to create a fair platform for everyone to have a chance to get a table at a restaurant, and we ensuring the restaurants are maximizing their opportunity to fill their tables with every turn, every shift.
WILDI think -- I just wanted to add also, with respect to, you know, hot restaurants and trying to manage people not showing up, we have a number of tools as well that really help the restaurants. You know, we have tools that allow them to create standby lists so people can place themselves on these standby lists. We also have tools which allow the restaurant to not only use wait lists, but they can heavily use functions like text messaging or email services via the application itself, to communicate with the diners so if they are running late they can let the restaurant know and it goes automatically into the application and the message will pop up so the restaurant can communicate back.
WILDIt avoids phone calls during, you know, very busy times of service. The messages are all pre-populated so they can really just two taps and they're done and they can have that communication one on one with the diner. So that -- we think that that really helps with efficiency during -- especially during shifts.
BELLANTONIGive us a call and let us know how you make your restaurant reservations, whether that's by phone or online. 1-800-433-8850. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." After a short break we'll be back to talk about restaurant reservation etiquette. I'm Christina Bellantoni.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the PBS News Hour sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking about restaurant reservations, and we're joined by David Hale of Central Michel Richard restaurant in Washington D.C., Narisa Wild of City Eats, and here with me in studio is Tom Sietsema. And this is just such a fascinating conversation. Tom, you're the food critic with the Washington Post. So there are some restaurants that's don't take reservations at all, of if they are full up they might send them somewhere else, right?
SIETSEMARight. This is really fun. One of my favorite restaurants in town is -- does not take reservations. It's called Little Serow, it rhymes with sparrow. It is right next to Komi, and both are owned by Johnny Monis, a Beard Award-winning chef here in town. Little Serow has a mere 30 or so seats. They require you to line up outside the door. They open at 5:30 every night. There's invariably a line no matter what the weather, no matter what the season, and, you know, they fill up, and then, you know, you have to wait.
SIETSEMABut what's happened, this is really interesting. The restaurant is sending, you know, people who have to wait, to a competitor, Hank's Oyster Bar, right around the corner. And this has been great for Hank's Oyster Bar. Jamie Leeds, the chef/owner there, told me that she routinely gets 15 to 20 extra guests a night as result of people who are waiting in line or waiting for their -- waiting to be called to Little Serow for their Thai reservation.
SIETSEMAAnd sometimes they just get so hungry they end up staying at Hank's Oyster Bar and, you know, mulling Thai food for another night. But it has this ripple effect which I think is kind of interesting for competition.
BELLANTONICompetition can be good, yeah. So we have on the phone with us Ryan from Chevy Chase, Md., talking about the length of time that restaurants want you to be sitting there. Thanks for joining us, Ryan.
RYANYeah. I was just, you know, was going to comment about your earlier caller who had said something about -- asked why people might ask you to leave after about two hours, and I never heard anybody actually give the definitive reason which is that, you know, they try to discourage people from camping and what we used to refer to like people pitching a tent out there. You're sitting in the waiter or the waitress's pocket and the owner because they don't have an opportunity to turn that table during the busiest time. So it's really about revenue.
BELLANTONIWe have an email from Anne who emailed email@example.com with a last minute success story. She and her husband walked into Clyde's in Mark Center on Thanksgiving without reservations. The place they had reservations had become unavailable due to a fire just hours before the reservation. They found two seats at the bar, had a wonderful dinner, chatted with the bartender and watched the people. It can be a good experience as Tom had pointed out.
BELLANTONIAlso online with us is Ellen from Brookfield, Md. You have a question about online services and go ahead.
ELLENHi. I was just wondering when you use an online service to make your reservation, and I do that quite often, and I want to change my reservation and make it like instead of two people, four people, or I need to cancel my reservation, can I do that online? I have not been able to figure out how to do that.
BELLANTONIThat's a good question for Narisa Wild with City Eats.
WILDYeah. Hi there. You can absolutely do that online, and, you know, I absolutely -- definitely on City Eats and, you know, of course, Open Table, and any other service. Generally the way it works, you make the reservation online and you'll be given a confirmation number, and then if you come back to cityeats.com, you can create an account and then when you've logged in, as a logged in user there is a section for reservations and rewards.
WILDAnd when you go into that area, it will list all of your upcoming reservations, all of your past reservations, and from there you will have access to functionality to both modify and cancel reservations.
BELLANTONISo generally, do you guys have any secret tips that we haven't gotten to yet about getting into that hot restaurant, whether that's, you know, a call at the last minute or popping in at a certain time? David Hale, what's your favorite restaurant in Washington besides Central of course?
HALEI really like my friends over at City Zen, Chef Eric Ziebold, Andy Myers is a fantastic sommelier, and Jarad Slipp who is their restaurant director. Just one of my favorite places, and I think, you know, Tom's earlier comment about going to the bar is completely true. There are a lot of times, you know, obviously they are a fine dining restaurant, there's a lot of tasting menus, it takes a while, but if you go in there and go to the bar, you can do a three-course meal.
HALEYou get a lot of the same type of ideas and things, and it's really delicious, and then, you know, a lot of times, you know, you walk out just as happy as you were as if you had gotten into a table. But I think, again, a lot of is, you know, maybe also fostering relationships with the GMs and the guys that are in charge. I know a lot of people that call me regularly, you know, Tom mentioned Justin Guthrie, you know, then sometimes we can call each other and say, hey, I've got, you know, two people and I can't fit them, but you know what, they would love you guys, can you fit them in?
HALEOr people will call me and send people my way because they couldn't get in, and, you know, that -- I think it definitely helps. Like, if you get a chance to get a card to get a name or anything that you went out to a particular restaurant because not only are you in to an extent with that restaurant because you know the person, you know, guy or girl that runs that restaurant, then you also know, you know, all their friends because it's a pretty communal environment here in D.C. with the story, you know, with Little Serow and Hank's Oyster Bar is perfect.
HALELike, it's, you know, we -- it's kind of still a smaller community although it's burgeoning now with all these places opening. We still know each other, and most of us are on really great terms with everybody, and we try to, you know, be as kind of cooperative as possible. So that's my biggest advice is to, you know, forge a relationship and then watch that relationship kind of work for you.
SIETSEMAI think that's excellent advice, David, to introduce yourself to the people who can help you out later on. I have to dine anonymously given my job, you know, so I have 20 different City Eats and Open Table accounts, and I use friends of friends of friends. One way that I've been able to get into some hot restaurants is to not call celebrity friends or VIPs or anything like that, but what I do is find out who might be a regular at say a Mini Bar or a Komi or elsewhere, and have them make the reservation for me because, you know, it doesn't matter whether you're the food critic or, you know, a celebrity or a newsmaker or something like that.
SIETSEMABottom line is, restaurants will probably give the advantage to people who are their bread and butter, people who come on a regular basis. And so that's my little secret in without blowing my cover.
BELLANTONIOh, that's very interesting. And Norisa Wild, curious when you go on online, are there sort of any last-minute deals or ways where you can tell people there's a hot table open at a hot restaurant at a certain time?
WILDYeah. I think, you know, a couple things, just to go back to that previous question, in terms of how we can help the restaurants with an online reservation system, and this relates to the frequent diner that Tom and David alluded to. We -- the restaurants, you know, if you're a frequent diner in a restaurant, and you, you know, you show up in the system as somebody who's eaten 10 times, 15 times, you'll be flagged as a VIP. And so when you're calling up if the restaurant can pull up your information and look at your dining history, then of course they can make their own informed decision about whether they should give you a table or not.
WILDI think for groups of restaurants as well, the way our system works is, let's say you call up, you know, one of (word?) Armstrong's restaurants, and they're fully booked in the bistro, but they see that you're, you know, you've come before, even if you haven't gone before, they can look in the system at what is the occupancy in terms of how busy the other restaurants are and they can make a suggestion if another restaurant in their group could be able to accommodate you right there and then, so they could make the reservation for you, and so you as a diner can go to another location knowing that you have a reservation.
WILDI think for the consumers, you know, a couple of our more exclusive restaurants, (word?) is a great example, they try to adopt this democratic approach of releasing slots day by day. So, you know, they book three months in advance and then the morning of at 10:00 a.m. each day, one more day's worth of slots become available. So if you can take the time to figure out when you want to go, what date that means that your slots will become available given that it's a three-month period, or some cases it's a one-week period so you can figure out seven days in advance, and then you go online at 9:59 a.m. or whatever time the slots become available, most restaurants will show that information, then you as a diner have a good chance of banging a table at a restaurant that you really would like to dine at.
WILDSo that's a good tip for a diner. And then on cityeats.com, we do have a feature called (unintelligible) hottest tables tonight. It's very prominently marked on our homepage and it lists all of the restaurants in D.C. or whichever city you're in that have tables available tonight and what times they are.
BELLANTONIWell, you can join our conversation. Tell us what restaurant you think it's impossible to get a table. 1-800-433-8850, or send a tweet to @kojoshow. We have Carol from Front Royal, Va., who actually has a question about tipping. This is the second one we've gotten tipping today. I think that's gonna go to Tom. Carol, thanks for joining us.
CAROLYes, hi. I have a question. I regularly go out with a group of six or eight people, and I understand the need for the fixed -- usually it's 18 percent that's added to the bill. However, we'll also frequently spend $800, $1,000, $1,200 on wine or alcohol, and is that 18 percent at all negotiable? I mean, I can (unintelligible) when you're adding that much liquor into it, or that much alcohol, it really drives the tip up and the service hasn't been that much more for the waiter.
SIETSEMAFirst of all, that sounds like my kind of dinner party there.
HALEI agree. I'm in.
BELLANTONIInvite us, Carol.
SIETSEMAThere's a -- and David might be able to address this too. I don't think -- you know, I've talked to sommeliers or wine stewards all over the country about this, and there is no hard and fast rule. You know, it's one thing with the food. Generally it's, you know, 15 to 20 percent on the food, but when you're buying especially pricy bottles of wine, I think at a certain point there's this, I don't know, there's this magic number at which, you know, you're not going to continue to tip 20 percent on each individual bottle, you know?
SIETSEMAYou might -- sometimes I know some people who ask for the food and the wine to be put on separate tabs, and they can negotiate a different tip with the wine bill, but I totally sympathize with you, and it's something that, you know, I'm not out there buying triple digit bottles of wine a lot. I have done that on my own on occasion, just, you know, for special occasions, and it's always this very fine line because you're right.
SIETSEMAOn the second or third bottle, there's still, you know, I mean, they might be decanting older wines or something like that, but, you know, the service is basically the same. But people also forget there's lot of extra stemware and, you know, new glasses and -- a lot of which might be, you know, if you're talking about really special wines, you know, these glasses have to be hand washed and everything. So there's a little bit more service sometimes than people think there is, but I would say, you know, no more than, you know, 10 percent with each respective bottle.
HALEYeah. I don't, you know, I think it's interesting to look at because, you know, and of course after I get off the phone my staff's going to come in here with pitchforks and mess with me for not saying that they should be tipped on every, you know, $500 bottle of wine. But, I mean, I think you -- another point that's really key here is to realize that most of the time, you know, yes, the server will have to put down additional glassware maybe, or if they're keeping a lot of bottles, it might be a little bit tough on table service -- table maintenance.
HALEBut most of the time if you're at a place where you're rolling those type of bottle prices, you know, the person working harder is the sommelier who often isn't in the tip pool. So it's definitely, you know, something that, you know, it's your decision at that point. Like, yeah, do you continue to tip a waiter that's not necessarily doing the same stuff as the soms were. But, you know, I definitely think that, you know, in general I feel like people that feel that they shouldn't tip on wine service at all, I think that's totally wrong.
HALEBut, yes, I definitely agree, you know, if you're going out and you're buying special bottles and things like that, I mean, I remember the, you know, I used to -- when I first to moved to town I worked at Citronelle, and then like the third night I was there I sold a $1,500 bottle of wine, and the guy tipped 20 percent, and the waiter came up and was like, thank you.
HALEYou know, but don't expect that to happen every time, and I don't think that's realistic at all.
BELLANTONIAll terrific tips. This has been an excellent Food Wednesday. Thanks so much to Tom Sietsema, the food critic for the Washington Post, David Hale, general manger and wine director Central Michel Richard, Narisa Wild, vice president of operation at City Eats. I'm Christina Bellantoni sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for having me. Thanks for listening.
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