The Smartest Tactics To Cinch Hard-To-Get Restaurant Reservations

From top-tier table service to hand-crafted menus that change every night, eating at an exclusive restaurant is certainly a luxurious experience. Unfortunately, the key word in that sentence is "exclusive." If you're not a millionaire or a celebrity, it can be nearly impossible to cinch a reservation at some of these eateries. High-end restaurants can be booked out months in advance, and that's if you're lucky. In recent years, reservation apps like Resy and OpenTable have sprouted up to try and give the average consumer a fair chance to grab a table at some of the country's most popular restaurants, but even with technology, finding a reservation is still nearly impossible.


Some people have noticed that it has been especially hard to get restaurant reservations after the COVID-19 lockdown, perhaps because some businesses are still slowly recovering from that time period or maybe because owners prefer the reliable restrictions that became the norm during that time. Whatever the reason, restaurant reservations have become a rare commodity, so much so that some people are willing to fork over thousands of dollars for a seat. But for most people, bribing the host with a rent check isn't an option. Luckily, there are a few other free techniques to help you get seated, and most only require a bit of flexibility.

Be flexible with timing

The truth is, if you think the best time for your dinner date is 7 p.m. on a Friday night, chances are most other diners are going to agree. That's why the most popular restaurant reservation times are also the worst. To nab a restaurant reservation, you'll have to be flexible with what time you eat — both the day and the time. Weekends are the busiest times for restaurants, and many only get busier as the night goes on. 


Consider booking your dinner on a weeknight like Tuesday or Thursday when the restaurant first opens up. Many places also take reservations for lunch, which may prove to be less coveted. Trust us, your early bird date will be just as romantic, especially if you've been trying to get a reservation for months. Being willing to eat whenever can not only make it easier to book reservations in advance, but it can also help you get a table day-of. Typically, arriving at a restaurant right when they open up is your best bet for getting on the waitlist. If you put your name on the list, you should also be patient, since most diners aren't willing to wait

Be willing to sit anywhere

It's not always enough to be flexible with your timing — in many cases, you should also be prepared to sit anywhere if you want to dine at that new chic bistro down the block. Most fancy restaurants have multiple seating options aside from the main dining room, like a bar or patio. Fewer people prefer to sit in these areas, so specifying that you're happy with any seating arrangement may up your chances at booking a spot. If you're really lucky, you may even be able to snag a seat at the chef's counter.


If you're dining solo, opting for a bar seat may actually be your best bet at getting in. You won't have to worry about waiting for a full table, and many bars still offer the full restaurant menu. Some restaurants even make waitlists specifically for bar and patio seating, and if you arrive early, you can be first on the list. Depending on the restaurant, if you time it right, you may even be able to get a bar or outside seat without waiting at all.

Go big or go small

It may sound counterintuitive, but eating with a large group of people, like four or more, can actually work in your favor when trying to get a reservation. Many high-end restaurants like to cater to large groups (more guests means more revenue), so they'll often prioritize larger tables and may even have private dining rooms. Trying to get an exclusive table by walking in with eight people in tow probably isn't the best idea, but if you're booking in advance, the more the merrier.


On the other hand, dining with a party of just one or two people is also a good move when looking for reservations, even if you join the waitlist or try to walk in. Restaurants often have a few tables that are designed for small groups, and smaller parties are easier to accommodate when working around a last-minute cancellation since they can sit at a table of any size. Couples and solo diners can be squeezed without effort into restaurants like New York City's Semma that offer communal seating, as well as any bar or counter seats.

Use reservation apps effectively

Reservation apps like Resy and OpenTable can be more or less effective depending on where you live. Generally, the more populous your city, the harder it is going to be to get a reservation, whether you're using your phone or not. Still, there are a few tactics you can employ to help these applications work better for you. Most of these apps have a notification feature that alerts you as soon as a restaurant's books for a certain night open up. Reservations open up anywhere from weeks to months in advance, but they can get swooped up in a matter of minutes, so staying on top of these notifications is key. 


In the spirit of flexibility, one helpful strategy is to find a number of potential days that work for you, and have your app notify you of each one. In the meantime, check your app regularly in case there's a cancellation. Once you're notified that reservations are about to open up, have your information ready so you can snag your spot before everyone else. Trying to get a reservation with or without an app is a gamble, but stay vigilant and eventually you should get lucky.

Pick up canceled reservations

With a bit of research and a hint of tenacity, you can find a great seat at that Michelin-starred restaurant that someone else canceled. Search on the restaurant's website or call them to see if there is a deadline for canceling reservations. Say customers must cancel at 24 hours before a reservation. That's when it's likely for there to be the most cancellations, so calling to reserve a last-minute table around that time may net you results. Of course, before you go through all the effort to eat somewhere, be sure to look up the menu online to check for any red flags. You can also try to be sneaky with your timing. For example, the average restaurant party takes around an hour and twenty minutes to finish a meal. So if a restaurant opens at 5 p.m., showing up when the first round of tables is being swapped out around 6:20 p.m. might be a good way to snag a last minute reservation.


According to reservation expert Santo Pesantez via the New York Times, another good time to see if a restaurant has reservations available is between 10 a.m. and noon. "This is when many maitre d's free up additional tables if they see they haven't been booked, or reconfigure tables to allow for more seats," Pesantez said. If there have been cancellations that haven't been filled yet, this is the perfect time to call and throw your name in the hat.