When I was a 16 my parents took me to New York City for Christmas vacation. Retrospectively, we did a lot of things that would bode well for my future gay Manhattan life; we pranced through the Frick, where I imagined myself attending endless black-tie parties, we ate cupcakes at Magnolia (living the Carry Bradshaw dream), and later, while traipsing through the West Village we stumbled into an Off Broadway show: Fully Committed, then in residence at the Cherry Lane Theater.
I was a Broadway Queen in the making and I didn’t even know it.
Fully Committed, which was recently revived on Broadway with Jessie Tyler Ferguson, should feel like a relic of late nineties Manhattan; imagine an episode of Friends crossed with that scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman tries to get reservations for a drugged up Reese Whiterspoon at hotspot “Dorsia”.
Fully Committed is a one-man show about people trying to book dinner reservations at a fancy Manhattan restaurant where the maître d’, uses the euphemism “fully committed” instead of “LOL, are you f’ing serious, we don’t have a table for days.” While the play was written about a quaint Manhattan that no longer exists, its revival illuminated the sad reality that even with digital disruption, getting a reservation in a Manhattan restaurant at a decent time on a Friday or Saturday night is about as difficult as mobilizing Democratic voters in South Florida.
When I moved to New York, I quickly learned that most restaurants, or at least those with any repute, have a 28 or 30-day advance booking window. This means that 28 (or 30!) days before the day you want to eat, the restaurant will open their books for reservations. By the end of that day most tables will be fully-committed.
How do you know if a restaurant does this? You don’t; it’s sorta like restaurant roulette. Eventually, you’ll learn to know that the Starr restaurants is a sticker for a 28-day booking window, while NoHo Hospitality Group does 30 days in advance. I like to talk about Chef Andrew Carmellini (executive chef at NoHo hospitality) like he’s my friend. But let me tell you this… Anthony Carmellini is not my friend. He’s not yours either.
The best strategy, if you’re looking for advice, is to call a restaurant 45 days before you want your reservation. Ask the hostess that you want to make a reservation for this Saturday at 8 PM. She’ll most likely laugh in your face and tell you that she’s fully committed, but then, just like Rihanna and Calvin Harris, she will tell you what you came for: the restaurant takes reservations x days in advance.
With a completed fact-finding mission, you have 10, or 12, days to gird yourself for psychological and emotional battle. You also have some time to manually count back from your desired day. I once spent ten minutes on the phone with a hostess arguing whether 28 days prior to March 9th was: February 9th or 10th.
It is also important to ask, however, when does the reservation window open: is it at midnight? Or do they start accepting bookings only when the restaurant actually opens. I once pulled out my phone at 12:01, in the middle of the Formation World Tour, just to book a table at The Gramercy Tavern. I pity the fool (myself) who called a restaurant, doe-eyed and bushy tailed, at 10:00 AM and was told that all tables had been booked via Open Table at midnight.
One would think with the internet that it has become easier. It hasn’t. There is Open Table, the grand dame (if such a thing could exist), of restaurant booking apps. For a while, I had two Open Table accounts, in order to book multiple restaurants as a fallback. That stopped when I kept on forgetting to cancel reservations at my alternate account and Jack Naymark (no relation) got himself banned.
Beyond Open Table, there are others booking apps like Reserve and Resy. Resy has access to certain restaurants that don’t normally offer reservations, like Rosemary’s in the West Village; their angle is that they charge a convenience fee. I once paid the $2.00 fee and hated myself for it.
There are probably other restaurant apps that I don’t even know about, like a secret app that only people with Ivy League educations have access to. I’m convinced that the apps don’t offer all tables to all customers, or there is some sort of segmentation based on user score (imagine if restaurants graded you like Uber drivers and only customers with 5 star reviews got access to the best tables?). Case in point: on Reserve (an app that requires a credit card to book) I can get a table at Upland for 2 people tomorrow at 6:30 PM, on Open Table I can’t be seated until 10:00 PM. Neither are ideal, of course… but you do what you do to get by in Donald Trump’s America.
Recently, I wanted to make Valentine’s Day reservations at a bistro by my apartment. This bistro isn’t a complete unknown, but it’s not on Eater’s 38 Essential Restaurants either. I don’t think Adam Platt has talked about it since at least 2015. I figured it would be fairly easy to book a reservation if I logged on to Open Table 28 days before Valentine’s Day right at 12:00 AM. Exhausted, but determined, I lay awake in bed, waiting for the clock to strike midnight. At 12:01, after several frantic refreshes, all I could get was a 6:30 PM reservation. I called the restaurant, to complain.
“The only availability we have on February 14th,” the waitress told me, “Is at 5:30 PM.” No one wants to eat at 5:30 PM.
“How could that be?” I asked, “You JUST opened for bookings.”
“Well, it’s a small restaurant,” the waitress said. “Only 80 tables.”
“But it’s 12:05AM.” I offered dejectedly.
“I don’t know what to tell you.” She said, “They’re all gone.”
My boyfriend likes to quote a lyric from Hamilton’s the Schulyer Sisters, about how New York City is the Greatest City in the World. It is I suppose, just don’t expect to get a table here.