New D.c. Restaurants Nix The Reservations (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

New D.C. Restaurants Nix The Reservations

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
But first, since we're talking about commitment, in 1999, this one-man show came out called "Fully Committed." It was written by Becky Mode, a playwright, raised right here in Washington, D.C. Mode used to work in the restaurant business where she'd hear insiders describe a booked-up eatery as fully committed. So her play follows the harried hijinks of an overworked reservationist named Sam who mans the phones at a very posh, very exclusive French eatery in New York.

MR. SAM

00:00:32
Reservations, could you hold, please? It is Caroline in (unintelligible) calling for Jean Claude. Did you forget to give him the message? One moment.

SHEIR

00:00:41
Anyway, not that Washington is chock block with posh, exclusive French places like Jean Claude's, but it has been pretty typical for our mid to upper range restaurants to have their own Sam handling reservations or, in the case of Birch & Barley on 14th Street NW, their own Sarah.

MS. SARAH

00:00:58
Hi, this is Sarah from Birch & Barley. I’m calling to confirm your reservation for three at 7:30 tomorrow evening for an all-day brunch, starting at 5:00 with our supplementary dinner menu.

SHEIR

00:01:07
But here's the thing, in recent years, a number of D.C.'s newer eateries don't necessarily need a Sarah or a Sam. Take Little Serow on 17th Street, near Dupont Circle, as Birch & Barley's general manager Erik Bergman points out, the widely popular and wildly tiny Thai restaurant doesn't take reservations at all.

MR. ERIK BERGMAN

00:01:26
I've waited the two hours for the table, but I thoroughly think that it's worth every second of wait that you have to, you know, go around at Hank's Oyster Bar or something while you're waiting for your table.

SHEIR

00:01:36
Another place that doesn't take reservations, actually.

BERGMAN

00:01:39
Exactly, yeah. Oddly enough, right. And I think if you ask Jamie Leeds, she'll thank little Sarah for opening. She's seen a recent boom in her bar business, I think.

MS. AMY MCKEEVER

00:01:48
A lot of these places where there is the wait and there aren't reservations like that, I've noticed that a lot of them have been very accommodating in this way of taking your number, you know, so you don't have to hang out outside and clutter up the sidewalk.

SHEIR

00:02:02
Amy McKeever edits the restaurant blog Eater D.C. where she's written quite a bit about another place that doesn't tout reservations, Birch & Barley's hot new neighbor, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace.

MCKEEVER

00:02:12
When Pearl Dive first opened, their waits were around three hours. Now, they can be around two hours on a Saturday night.

SHEIR

00:02:18
As McKeever points out, Pearl Dive does offer its own way of making the wait more palatable. It's upstairs bar, Black Jack.

MCKEEVER

00:02:25
They have a great menu up there, too, and the food does come out a little faster there. So you could get yourself a little appetizer and then go downstairs and eat more.

SHEIR

00:02:33
But listen up, during a recent interview with Pearl Dive's General Manager, Tyes Zolman, McKeever discovered a way to nix the wait entirely.

MCKEEVER

00:02:41
They have a chef's table. And when I was interviewing her, she said there was no wait to get into the chef's table. They do take reservations for it. And so I was thinking, you know, even at the time, like, the second I write about this, I wonder if everybody is going to go and snap up those chef's table reservations because I would.

SHEIR

00:02:59
Of course, the catch is, there are only four of them and they're only available between 5:00 o'clock and 6:30, which seems to be a magic time for some other spots on 14th Street, like Cork Wine Bar co-owned by Khalid Pitts.

MR. KHALID PITTS

00:03:13
We initially did not take reservations at all, but we're very close to the studio theater, just blocks away so we do pre-theater dining. So between 5:30 and 6:30, you can get a reservation.

SHEIR

00:03:22
Or how about Estadio where Justin Guthrie is the G.M.?

MR. JUSTIN GUTHRIE

00:03:25
We take reservations for any party of the time slots 5:00, 5:30 and 6:00 o'clock. After 6:00 p.m., we go on a wait list, first come, first serve.

SHEIR

00:03:35
And across town in the H Street corridor, you'll find the same kind of thing at gastropub Grandville Moore's and at Toki Underground.

MR. ERIK BRUNER-YANG

00:03:42
D.C.'s first Ramen shop.

SHEIR

00:03:43
Which Chef Erik Bruner-Yang opened to much buzz and fanfare last April. When Toki Underground first opened, you didn't offer reservations at all, right?

BRUNER-YANG

00:03:51
No. We were first come, first serve and we're still predominantly a first come, first serve restaurant. We only do reservations for the turn, Monday through Friday from 5:00 to 6:00.

SHEIR

00:04:01
And Bruner-Yang says, actually these early bird reservations are pretty practical.

BRUNER-YANG

00:04:05
The people that do make the reservations during the weekdays have been a lot more families, like a lot of people that normally wouldn't come because they're afraid of the wait.

SHEIR

00:04:13
Which, by the way, can be as long as three hours.

BRUNER-YANG

00:04:15
And I think it just shows, you know, that we are considerate to other people's needs, but at the same time, we have to balance, like, what the customers want with the bottom line.

SHEIR

00:04:22
And that's the thing when you're as small as Toki Underground is.

BRUNER-YANG

00:04:26
We only have 23 seats.

SHEIR

00:04:27
And your prices are relatively low.

BRUNER-YANG

00:04:29
I think $10.00 for a bowl of Ramen that we work all day on is really well priced.

SHEIR

00:04:32
You've got to rely on constant customer turnover.

BRUNER-YANG

00:04:35
And if we were to expand reservations, we would definitely have to raise prices because we wouldn't sell as many bowls.

SHEIR

00:04:42
The other potential downside of reservations, as Birch & Barley's, Erik Bergman...

BERGMAN

00:04:46
Is someone promising that they're going to come in and increasingly they're not. Actually, people are increasingly not showing up for their reservations.

SHEIR

00:04:53
And that can be frustrating for restaurants since they use reservations to plan for a specific number of customers and staff each day. Of course, on the other hand, the same no-show can be fantastic for customers because as Eater D.C.'s Amy McKeever admits, waiting hours for a table can be a drag, even with that bar upstairs, as with Pearl Dive or that bar down the street, as with Little Serow whose wait, incidentally -- have you been to Little Serow?

MCKEEVER

00:05:18
Um...

SHEIR

00:05:22
She's still summoning the courage to brave.

MCKEEVER

00:05:25
...I was hoping nobody would ever ask me. No, I haven't and when I go, I will go on a Tuesday at 5:00. There's no other way that I'm doing that because I also don't have patience to wait for three hours.

SHEIR

00:05:37
And yet, says McKeever, she suspects these long waits might be the wave of the future as D.C.'s dining scene explodes.

MCKEEVER

00:05:44
I haven't noticed like an end point. You would think that with all these busy openings and the more exciting restaurants that there are out there, the easier it might be able to get into the ones that used to be busy and all that. But it really does not seem to be that way. There's just so much demand to get into these restaurants and going out to dinner is even more so maybe now a trendy thing to do.

SHEIR

00:06:09
And even more so now a time consuming thing, too, even before you sit down at the table.

SHEIR

00:06:23
We want to know, what's the longest you've waited for a table in D.C. and how busy would you say our restaurant scene is these days? Email us at metro@wamu.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.