MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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.
Reservations, could you hold, please? It is Caroline in (unintelligible) calling for Jean Claude. Did you forget to give him the message? One moment.
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.
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.
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
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.
Another place that doesn't take reservations, actually.
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
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.
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.
When Pearl Dive first opened, their waits were around three hours. Now, they can be around two hours on a Saturday night.
As McKeever points out, Pearl Dive does offer its own way of making the wait more palatable. It's upstairs bar, Black Jack.
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.
But listen up, during a recent interview with Pearl Dive's General Manager, Tyes Zolman, McKeever discovered a way to nix the wait entirely.
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.
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
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.
Or how about Estadio where Justin Guthrie is the G.M.?
MR. JUSTIN GUTHRIE
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.
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
D.C.'s first Ramen shop.
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?
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.
And Bruner-Yang says, actually these early bird reservations are pretty practical.
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.
Which, by the way, can be as long as three hours.
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.
And that's the thing when you're as small as Toki Underground is.
We only have 23 seats.
And your prices are relatively low.
I think $10.00 for a bowl of Ramen that we work all day on is really well priced.
You've got to rely on constant customer turnover.
And if we were to expand reservations, we would definitely have to raise prices because we wouldn't sell as many bowls.
The other potential downside of reservations, as Birch & Barley's, Erik Bergman...
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.
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?
She's still summoning the courage to brave.
...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.
And yet, says McKeever, she suspects these long waits might be the wave of the future as D.C.'s dining scene explodes.
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.
And even more so now a time consuming thing, too, even before you sit down at the table.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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