Making Reservations
January 9, 2020 4:35 PM   Subscribe

 
How did they ID people? Seems like an easy system to game. “Oh, no. This is Bono’s new assistant.”
posted by mr_roboto at 4:48 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]


Sometimes, I’d get back on the line, announce that they were good to go, to have a good time, and slot their name in. I never thought about how gratifying it was then, or how much it saved me and my sanity. I look back at all the times in my life I was selfish for years on end—not volunteering, not listening, not extending these small moments of unnecessary grace to a stranger—and that time in my life, specifically: angry, dejected, discouraged, beaten down. This dumb job gave me nothing more and nothing less than the memory of these small graces, these micro-redemptions. The memory of: you weren’t all bad. And you maybe—just maybe—might not be now.

I, too, had a job like this, at a time in my life similar to the one the author describes--and the above sentiment captures it perfectly. Thank you for sharing this suprisingly moving essay!
posted by stellaluna at 4:52 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]


Tina Brown, Graydon Carter, a Gosling, a Hemsworth, a Bushnell, a Rushdie, or (groan) a McInerney.

What year are we in? 1989?
posted by Miko at 5:58 PM on January 9 [15 favorites]


> “Oh, no. This is Bono’s new assistant.”

And then you show up at the restaurant and say, "oh yeah, we're meeting Bono but he's running late, new album and all? He says we might as well get started... [45 minutes later] Oof damn, he's actually gonna be stuck there a couple more hours, we'll take the check and tell him you said hi I guess."

Of course that wouldn't work... Would it?
posted by smelendez at 6:17 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


I was working as a temp at a Golf Membership Management Company, typing in info from cards people had filled out when purchasing memberships and basically creating the computer file about their membership, at which club, etc.

I once came upon a guy with the exact same birthday as me. He'd only paid for the most basic membership, but somehow his file ended up showing he'd fully paid for a year of the top possible membership level.
posted by hippybear at 6:28 PM on January 9 [24 favorites]


I'm fairly certain Bono's new assistant (if he were to get one) would probably get known by name across the circles Bono moves through quickly enough for this not to really happen. Maybe not do it at this top tier. Maybe do it a b-level club, more likely to get a way with it.
posted by hippybear at 6:29 PM on January 9


Are we certain this isn't fiction? It just reads a little too on-the-nose for me.
posted by argybarg at 6:35 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]


hippybear: "I once came upon a guy with the exact same birthday as me. "

There was this nightclub in Santiago back in the day, the one the models and musicians and other famousish people hung out at. There was a bouncer, big guy, not friendly at all. He'd do the thing where they keep people in line, waiting for, something?, whatever, and turn a lot of people away. Pretty people, prettier than me.
Then one night, me and a friend try to get in, he says no, and she goes on about how much this sucks, etc., keeping people in line, and she gets to him and he says 'ok, from now on, you can come in', and she's like 'and my friend too?' and he looks me up and down, and it's my birthday, and I tell him, and he's like 'hey, it's my birthday too!', and from then on, we never had to stand in line, we never had to pay to get in, and would just breeze past prettier, famouser people than us who'd be standing in line hoping to get in, and it was glorious.
posted by signal at 6:42 PM on January 9 [28 favorites]


Haha. Glad to live in flyover country. That's all I thought, reading this article, until I got to the end and found out the author loved Jenny Holzer. I hate Jenny Holzer. If I were a hostess at a fancy restaurant here in SW USA and she called up for a reservation, I would say, sorry, no, someone who recycles platitudes for tons of money is not welcome at our establishment.
posted by kozad at 6:46 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]


Are we certain this isn't fiction? It just reads a little too on-the-nose for me.

You know, I had the same vibe. It wasn't all that convincing. I could believe maybe he worked there, but more like for a week or so. There's just not a lot of texture.

Like, for more about this world that feels real-er, read Service Included, an account of working at Per Se. There's some discussion in it about brokering reservations and table placement.
posted by Miko at 6:55 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]


I'm fairly certain Bono's new assistant (if he were to get one) would probably get known by name across the circles Bono moves through quickly enough for this not to really happen.

Among the minimum wage staff working the restaurant reservation lines? How? And I can probably find the real name of Bono’s assistant in about 20 minutes anyway. How do they verify ID over the phone? I can spoof a phone number.

As for showing up under the reservation:
“Please make the reservation under the name *insert your name here*. Bono wants to avoid the paparazzi.”

If this is really the system, I want to know more about it, because it seems eminently exploitable. It’s fun in that you could falsify an identity without (I think?) breaking the law and in that if you got caught it would be an embarrassment to the restaurant that they were operating the system in the first place.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:19 PM on January 9


I dunno. It's a fun thought experiment. Maybe you should try doing it sometime to get in to somewhere posh-ish.
posted by hippybear at 7:24 PM on January 9




Ha. I just dropped in to say how the Jenny Holzer bit redeemed this for me.

I love Jenny Holzer.
posted by thivaia at 7:34 PM on January 9 [8 favorites]


I thought Don Hill’s was a rock club. I’ve been there. I was drunk for much of my twenties but not that drunk...
posted by lyssabee at 7:40 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


ABUSE OF DINNER RESERVATION POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:48 PM on January 9 [21 favorites]


I'm fairly certain Bono's new assistant (if he were to get one) would probably get known by name across the circles Bono moves through quickly enough for this not to really happen.

Yeah, my wife used to be in the pro makeup biz (now she’s in the high end nail biz) and back then she prob knew the names of the hair/makeup people of anyone you could think of. Either because she had worked on set with them, or because she sold product to them as an account rep.

Everyone once in a while I’d overhear her gossiping that so-and-so mid tier music person had moved on from their make up person of X years and whatnot. Depending on the people involved (usually it seemed to matter more of the status of make artist than the star), sometimes she she would hang up and just immediately call a bunch of people to pass on the news. It spread like wildfire.

So, wouldn’t surprise me in the least if everyone in NYC social scene new immediately if Bono got a new assistant.
posted by sideshow at 8:14 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


“oh yeah, we're meeting Bono but he's running late, new album and all? He says we might as well get started”

They won’t seat you without your full party. Now, if it was you that was missing and Bono was there, that rule would totally get bent. But not for an “assistant.”

People try to hustle the host/maitre d’ in these places every single day. I’m not saying that no one ever gets one past the goalie, but these are not grade A simpletons here.
posted by praemunire at 8:26 PM on January 9 [16 favorites]


Getting an a-list guest would be a notch on the belt, I guess. But wouldn't having a reliable clientele be a better business plan?
posted by sjswitzer at 8:36 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


All I got out of this is the intense urge to crush the class system. My money's not as good as Bono's? Fuck off with that nonsense.
posted by downtohisturtles at 8:38 PM on January 9 [7 favorites]


Money isn't the only currency.
posted by Miko at 8:45 PM on January 9 [11 favorites]


lyssabee, AFAIK you're right about don hills -- it was a rock club that had alt-rock/goth/new wave dance party nights once or twice a week. i was sort of a fixture there for a couple years so like the entrance requirements could seriously have NOT been THAT discerning. it's possible the place changed a lot after i left nyc sometime in 2003 though.
posted by capnsue at 8:55 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Once upon a time there was a show called Evening Shade. Pretty sure it was on CBS, and it was one of the Thomason/Bloodworth-Thomason shows, like Designing Women. Anyway, it starred Burt Reynolds and Marilu Henner; the deal was Burt Reynolds was a famous-ish football star who came back to this little town in Arkansas and was a local football coach, Marilu Henner was his wife and Michael Jeter was his assistant and like a math teacher or something. Also starred Ossie Davis and Hal Holbrook.

Anyway, the show ran from like 1990-1994. There was one episode where Reynolds and Henner and Jeter were at some fancy restaurant somewhere, waiting for a table. I need to emphasize that this episode definitely aired before 1994.

Host: “I’m sorry, we don’t have any tables available.”
Jeter: “Listen, do you know anything about football at all?”
Host: “No”
Jeter, pointing at Burt Reynolds: “Well, you see that guy over there?”
Host: “Yes?”
Jeter: “That’s O.J. Simpson. That lady there’s his lovely wife Nicole.”
(Laughter. REMEMBER THIS IS BEFORE 1994.)
Host: “Oh, wow, even I know who O.J. Simpson is!” and welcomes “Juice” and his wife and shows the party to their table.

Unsurprisingly I cannot find this clip on YouTube.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:09 PM on January 9 [9 favorites]


Tina Brown, Graydon Carter, a Gosling, a Hemsworth, a Bushnell, a Rushdie, or (groan) a McInerney.

What year are we in? 1989?


I'm... surprised at the reaction this. I assumed it was fiction (I know Foster and I never remember him mentioning this, but the last time we talked about his early work career in NY was probably 2008).

My first job in NY was at the rockwellgroup and it was touted during the interview that one of the benefits was having access to the private reservations line at Nobu and I thought then it was the stupidest thing.

Years after that my cousin, who was the lead assistant for an M&A guy at Viacom, emailed me in sort of a panic asking if I knew how to get reservations at Waverly Inn (this was peak Waverly Inn era), and I replied with the only thing I knew (which I think I literally read on Gawker) - that you had to call Carter's assistant. She emailed me like three hours later thanking me for the tip and that it totally worked.
posted by 99_ at 9:17 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


It's basically an Econ 101 market failure, if you have more people who want to eat at fancy restaurants and exhibit economic willingness-to-pay, but 50% of them get denied reservations.

I don't think the answer should be a personality test over the phone. But that's what the author accepts in the end. I bet the author is white because it's easiest to reinforce non-multicultural values this way.
posted by polymodus at 9:20 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


Don Hill's had a sort of hot night in the 2000s but I honestly forget what it was - probably some Strokes adjacent thing?
posted by 99_ at 9:21 PM on January 9


> I, too, had a job like this, at a time in my life similar to the one the author describes--and the above sentiment captures it perfectly.

Me too, stellaluna! This was such a perfect description for how I felt working a retail job. While I didn't have any power to deny anyone what they wanted, the majority of people I helped were entitled and awful. (It was a beloved specialty kitchen store, coincidentally chefs were pretty much always the most entitled pricks, this is why I stopped eating at Maria Hine's restaurants.) So someone normal comes in, someone who treats me like a person in just the smallest way? I would bend over backwards for that person. I would think about them for weeks. I can still remember most of those people, though sadly I remember the people who yelled at me and humiliated me until I cried more often, ten years later.

I was so, so desperate to feel like a human. To feel like working all the time for very little money at a really awful time in my life — yeah, this nailed the feeling of getting to do one small tender thing for another person.

Also, I love Jenny Holzer, too. (I'd be honored to help her buy a knife or a tart pan or whatever.)
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 9:21 PM on January 9 [9 favorites]


I think about customer service conflicts, and one thing that rarely comes up is fully theorizing the customer and front-service relationship, and why it is overall an antagonistic one. But that's an illusion, because the socioeconomic system is set up this way so that the two sides inevitably see each other as enemies, or at best, extractive competitors. The real enemy is the (capitalist, bourgeois) owner, and an important complication that arises is that service staff are selected, trained, and disciplined so that their situation is invariably in service of the business owner. This ideological training and discipline will bias the customer service account of conflict, and thwarts genuine solidarity. You see this pattern over and over in literally any news discussion involving customer service conflict. But I have yet to see anyone touch on this concept. Except Hunger Games: "Remember who the real enemy is."
posted by polymodus at 9:29 PM on January 9 [11 favorites]


It's basically an Econ 101 market failure, if you have more people who want to eat at fancy restaurants and exhibit economic willingness-to-pay, but 50% of them get denied reservations.

Not necessarily, if you know that exclusivity allows you to charge significantly higher prices for a longer period of time. If the place is being run by any kind of celebrity chef, it could also function as a loss leader which increases traffic at said chef's other restaurants.
posted by Ickster at 9:39 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]


It's basically an Econ 101 market failure, if you have more people who want to eat at fancy restaurants and exhibit economic willingness-to-pay, but 50% of them get denied reservations.

There was a good article years ago about someone who over the course of the year more or less taught themselves to bribe their way into a table, and once they had mastered the social aspect of signalling to a maître d' that they were willing to pay for table at prime time, the proceeded to see how far down they could push it - my recollection was they started at $100 and by the end of it, they were getting 8PM tables at (I think?) a Ducasse restaurant for $20. The author was flabbergasted at how cheap and easy it was.
posted by 99_ at 9:47 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


It's basically an Econ 101 market failure, if you have more people who want to eat at fancy restaurants and exhibit economic willingness-to-pay, but 50% of them get denied reservations.

Aside from what Ickster mentions about exclusivity being part of the draw, quality control for increased volume becomes more difficult. Maybe you can make sufficiently good hires and source good enough ingredients to keep standards up, but that could cost you non-linearly more, the more of them you need.
posted by juv3nal at 10:08 PM on January 9


This is an illustration of how useless Econ 101 is. If you want to eat in *a* fancy restaurant in NYC, you can. Just not necessarily any *particular* one. Because, at any given restaurant, I mean, I hate to be so obvious, but the supply of covers on any given night is essentially fixed!
posted by praemunire at 11:00 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]


Not necessarily, if you know that exclusivity allows you to charge significantly higher prices for a longer period of time.

The exclusivity is also the point in why celebrities will choose to go there, both to exhibit their star power, Bono can get a reservation anywhere!, avoid the "lesser" people, and by doing so act as advertising of a sort for the restaurant. Bono goes there, we have to try it! since people are really fucking dopey about celebrities and want to give them even more benefits than they already have just to see them and imitate the things they do as if that celebrity aura lingers in the brands they consume and will thus pass on to us lesser folk by also indulging in the same, even if it costs more than we can afford.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:22 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


This is an illustration of how useless Econ 101 is.

People don't read Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class in Econ 101 anymore?
posted by fuzz at 12:34 AM on January 10 [12 favorites]


Back in my youth, circa 1984, I lived on 17th St near union square and near the Palladium. I would walk home from work and pass the Palladium daily. The bouncers and staff would be out front smoking and talking. I got to know them. First name basis know them, but the thing was I never went in. I was not into that sort of scene being a Deadhead and all. But, one Saturday night around midnight I was walking home with a date. She sees the line, a long line, people dressed up aqnd people dressed in costume (I think they were costumes) and says something along the lines of, "I always wanted to go inside the Palladium and dance on a Saturday night, but I can never get in." I just smiled and we kept walking towards the front door along the velvet ropes. When we get to the front, I see one of the bouncers and say, "Hey Frankie, what's up?" He looks at me and calls me by name. I go over and ask if we can come in. He laughs and says that I never need to ask, just come to the front and I am in. He said I never thought I would see you come in. Welcome to the Palladium. My date was floored. We had a good time. I was definitely the only person in there wearing khakis and a blue button down shirt. Oh, that date ended up marrying a guy I went to HS with and to this day when I see her, she still cannot believe I could go to the front of the line at her dream disco/night club. Frankly, it never occurred to me when I made friends with the bouncers that I would ever use that friendship for anything other than bumming the rare smoke.
posted by AugustWest at 12:51 AM on January 10 [37 favorites]


this was peak Waverly Inn era

Which I assume was better than what most Torontonians would associate with peak Waverly.
posted by jb at 5:33 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


How did they ID people? Seems like an easy system to game.

Chez Quis Maitre'd : Hello may I help you?

Ferris : You can sure as hell try. Hi, I'm Abe Froman, party of 3 for 12.
posted by remo at 5:38 AM on January 10 [7 favorites]


How did they ID people? Seems like an easy system to game.

I mean they have software for this. They track VIP guests and those guests have a profile, with names of people who might book for them. Also they have caller ID and also after a short while they'll know the person. Maitre D' is a serious job, it's not usually something you give to a short-term, low-skill, low-wage worker. New people are onboarded into the way the system works and who they need to know.

This "call center" approach in the story (I now believe it to be fiction) is interesting because, by definition, that means the restaurants couldn't be the highest of the high-end, where they do this in-hosue.
posted by Miko at 5:45 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


It's a bit that-happened for sure. There isn't one restaurant in NYC that could stay open for a day on the back of that supposed VIP roster, some of whom don't really exist any more (editors with expense accounts!), and most of the rest of whom don't pay for dinner.

Manhattan fine dining's anchors are business entertainment, middle-class people on a birthday-anniversary-New York-tourism splurge, and the 100,000+ people who live in Manhattan and Brooklyn who make mid-six-figures or more.
posted by MattD at 6:09 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I'm a regular at a restaurant that is posh but not expensive, with lots of famous actors and royalty eating there. I can always get a table except sometimes when I call the same day on a weekend. But at a point, I noticed that when I ordered a table for two, I often got a really bad table, next to the front door if it was winter, or next to the bathroom or kitchen doors during summer. I got the explanation, because one of my daughter's friends got a job there. The person I usually brought in when I ordered a table for two is one of those people who thinks it's a sign of high status to be a jerk to waiters. I guess it was a little act of passive aggression to seat us badly. It never worked. She would always complain about the table and have us re-seated before she got on with complaining about everything else and demanding specials.
I don't remember if I or my daughter told her, and she dialed it down with the result that we always get the best table.

Be nice.
posted by mumimor at 6:28 AM on January 10 [7 favorites]


I mean they have software for this.

Came here to say exactly that. These days, there are lots of tech solutions for tracking this kind of info. My boyfriend used to do high end service in a couple of Chicago's more fancyass restaurants and I was floored to learn that in at least one of them, it was standard practice for the reservation team to do internet sleuthing on literally every guest who made a reservation. Any notable info they uncovered was entered into a database so that the restaurant could provide heightened service, which included seating folks in clusters that might provide faux-serendipitous meetings and connections. Servers would also get a dossier at the beginning of their shift in order to provide subtly personalized experiences for even medium-profile guests.

To say that I was fascinated by this peek behind the curtain is an understatement. I love learning about industry practices that are mostly invisible to consumers.
posted by merriment at 7:46 AM on January 10 [6 favorites]


Don Hill's? I knew Don from Kenny's Castaways. Never had trouble getting in. Right past the line, for free. It was great. :)
posted by Splunge at 8:57 AM on January 10


On the one hand, I hate this.

On the other hand, I've walked straight past the line to get into clubs on a small handful of occasions because I knew someone, and I felt like the Queen of France, so it's not like I don't get the allure.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:10 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Because I looked very much like I belonged to a family of local legends I would sometimes use their last name when getting my little family on a restaurant wait list.

"How many?"

"Three."

"It's going to be a 20-30 minute wait for a table. Do you want to wait?"

"Yes."

"Okay. Name?"

"Nordstom."

Never waited more than a minute or two.
posted by bz at 11:59 AM on January 10


This is an illustration of how useless Econ 101 is. If you want to eat in *a* fancy restaurant in NYC, you can.

Easy to try and invalidate my comment like that, but the article says that 50% of calls on average are denied. 50%. This is not about any particular restaurant of its class, it is very efficient reasoning to suppose that for restaurants of equivalent quality, callers experience the same rate of successful reservations.

Even if a guest can't get into Per se but they can get into Le Bernardin, arbitrarily under repeated iterations, that is still a kind of economic failure, just a more refined one conceptually.

There's a difference between calling out Econ for scientism, and outright rejecting really nice concepts like market failure. That is intellectually glib. Marx basically used Econ to prove the sociopolitical inconsistency of capitalism, which this article is so illustrative of, but that just meant he also had to use an abstract economics, just not the first order one that college students learn in school. He didn't simply throw out Econ, and it doesn't mean ideas in 101 are entirely useless.
posted by polymodus at 12:21 PM on January 10


my recollection was they started at $100 and by the end of it, they were getting 8PM tables at (I think?) a Ducasse restaurant for $20. The author was flabbergasted at how cheap and easy it was.

That's a terrific example of information asymmetry, which again points to market failure.
posted by polymodus at 12:36 PM on January 10


Not necessarily, if you know that exclusivity allows you to charge significantly higher prices for a longer period of time. If the place is being run by any kind of celebrity chef, it could also function as a loss leader which increases traffic at said chef's other restaurants.

The problem with this explanation is that the offering at 2nd tier restaurants are not equivalent as a good or commodity. As for exclusivity, charging for higher prices (while unable to meet aggregate demand) is more like a micro monopoly, so again a systemic failure. If you take the position of the owner, sure, that's great. But let's not do that. Scarcity doesn't justify added injustice or exploitation.

I do think that social (read: socialite and elitist) phenomena are important to consider and understand if you wanted to flesh out a critique of the industry. But my passions lie in cooking, so that dimension of restaurants is a lot less interesting to me than just making truly great food available and accessible.
posted by polymodus at 12:46 PM on January 10


This is basically the same issue as university admissions: the only thing you can't commodify is exclusivity.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:23 PM on January 10



Restaurant scenefrom "L.A. Story"
posted by goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes at 6:56 AM on January 11


“it is very efficient reasoning to suppose that for restaurants of equivalent quality, callers experience the same rate of successful reservations.”

If this doesn’t illustrate the problem with this kind of thinking. “It is very efficient reasoning to suppose.” You’re talking about an actual real world phenomenon. That phrase just means “I’m gonna grab some assumptions that don’t contradict the small amount of data I have and my wider a prioris and treat it like Science.”
posted by praemunire at 2:52 PM on January 11


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