How to score a table at a booked restaurant WITHOUT a reservation

All photos by Matthew Albanese
All photos by Matthew Albanese

Very important information you probably didn't know: even the most crowded restaurant in the world keeps at least a table or two free, in the slyest possible way, as a safety net in case Ed Begley, Jr. comes in unannounced and wants a cheeseburger. There are other reasons, too, but just know this: that table can also be yours.

We talked to a handful of hosts/hostesses -- the gatekeepers who control who gets to sit, and who gets nothing at all -- from restaurants with some of the toughest tables in the country, and asked them to reveal every loophole that a normal person can exploit to beat the seating system. And for some reason, they told us. Here’re the nine ways:

make a connection with the bartender

1. Pretend like you've got a connection to the place
Waltz up to the crowded hostess stand, and calmly explain your connection to the place. Your cousin used to date the bartender. You went to high school with the maitre d'. Your mom taught the pastry chef how to swim. Make it true, or failing that, believable -- but always make sure you 1) know the person’s name, and 2) actually pronounce it right. It’s easy if he’s called Mike.
Level of effectiveness: 6. They aren't buying it, but they aren't getting paid to. Your table just might be ready in about 20 minutes.

2. Act like it's the restaurant's fault for losing the reservation you never made
Head into the restaurant and say you've arrived for your reservation early, and are just going to grab a drink at the bar. This will surely throw the host/hostess into waves of panic and self-doubt. Play dumb and politely act like they nixed your res by accident. Most places call to confirm in advance -- without them prompting you, say that you never got one, then muse about how you thought it was a little odd since they “always” call.
Level of effectiveness: 7. The host/hostess will bring it to upper management and nasty glares may ensue, but whatever -- you'll be eating in under 45 minutes.

sneak into a restaurant

3. Blaze past the hostess stand and seat yourself
If they're not at their perch, just effing go for it. There’s bound to be an open table somewhere.
Level of effectiveness: 4. You obviously run the risk of being caught, but after you’ve been given a menu and water, they’re almost definitely not going to forcibly remove you. Just expect to be rushed through your meal and get super-weak drinks.

4. Join friends at the tail end of their early meal, and restart the tab
This highly frowned-upon move -- when executed properly -- can score you the table of your dreams (also: get some cooler dreams). Con the host/hostess into thinking you're just going to "say hi" to a friend, then order an entire meal.
Level of effectiveness: 9.5. You're gonna get your food, but you’re also bound to get blacklisted mentally, so, next time you show up, just be sure to wear one of those hilarious glasses sets with the huge nose and mustache attached.

chocolate bribe

5. Give them chocolate
Chances are, the people working the door are A) huge food nuts, and B) never given nuts, and are starving during their shift. First step: make your face known as a regular that "drops by" whenever you're in the area. But don't stop there. Bringing a nice box of Hawaiian chocolates from your “recent trip” (... to a website that sells them) or a box of macarons from Paris (Texas) will ensure you'll never wait for a table when you really need one in the future.
Level of effectiveness: 7. It’s amazing how much people love chocolates!!

beg a host to be seated

6. Stomp those feet
Throwing a tantrum -- especially loudly accusing hosts, bartenders, or servers of bad behavior in order to get a table faster -- sadly works, because in the service industry, you have to make sure your guests leave happy, even if they’re not really supposed to be your guests.
Level of effectiveness: 4. You're an ass, but an ass that's seated and eating.

7. Be REALLY nice
Say you'll sit anywhere, joke about how you reallyyy can't wait to indulge in their insanely delicious lobster steak, acknowledge how absolutely swamped they are, and how much you appreciate their help. The kinder and more patient you are, the more they want to accommodate you.
Level of effectiveness: 5. You may have a little wait, but your name is going down in the books as a respected customer. Thank them by name on your way out.

bribe a host

8. Dead presidents
In the interest of time and efficiency, money rules almost every time. Though this move is frowned upon by management, there's usually a don't-ask-don't-tell policy that'll keep your secret/cash safe with the host/hostess -- especially because they're sharing that generous $50 (or $100, if you're feeling like Mother Teresa) with their co-workers, and it just bought them a round of drinks after work.
Level of effectiveness: 9. Oddly, people continue to love money.

know the best reservation time

9. Know the system and be flexible
After all that stuff, let us say this: if you want to walk into a restaurant and get a table without a reservation, just know the times that are doable. Expecting to magically get a table at 8:30pm on a Saturday evening is often hopeless, even if you give them chocolates and a c-note. Coming in at 9:30pm or 6pm? Way more realistic.
Level of effectiveness: 10. There's nothing wrong with playing by the rules.

Julie Cerick is an editorial assistant at Thrillist, and, during her stint as a hostess at a certain esteemed NYC restaurant, chocolate won every.single.time. So did $100. Follow her to hard-to-snag reservations at @jjcericke.