The moment a terrible planner was born:
We have been staring at each other for just over 10 seconds now. Ten fat juicy visceral seconds. I will not blink first. The people behind me start shuffling, doing the ‘hurry the fuck up’ two-step. My tear ducts are starting to sting but I will not break, this is about so much more than an under-16s dance now. This is about my pride, about justice for 15-year-olds who don’t have a ticket to the party but are the proud owner of a cute outfit from Dorothy Perkins. Twelve seconds, thirteen seconds - almost blink, but don’t - fourteen seconds. The bouncer sighs. Fine, go ahead, he says and I am elation dressed in a tube-top, ready to have the best Usher-filled moments of my young life before my step-dad picks me up in exactly an hour and a half.
This was the moment I became a walk-in junkie. Alas, the world had other ideas and not only did I get a job that involves regularly making reservations, but in 2020 planning went from ‘special skills’ CV fodder to a prerequisite for even leaving the house. You need to remember your mask, triple-check the latest list of restrictions, and if you’re looking to dine out, have secured your reservation three weeks back. With spontaneity a thing of the past and London’s limited al fresco options, there has never been a time where restaurant reservations have been so hard to come by.
Before you panic and resign yourself to a life of meal kits, follow these steps to secure reservations at some of the best restaurants London has to offer, even if you’re someone who’s never owned a weekly planner.
Book Under Ms. Jennifer Aniston
Kidding. 100% kidding. Please never do this. No, not even if it’s your birthday. You’ll cause societal chaos and spend the entire evening self-consciously shouting ‘Jen should be here any minute, bloody Brad wants her back again’. The absolute maximum deception we’ll allow is changing your surname to Vanderbilt. Other no-nos: checking LinkedIn and pretending you have a deep and meaningful relationship with the sous chef, attempting to bribe anyone with a £5 note, saying it’s your golden wedding anniversary even though you are clearly 32, crying, crying whilst also claiming you have two-weeks to live. Keep it classy London.
Notifications Are Your Friend
This one goes out to a little restaurant called Sushi Tetsu. A tiny seven-seater spot hidden down a side-road in Clerkenwell, this place serves some of London’s best sushi and is notorious for being near-impossible to book. The quickest way to a reservation is to follow them on Twitter and turn your notifications on for every time they post. But it turns out this hack applies to every other restaurant in London with a social media account. I currently have story and post notifications turned on for six restaurants I’m waiting to book as soon they announce their reopening. The moment their bookings go live, they’ll post the intel, and you’ll be first in line.
ballpark 95% of this dear nation is terrified of having to initiate their phone voice, so people will regularly just give up as soon as the online booking platform says no.
The Phone Call
This probably sounds like a very obvious option but if a restaurant is booked out online then give them a ring. Sounds simple right? No, because ballpark 95% of this dear nation is fucking terrified of having to initiate their phone voice, so people will regularly just give up as soon as the online booking platform says no. I believe in you, your stomach believes in you, and that legend Hayley ‘tea lady’ Pearce from The Call Centre believes in you. Make that call.
Embrace The Spam
If you are anything like me then your inbox is a sad little graveyard of things you don’t remember signing up for. When did I join a newsletter for a weekly round-up on Devon cheese farmers? How does Habitat know I literally just spilt coffee on my bedspread? Who decided that wedding e-invites are legal? Anxiety, initiated. That’s why I understand that ‘sign up for restaurant newsletters’ sounds like a truly horrible piece of advice. But just trust me that this method comes into its own during heavy-duty dining periods like Christmas, Mother’s Day, and mid-August terrace bookings. Countless restaurants use their mailing list to promote bookings going live, and some even offer early-bird reservations and exclusive discounts.
The Big Group Power Move
Okay, remember that silly season after the first year of uni when everyone tried to find a decent student house and you ended up asking some randomer that always smelt of weed and mildew to live with you just so you could go for that four-bed near the student union? Channel that mindset. Restaurant real estate is a numbers game and over the past couple of years I’ve found that it’s actually the two-seat tables that go quickly at certain restaurants - particularly the candlelit ones. If you’re struggling to get a booking try changing the table size. Maybe they have a three-seat corner alcove table that’s available? Maybe you don’t mind inviting your mate’s girlfriend who always does palm-readings mid-starter if you know you’ll have access to that whole turbot you’re desperate to try? Just don’t turn up with less people than you’ve booked for because that, my friend, is a dick move.
Download The Walk-Up App
It is a truth universally acknowledged by anyone who has ever tried to organise a fussy mate’s birthday that you can’t get a reservation at several of London’s best restaurants because, erm, they don’t take reservations. Walk-ins can be a total pain in the ass or a total blessing for those of us who are booking-inept, but this handy app will sort you out. Several of London’s most popular no-reservation spots are signed-up, including Padella, Barrafina, Bao, and Farm Girl. But the best part is that some spots with impossible reservations - The Wolseley, Blacklock, Din Tai Fung - have also joined to fill any last-minute tables. Simply join the virtual queue, find a nice friendly pub or do a bit of shopping, and they’ll alert you as soon as your table is ready.
The 10-Minute Plan Ahead
Right, you’re probably reading this because it’s your partner’s birthday and you desperately need a reservation at Noble Rot - deep breath - in twenty-five minutes. This method sadly will not help you right now, but it will help you avoid ever having to contemplate going a bit Tonya Harding to win a seat at a London restaurant again. For starters, always have a list of restaurants you want to book on your phone and add to it every time somewhere catches your eye on the ’Gram or in a magazine. Then, once a week, set a 10-minute timer on your phone and just make your way through that list, securing bookings for the coming weeks or even the coming months. Yes, this will require patience, but it stops ‘MAKE BOOKING AT CUTE SUSHI PLACE’ sitting on that long list of five-minute tasks that you will complete circa 2027.
Play The Cancellation Game
When it comes to restaurant reservations London’s army of Type A organisers are your enemy, but fickle humans and their Netflix marathon urges are your comrades in this fight. Every day across London countless people come down with a fictitious stomach ache / work deadline / medical emergency relating to their cat and flake on their friends and their restaurant booking. That’s why the old 4pm phone call is always an excellent shout. If you’re booking ahead and can’t find the table you want, always sign up for availability notifications or join the waitlist. I repeat, always join the waitlist. From experience, if you’re after a weekday reservation these almost always turn into a table.
Use Your Carefully-Honed Investigative Skills
Your nearest and dearest (read as: a paid therapist) will tell you that you’re wasting your life carefully tracking the online presence of that person you went on exactly four dates with in 2019. They are wrong. All those hours spent establishing whose hand is in the corner of the frame and whether their new mug suggests a career move has been excellent training for restaurant reservation prowess. Go forth our hungry Sherlocks and participate in some light investigation to secure that booking, including:
Search the bottom of the restaurant’s website for the logo of a parent company and check out their website for sister restaurants or brand new openings that have similar and/or identical menus.
Google the restaurant name combined with ‘new’ or ‘head chef’. The London restaurant industry is a constant musical chairs and you’d be surprised how often the head chef at your favourite spot has opened their own place or moved somewhere with a similar feel on the downlow.
If there’s a restaurant you’re absolutely obsessed with then familiarise yourself with their online bookings. Do they take reservations for the next month or the next two months? Do they open new reservations daily, week-to-week, or in monthly blocks? Information is power baby.
Smile. Be polite. Don’t wear a pair of trainers that look like they’ve competed in The Grand National.
Editors and beloved colleagues, please avert your eyes because this is between me and the reader.
Okay, so realistically, nothing - absolutely nothing - will hone your reservation skills like knowing you need to write a review of a restaurant in the next two days that is booked out for the next two months. Are you sweating? Same. But that also makes us the perfect people to email when you’re in dire need of a reservation or perfect same-price alternative that you’ll love just as much. Seriously, just drop us a message because we have a very particular set of skills, skills we have acquired over a very long career. Liam Neeson eat your heart out.
Channel Your Inner Lizzo
Confidence is your one-way ticket to the best restaurants in the world. How do I know this? At 18 I had a period of mania and spent an alarming yet glorious few months believing that every restaurant, bar, and VIP club in Paris was my god-given right. Excuse me? Why is La Coupole not just called Heidi’s Place? Pretty rude really. Now, I’m not claiming that my mental health condition is a life hack but if this period of my life taught me anything it’s that if you approach situations with a blinding confidence, you’re successful. It’s sort of like those birds of paradise that floof themselves into big psychedelic displays when they want to secure some action. Smile. Be polite. Listen to Lizzo. Don’t wear a pair of trainers that look like they’ve competed in The Grand National. But most of all, turn up with confidence.