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How to get a table at an in-demand restaurant

A favourite lunch spot is Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

Getting a reservation at a hot restaurant can be a nightmare, and being told there’s a waiting list of several months is far from uncommon

If you’ve ever tried to book a table anywhere you’ve seen lauded in the press, you’ve probably been offered a slot on the farthest edges of what’s considered dinner time, or been told ‘sorry we’re full’.

It seems a certain level of ingenuity and persistence is necessary to secure impossible-to-get reservations at a reasonable hour.

Yet if you’re flexible, getting a tough table needn’t be that difficult. At Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Saturday night tables are booked up a year in advance. One of the Good Food Guide’s team got a 9pm midweek slot with two days’ notice.

Top tip: to eat at H&F on the day, just stroll into the bar at opening time and you’ll have an excellent chance of nabbing one of the four unbookable bar stools – where the full menu is also served. 

The general goal of a restaurant is to turn the room and have an early and late sitting. Understand that a 7.30pm reservation can mean the restaurant could miss out on a second sitting later on, so it is less likely to offer that time.

Be prepared to eat at 6pm or 9pm. So if you want to try the new, in-demand places this year, here’s the lowdown on how best to get in.

Call for cancellations

Find out what time your chosen restaurant confirms its reservations for the day. If it’s 11am, make a note to call back at that time and you might just get lucky.

Lunchtime openings

Lunch is often easier to book than dinner. A favourite summer lunch spot is Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton. You’ll see Raymond Blanc’s gardens (including his famous kitchen garden) at their most spectacular, and pre- and post-lunch drinks on the terrace nicely extend the experience.

Charm does no harm

Be friendly and personable to the receptionist on the phone. At busy new restaurants, the front desk will have been bombarded by anxious, pushy callers, and sometimes just being sympathetic and understanding is enough to make them want to help you.

The waiting game

Get on the restaurant’s waiting list. A good tip this, especially if you are visiting London, where you could be on several restaurants’ lists for every night you are in town to maximise your chances of success.

Spur of the moment

Show up with your best smile, ask if there’s a last-minute cancellation and be willing to wait a little. In the past, this has worked for Good Food Guide inspectors, who have walked in off the street and secured immediate tables at the seriously hard to book Dinner By Heston Blumenthal.

Don’t lie

Every restaurant has tales of the desperate caller who has exaggerated their relationship with the owner or chef, or told a story about a celebrity needing a table. 

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