Little Black Book: My 10 Dos & Don’ts of Philly Dining

Everything you need to know, from how to get a reservation to how (not) to get a freebie

While eating out recently, I overheard a nearby foursome talking loudly about their strategies for obtaining restaurant reservations. One of the women in the group spoke up, claiming she used to pose as Mick Jagger’s agent when trying for a table at hard-to-get-into places.

“More often then not, it worked, When we’d get there I’d just say Mick couldn’t make it!”

This underhanded bit of chicanery brings to mind several do’s and don’ts of dining — tactics I abide by whenever possible:

1. Get over yourself. There are still those who believe that throwing one’s weight around — saying things like, “Do you know who I am?”  — will help when being told a requested time slot isn’t available.

Pomposity never succeeds. Of course they know who you are — the jerk who’s now S.O.L.

2. Can’t make it? Give a call! No-shows are the bane of any restaurant, especially smaller ones with no extra tables to spare. Zachary Firestein, manager of the 40-seat Sauté, hopes a guest will provide the courtesy of cancelling, thus allowing for someone else to enjoy an experience there. “There is a difference between an appointment and a reservation,” Zach asserts. “No one misses an appointment. Reservation, though, is a very loose term.”

3. Don’t book the same time slot at two (or more) restaurants. Doubling down on reservations is a common practice by the public, though it’s an unfair one, especially to the place that ends up with an unused table.

Pick one restaurant and then stick with it.

4. Forget 7:30 p.m. Avoid this peak time on Friday and Saturday nights when booking at very popular establishments. Unless you’re in the biz, you can’t imagine how stressed a busy kitchen gets at the 7:30 crunch time.

Eat earlier or dine out later for a potentially smoother dining experience.

5. Don’t walk in and pretend you have a reservation. The days of hand-written reservations in the thick ledger on the host’s stand have dwindled, and so, too, are the chances of you being taken seriously if you say you called and reserved — but didn’t really.

6. Don’t trust every Yelper. I don’t know what this means, but “This place belongs in Las Vegas, near the airport” is what one genius on wrote about Barclay Prime, which happens to be one of the top steak houses in this town.

Face it: Many amateur critics think playing pissed-off is more entertaining than being honest. Don’t pooh-pooh a place because of those smarmy reviews you’ve read online.

7. Don’t complain to your server. This is why restaurants have managers.

Airing your gripe to someone in charge may help to correct the problem. And think about it: Do you really want to rant at the person who’s handling your food?

8. Don’t complain just so you’ll get something free. Back when he was managing Sullivan’s Steakhouse (King of Prussia), current Del Frisco’s GM Rich Furino remembers when his mother was dining at his restaurant and overheard a nearby woman suggest to others at her table: “Say there’s a problem — they’ll probably give you something for free!”

Don’t go messing with Mama Furino’s boy; she promptly scolded the woman, letting her know who was boss at that steakhouse.

9. Don’t blame the restaurant for your guest’s bad behavior. My dad maintains that a certain renowned French restaurant is “nothing special,” and my mom has to keep reminding him that his problem wasn’t with their meal; my old man just didn’t like the guy they were dining with very much.

When asked your opinion about a restaurant, try not to confuse your sour one-star memory with an otherwise five-star experience.

10. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not in order to snare a table. This occasional stunt happens to be the premise for the new Tina Fey/Steve Carrell movie Date Night — the two pretend to be another couple, so they can dine at the hippest spot in town. Mayhem, zaniness and gunfire ensue.

Just wait in line like everybody else and you’ll be safe, okay?

Ken Alan is Vice President of Concierge Services for BPG Properties, and he is a founding member of the Philadelphia Concierge Association. His motto is: Nothing is Impossible. Impossible simply takes a few more phone calls.