How to Snag a Last-Minute Dinner Reservation

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – We can almost understand how you can forget your wedding anniversary or your significant other’s birthday. But there’s really no excuse for forgetting about Valentine’s Day. For the last month we’ve been inundated with commercials and advertisements hawking flowers, chocolates and other gifts, and chances are your local drugstore currently has an entire aisle dedicated to teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes. Valentine’s Day is all around us, so it’s hard to understand how someone could forget about it.

But if this story is somehow your first reminder that today’s the big day, don’t freak out. It’s not too late to find a place for a romantic dinner. Because Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday this year, a lot of couples decided to do their dinner date on Friday or Saturday. Combined with the fact that Monday tends to be one of the slowest days of the week for restaurants, it’s possible you won’t be battling as much of a crowd.

We spoke to a source at a restaurant reservation service who asked to remain anonymous to give you the insider tips on the reservation game.

“There’s always a table somewhere if they want to give it to you,” the source says, noting that there will always be cancellations and no-shows. “Ninety-five percent of restaurants will have some sort of plan for walk-ins.”

Your best bet for snagging one of these broken reservations is at a larger restaurant – after all, the more tables an establishment has, the greater your chances that one of them will open up. Sure, a quaint Italian restaurant may be more romantic, but you should have thought of that before you forgot to make a reservation.

You should also be prepared to settle for a less-than-ideal table if all the regular tables are taken.


“Just because the restaurant is booked doesn’t mean they’ve filled up the bar or patio areas,” suggests Jay Ducote, author of the food and beverage blog Bite and Booze. “Most fine dining restaurants have some first-come, first-served areas such as a bar area or outdoor dining area where they do not accept reservations.”

Obviously the patio won’t be an option in colder regions of the country, and sitting in the bar while the singles crowd watches basketball isn’t exactly romantic. But beggars can’t be choosers, and if you’re showing up at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day without a reservation, you are most certainly a beggar.

That’s not to say that it’s impossible to get a reservation today. If you live in a major metropolitan area like New York or Los Angeles, check out OpenTable.com, an online reservation system. You can use the site to quickly scan restaurants in the area and see which have tables available for your target time. That will save you from calling a bunch of restaurants until you find one with a table available.

Phone calls aren’t completely useless, though. If your favorite restaurant isn’t showing any availability online, our source says it’s worth calling in case the manager has held some tables back from being posted on the site. And if you’re a regular at a local restaurant, call the manager and see what he or she can do for a loyal customer.

Still not having any luck? Then it may be time to start handing out bribes.


That doesn’t mean showing up tonight at a restaurant and trying to bribe your way past the host – if the restaurant is really out of tables, you risk embarrassing yourself in front of the object of your affection. Rather, our source recommends swinging by the restaurant around mid-day and asking the manager or host if they can get your name on the list. If they don’t seem eager to help, our source says to try palming the worker a $20 bill – President Jackson can be very persuasive in these scenarios. (More cash may be required at fancier joints.)

Finally, consider allocating your bribe money more strategically.

“Go to the best hotel in town and give the concierge twenty bucks to make the call,” advises Arlene Winnick, a veteran of the hotel industry. “They have clout and volume, [and] if they say it’s for an important guest, doors open.”

There are other dining options, of course – if you’re a proficient cook, a home-cooked meal could certainly do the trick. And if your significant other has a really good sense of humor, you could always make a reservation at your local White Castle. But if you’re intent on going out for a nice dinner, then drop whatever you’re doing and immediately get to work on finding a place to eat. You’ve procrastinated enough already.

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