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Getting a reservation at The French Laundry

courtesy of The French Laundry's Facebook page

courtesy of The French Laundry's Facebook page

2600 phone calls. Two days. Four phones.

And it didn’t work.

I’ve read the stories about how difficult it can be to secure a reservation at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s 16-table restaurant in Yountville, CA. The phone lines open each day at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time and the restaurant accepts reservations for meals two months from that date.

I knew that it would be difficult but assumed persistence would prove key. I lined up phones and began calling at 12:55. Busy signal. I speed dialed the restaurant on each phone in rapid succession, quickly disconnecting with the sound of the busy tone.

With each passing minute, I knew the chances of getting one of the few reservations for a party of two decreased. On the first day of my French-Laundry quest I finally got through at 1:57. After waiting for another 20 minutes, I connected with a live person. Waiting list.

Day two progressed much the same. I connected at 2:11 and beseeched the reservationist to tell me any insider tips for securing a reservation. I hadn’t purchased my plane tickets — and wouldn’t — until my reservation was confirmed.

She had three recommendations. First, check Open Table. I knew this one. The restaurant releases two tables on Open Table (one for a party of four, one for two). They don’t appear at midnight, but the restaurant is unsure exactly when they are available. I tried refreshing the Open Table page repeatedly without success.

Her other two suggestions included using a concierge service. If we hadn’t booked our hotel, she suggested the Villagio in Napa, whose concierge service could attempt a reservation on our behalf. Or, if we had access to the concierge at American Express, that would be another route.

I thanked her and told our reservationist that we’d tried Open Table and the credit card concierge suggestions, neither proving fruitful. She was surprised to learn that we hadn’t gotten a reservation with the concierge and checked my last name. Lo and behold, she had a reservation on the books for us. We just hadn’t been notified yet.

That’s how I got a reservation for this 9-course $270 meal. Have you been? How did you get a reservation?

–by Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog

32 comments Add your comment

Sheriff John Brown

June 11th, 2013
6:53 am

$270 for a meal is repulsive

jonnymack

June 11th, 2013
7:14 am

It’s all relative Sheriff. I’ve paid way more than that for concert tickets at face value. I’d put an incredible multi-hour meal up there with a concert as far as enjoyment goes. If it’s worth it to you, it’s worth it to you. I’ll be interested to hear how the meal goes.

Road Scholar

June 11th, 2013
7:47 am

Do they chew the meal for you? Unlimited wine? Geez! I’ve spent almost $100 per person before but it was VERY special. I guess I won’t be going to this restaurant.

Becky Roberson

June 11th, 2013
7:59 am

My husband and I had dinner there on September 24, 2007 (they give you a commemorative menu). For our party of four, the bill was $1,300.00. It was worth every penny, excellent food and PERFECT service. Every once in a while, we get out the menu and reminisce about how fun it was. Would we do it again? Nope, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but we’re sure glad we did it once.

Becca

June 11th, 2013
8:22 am

I didn’t even bother to call– American Express concierge service totally came through for me. If you haven’t been yet, here’s my tip: get them to give you your wine pairings as well as the menu. (We didn’t think to ask that night, but I called later and they sent it to me.). I was shocked to find out that while some of the wines were very expensive, others were quite reasonable. I started drinking their sparkling (Schramberg) regularly and later went to the winery that produces it on my honeymoon. Enjoy your visit! I agree it is a once (or hopefully twice) in a lifetime experience!

KAW

June 11th, 2013
8:43 am

My husband I went to the French Laundry on our honeymoon 15 years ago. While we couldn’t get dinner reservations, we were able to get reservations for lunch. We both enjoyed the 5-course lunch with wine pairing. It was definitely the most expensive lunch we have ever had. However, it was superb and well worth the splurge on our honeymoon.

Rufus

June 11th, 2013
8:43 am

Try the hamburger. It’s to die for.

Trying to be a foodie

June 11th, 2013
8:47 am

Good that you got in. Bad that you got in. I did the 3-phone constant calling for two days and got a late sitting table for four last year. I tried writing you and John K an email with some “review” type things, but I couldn’t get through it. Basically: The food is good, the wine excellent, the presentation gorgeous. However, the dishes are mired in circa 2000 or so (sitting on his laurels?) It felt like a high end tourist trap. I have tasted better with more modern twists in many other restaurants, including here in Atlanta. Half of your excitement and anticipation will come from just getting in the place and feeling special. I will definitely be interested in hearing about it when you get back.

Katherine

June 11th, 2013
10:29 am

I went back in February with some friends who live out there and it’s not hard for them to get a reservation! I enjoyed it very much however I enjoyed ‘French Blue’ down the road in St. Helena even more. It’s a fraction of the price but every. single. thing. we ordered both times we went was perfect.
I don’t know of any restaurant in Atlanta that comes close!

Sheriff John Brown

June 11th, 2013
11:44 am

jonnymack no it is not my relatives…its the price :)

Jerry

June 11th, 2013
11:52 am

These things are cyclical folks. I remember the Ryan’s Family Steakhouse used to be the same way and now people just scoff at it like its your run of the mill buffett. I’m sure this place will have the same fate.

Baltisraul.....

June 11th, 2013
11:56 am

C.W. Fields would have something clever to say about these folks and also their customers!!!

Michael

June 11th, 2013
12:40 pm

I went some years ago. Luckily my date was able to hit the redail button that morning. One of the best meals I’ve ever had. With wine, tax and additional tip, it cost me over $1000. Yes, it’s quite a bit of money, but it’s worth it. I think everybody should try it at least once.

Be sure to order the Coffee and Doughnuts!! It’s not on the menu but you can order it when you are seated. Also try to get a kitchen tour. Enjoy it! Too bad they don’t serve Foie Gras any longer, rumored to have been replaced with Black Truffle.

Baltisraul.....

June 11th, 2013
12:44 pm

Sorry W.C.Fields, I should never drink before dinner.

Sarahlpearse

June 11th, 2013
1:54 pm

I have been to TFL twice and had similar experiences both times with the reservations line.

The first time, I set up a little call center – 6 phones, two computers, and we got through on both – got through on Open Table for a party of 2 and on the phone immediately with a party of 4. Took the phone reso. The experience was incredibly wonderful — I was there for my 30th birthday. We asked them to build into our meal a walk through the gardens – and they did and we walked through them with champagne.

The second time- not as much luck on the phone – three of us tried and ended up with a waitlist spot. We tried the next day and got through. That meal was incredible, as well and included another romp through the gardens.

Since then, I have helped many friends try and have had hit or miss luck – my biggest recommendation is not to give up after 30 minutes — you still may get through and get one of the less desirable times.

And I am right with the person who said concert tix cost just as much — this is my “entertainment” – we have done the tasting menus at Citronelle (incredible), Plume (amazing), The Catbird Seat (left something to be desired), and of course Bacchanalia and Woodfire Grill. It is the most fun thing to do if you’re a true foodie!

th

June 11th, 2013
2:20 pm

10 years ago I managed to get a lunch reservation after numerous calls but had to cancel because I ended up getting a stomach bug.:(
I heard somewhere that TFL has more available reservations for solo diners. Anyone know if that’s true?

Ned Ludd

June 11th, 2013
2:49 pm

I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.
W. C. Fields

Haggie

June 11th, 2013
3:50 pm

If you have to dine at a Thomas Keller restaurant, save yourself the hassle and go to Per Se in NYC.

If you are already going to Wine Country, there are at least a half dozen restaurants that compete with French Laundry on quality and it beat it handily on price. You could go to two of them and end up spending the same as one dinner at French Laundry.

Art

June 11th, 2013
4:46 pm

We went several years ago before it was quite as hard as it is now to get a reservation. We enjoyed the experience although by the 7th or 8th course, I was crying “uncle”. Checking their current menus, I don’t see wine pairings offerred but I’m sure they are; we did the pairings and enjoyed the wine as much as the food. Each course is often so different that it’s just about impossible to find a wine on their wine list that will pair with even half of the courses and most of the wines are NOT cheap even by $270 pp standards. I hope you have a great time and I’m sure we’ll be reading about your meal.

Lorton

June 11th, 2013
5:10 pm

Maybe you’re better off sticking to your Southern comfort food beat.

Also, I haven’t eaten there, but I assumed prices were similar to other Michelin 3-starred restaurants–as in, at least $1,000 for two persons. I guess the $270 doesn’t include wine.

Foodnut.com

June 11th, 2013
8:41 pm

Try HackerTable.com

ctown

June 11th, 2013
9:56 pm

I have been lucky enough to eat at the French Laundry twice. Once, my friend saw a table on opentable.com for the following Friday and we booked it immediately. My husband and I were married at Meadowood and we asked them to get us a table, which they did without a problem. It is not hard to get a table, you just need to know how to do it.

kmbraunstein

June 11th, 2013
10:24 pm

Buy the French Laundry cookbook. Go to the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market for ingredients. Cook meal. It will be a whole lot cheaper and more convenient. If the cookbook is any good and you can follow instructions, the food should be a reasonable interpretation of the restaurant’s food.

Frederick Wilson

June 11th, 2013
10:37 pm

Way back when TFL was still new we ate there. We hadn’t heard of the place but decided on the spur of the moment to try it and scored a table from a cancelation. One of the 3 best meals we have ever eaten

Baltisraul......

June 12th, 2013
7:52 am

Thanks Ned, I just knew W.C.Fields would have something appropriate for this place and its customers.

Ned Ludd

June 12th, 2013
10:41 am

No problem—the difficulties of finding a Fields quote concerning alcohol are minimal. Tried to go to French Laundry but could not afford the $100.00 parking.

Grasshopper

June 12th, 2013
1:08 pm

“Tried to go to French Laundry but could not afford the $100.00 parking.”

They actually have parking? You would think that all diners would be forced to arrive by organic grass-fed burro only.

nsk

June 12th, 2013
2:04 pm

The grousing is unwarranted. Amex Plat concierge has gotten me TFL reservations twice in the past 2 years, with less than 48hrs notice each time. Each visit was uniquely memorable and excellent. The first time I went, the guy who used to be sommelier at Eugene was working as a TFL food runner, and it was great to run into a trusted Atlanta food enthusiast.

John S

June 12th, 2013
6:15 pm

I really do not understand why people are having such a difficult getting reservations.

Simply spend 250k per year on your credit card and the Black Card will be your gateway in.

If life were only so easy.

I am blessed to get reservations anywhere I want when I want and wish their was a better way to help others get the same access.

Marsh

June 13th, 2013
10:13 am

An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.

[...] each day at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time and the restaurant accepts reservations … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) ch_client = "gentanet"; ch_width = 500; ch_height = 250; ch_type = "mpu"; ch_sid = "Chitika [...]