Leveling The Playing Field, One Restaurant At A Time

For the past couple of weeks I have set my alarm for 6:45 a.m., been jolted awake at an hour I do not normally experience in a coherent state, wiped the sleep from my eyes and turned on my computer, bracing myself for the most stressful 60 seconds of my day. I have been attempting to land a reservation at Momofuku Ko, one of the most popular restaurants in New York and one of the toughest to get into.

The Ko reservation system is unlike any I’ve seen before. Typically you call a restaurant, speak to a receptionist and, if the stars are aligned in your favor that day, you make your reservation. Ko only takes reservations online and getting one is a total crapshoot that involves creating a username and password, providing a credit card number before you even get into the site and having very quick fingers and reflexes.

I am beyond ecstatic to report that two days ago I landed myself a much coveted dinner reservation at Ko and while 9:50 p.m. is not my ideal dining time, I gladly accepted what I was given with extreme gratitude and anticipation.

The same day that I landed this reservation I walked in on a conversation two women were having, at the studio where I do Pilates, about how to get a reservation at The French Laundry in Napa. It occurred to me that getting a reservation at a popular restaurant is a lot like winning the lottery and if you happen to pick the right combination of criteria– in this case when you call, who you speak to, the date and time you wish to dine– you may just be one of the lucky ones.

Thinking along these lines reminded me of a Wall Street Journal article that I read a couple of years ago that was offering advice and tips on how to get reservations at different restaurants. Going back and reading the article today made me see that while there is still some valid advice to be garnered, Ko’s reservation system renders useless many of the suggested tricks and tactics mentioned in the piece. Ko’s system puts everyone on a level playing field and instead of getting a reservation based on who you are or who you know, it’s really just based on the luck of the draw.

Despite my sleep deprivation and pre-coffee anxiety, I must say that I like what they’ve done with the concept and feel a lot better with the idea of randomly losing out than losing out because I’m not connected enough. When I heard recently that Martha Stewart tried to walk in to Ko for dinner without a reservation and was turned away, I suddenly felt a small, but satisfying, sense of triumph. Perhaps I’ll invite Martha to join me there for dinner next week.

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