Better hope your favorite restaurant never becomes lauded as one of the “world’s best.” The second that happens, chances are you’ll never get a table again.
Indeed, of late, some eateries have become harder to get into than an Ivy League college. Here’s a look at some of the world’s toughest tables and the secrets to scoring a chair:
1. Franklin Barbecue
Ever since Bon Appetit magazine dubbed this Austin, Texas haunt the country’s best barbecue, lines have been out the door.
Though the lunch-only spot opens at 11 a.m., co-owner Stacy Franklin admits that on weekends, customers arrive as early at 6 a.m. No matter what time you arrive, though, you’ll likely wait at least four hours.
“People bring chairs and coolers and throw footballs in the parking lot. We’ve even seen people bring card tables to keep them occupied,” she says.
If you don’t fancy lining up at dawn for lunch, Franklin recommends dropping by on their “slow” days: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Even then, she says, it’s best to be prepared.
“I would suggest driving by one day around 9 a.m. just to see what you’re in for. Most people do not mind waiting as long as they know what to expect.”
2. Sushi Dai
Just about every guidebook on Tokyo has extolled the 5 a.m. sushi breakfast at Sushi Dai.
Located inside the Tsukiji Fish Market, the miniscule 12-seater does offer some undoubtedly fresh fare, which is part of its incredible mass appeal.
A small warning to patrons that arrive at 5 a.m. Be prepared to wait at least four hours for a table.
Want to shave a couple hours off the wait time? Arrive at 3 a.m. and bring a book or fully charged iPhone.
3. Rose’s Luxury
Even before Bon Appetit Magazine named Rose’s Luxury the best restaurant in America, lines were forming down the block for a chance to eat at this no-reservation venue.
The Washington, D.C., hotspot lures patrons with its stellar farm menu and service alike (and freebies are part of the business model).
The venue opens at 5 p.m., but it’s not unusual for customers to start lining up at 3 p.m.
“On our busiest Saturdays, we will sometimes provide an estimated seating time of 9 to 10 p.m. for guests who walk in the door as early as 5.30 p.m.,” notes assistant general manager Kristen Carson.
She adds that for guests willing to eat at the bar, turnover can be slightly quicker. Those not willing to wait in line four hours might do slightly better to come midweek, particularly Tuesday through Thursday.
“We often have available tables over the course of the evening for later walk-ins, and can typically accommodate guests arriving after 8:30 p.m.,” she says.
4. Damon Baehrel
Self-taught chef Damon Baehrel runs his eponymous restaurant in the basement of his home south of Albany, New York, where he considers his patrons guests rather than customers.
He is the very definition of a one-man enterprise.
“He’s not only the James Beard-nominated chef, but also the server, grower, native plant expert, forager, cheesemaker, pine-needle-curated-meat maker, wine specialist, carpenter… et cetera, et cetera,” notes Baehrel’s reservation representative.
Baehrel’s meals include 15 courses and can run over five hours. They’re regularly described as out of this world. Alas, if you want a reservation, you’re pretty much out of luck. Baehrel stopped accepting them in April 2014.
Even with no new reservations, the place is fully booked through 2025.
That said, extreme perseverance is – very occasionally – rewarded.
The most loyal guests from the waiting list – those that have waited the longest and that check in from time to time, are sometimes lucky enough to take part in one-off private seatings when Baehrel’s schedule allows.
Frequently topping San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Restaurant list, Noma – predictably – is also inundated with reservation requests.
Arve Krognes, Noma’s PR and administration coordinator, estimates the venue receives thousands of booking requests every month.
“On a normal Saturday, we might have a couple of thousand people registered on our waiting list,” he admits.
There is a very small window to make a booking (the first Monday of every month, three months ahead of schedule), and tables for two to four people are usually booked within a few hours.
“It’s usually easier to get hold of a reservation if you are a group of six or more,” concedes Krognes.
Reservations for 2016 will be nigh impossible, unless patrons are willing to book a long flight; Noma Copenhagen will close from January through April 2016 while head chef Rene Redzepi moves the enterprise to Sydney, Australia for a 10-week pop-up.
Reservations for Noma Australia open October 30 (though we’re guessing tables will sell-out pretty soon).
6. Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Manhattan has a handful of three-star Michelin restaurants to choose from. Brooklyn has just one, and it just may be the toughest spot in the city to score a seat.
Then again, there are only 18 of them, and the 15-course tasting menu means there’s not a lot of turnover on a given night.
Reservations open every Monday at 10:30 a.m. for tables six weeks down the line, and they go quick, so you better be first on the line and quick with the redial button should you get a busy signal.
7. El Celler de Can Roca
The moment El Celler de Can Roca was listed as the number one restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino, bookings went through the roof.
Since then, reservations can only be made online… at midnight (Spanish time)… on the first of every month… 11 months in advance.
Open spots fill up within minutes, so speedy typists with super quick broadband are rewarded.
For those not in the know, the Catalan restaurant is the brainchild of the culinary gifted Roca brothers: Joan, Jordi and Josep.
Their multiple-course tasting menus is also a multi-sensory event, with dishes that can double for modern art.
8 .Talula’s Table
This Pennsylvania farm-to-table restaurant (a bit of a stretch, given there’s only two tables and one seating per night) may be one of the most exclusive eateries in America.
That’s as much down to an invigorating, ever-changing menu (designed to showcase the season’s best local produce) as to the venue’s size.
Talula’s Table is, in fact, a gourmet food market that happens to serve a nightly eight-course dinner menu showcasing the season’s best local produce.
The chef’s table serves eight, and is invite only, meaning that patrons can only book via the farm table, which seats 10-12.
To book, you have to reserve the whole table exactly a year in advance. It’s usually reserved by 7 a.m., when the shop opens.
The venue says that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are less competitive, so those willing to eat on a weekday will have the best luck.
Cancellations are also posted on the website and Facebook page, so it’s worth keeping an eye there for a last-minute booking.
It should come as no surprise that acquiring a table at Tickets – Ferran Adria’s follow-up to the highly-regaled El Bulli, which he runs with his brother, Albert – is essentially a mission impossible.
Reservations open up online at midnight (Spanish time) for a date two months in advance.
Very occasionally, there are cancellations and it never hurts to call the restaurant on the day.
Those not lucky enough to score a table (and that’s pretty much everyone) can still sample some Ferrer magic at one of his four other Barcelona venues: Bodega 1900, Pakta, Hoja Santa and Nino Viejo.
This article was originally published in November 2015.