How to Bribe Your Way into a New York Restaurant, Flickr: stevendepolo

How Serious Are You About Breaking ‘Bread’?


Some things never change. A dozen years ago, Gourmet conducted an informal study of how far a pocket full of cash can get you in a crowded New York City restaurant. If you’re on vacation, this can be your one ticket to an incredible dining experience – otherwise, you could be stuck trying to score reservations before you even book your airline tickets!

Getting into hot restaurants on busy nights during peak dining periods may seem next to impossible, but it can be done, apparently, if you grease a few palms. I’ve only done this once, and it worked … but only after a bit of post-cash pressure as a reminder to deliver on a service promised. Your results will differ among restaurants, but if there’s a menu you’re desperate to try, bribing your way into the restaurant is an option.

Let’s take a look at Gourmet’s recommendations (along with a little color from me):

1. You need to show up

Think of every cliché you’ve heard. Most of life is showing up. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. You can’t win if you don’t play. Well, they actually have some meaning when it comes to the New York restaurant scene. If you’re timid and can’t bring yourself to try slipping the host a $20 (or sometimes a Benjie), you won’t get a table. You need to … as they say … step up to the plate.

2. Dress for success

No, wearing your best jeans does not count. You need to look like you’d fit in: don a suit, maybe sans tie. For a bit more comfort, go with a great pair of pants and a jacket. I’m not about to make recommendations to the ladies; I’m woefully ill-equipped. But, I’m sure you know what to do.

3. No shame in your game
Does it feel dirty to bribe somebody? Do you wonder if you’re going to be judged? The advice from Gourmet about feeling ashamed is straightforward: “They don’t. You shouldn’t.” If the host turns you down, you won’t get into the restaurant anyway. Leave with your dignity; you’ll never see that person again anyway.

4. Keep your finger on the trigger
You want your money ready for the handoff before you show up. Fold it into thirds or fourths before slipping it into your pocket, and make sure the amount is visible. You want the bills to be small enough to evade the detection of other waiting guests, and you want your target to recognize it immediately. Having experimented with both thirds and fourths, I recommend the former: it will be easier for you to grasp in your pocket, causing less fumbling when it’s time to slip it into the host’s hand.

5. Go right to the top
The person in charge will be best able to help you, and the position of authority does not necessarily entail immunity to bribery. If necessary, ask for the top dog. There are some things the waiter may not be able to get done for you, but the boss can make it happen.

6. Pin him or her down
Trying to exchange cash in front of witnesses won’t get you anywhere. You’ll likely be rejected, and you might wind up inspiring higher bids from the other guests who are stuck in limbo. In the end, all that’s assured is that you won’t get what you want. Get a one-on-one conversation away from the ears of your dining competitors.

7. Seeing things eye to eye
Don’t look at the money! That simply telegraphs your move to everyone around you. Instead, look your target in the eye while you gently press the bill into his or her palm. Be fast and smooth.

8. Place your order

Tell your target exactly what it is you’re trying to buy, for example, a better table or a shorter wait. Give a reason, Gourmet recommends, “This is a really important night for me.” This will make you seem less like a snob and more like you’re depending on your target for serious help.

9. Give thanks as you leave
Did the host turn down your tip but deliver the “service” you were looking for anyway? It wasn’t a freebie! Make sure you visit the host on the way out and pay the extra tip.

10. Seal the deal for the future

If you plan to visit that restaurant again, get the host’s business card. Next time you want to go to that restaurant, call him or her directly, and bypass the masses.

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photo: stevendepolo

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