Just about every town has some restaurants that aren’t easy to get into. You call on Tuesday, hoping for a table for two at 7 on Friday night, and are greeted with stifled laughter and the helpful information that there'll be something available at 5:30 three weeks hence. Well, that's normal for popular eateries — especially new ones — but some restaurants are so difficult to get into that it becomes part of their lore.
What makes for a tough table, exactly? The commonly accepted definition is a place that’s very difficult to get into at a reasonable dinner hour, say between 6 and 9 p.m. The Brooklyn hotspots that don’t accept reservations and force you to wait an hour on a Tuesday night may be tough tables (heck, even Shake Shack can be a tough table at prime time), but the toughest tables of all are the ones that do take reservations, but make those reservations incredibly difficult to come by.
While some restaurants invite you to call up to a year in advance to try your hand at securing a table, in order to add some order to the chaos, many of the most in-demand restaurants have set up ticketing systems, which force you to purchase a ticket to your meal as though you were going to the theatre. Sometimes reservations are more feasible at high-end restaurants that have a ticketing system; and some restaurants that were once nearly impossible to get into at all, like New York’s Eleven Madison Park and Las Vegas’ é by José Andrés, have actually become substantially easier to snag a table at (provided your dates are flexible) thanks to the use of ticketing system Tock.
Some of America’s toughest tables have ticketing systems that book up almost immediately, some are so clubby and exclusive that they’re virtually impenetrable for the average Joe, and some are just so in-demand that even calling months in advance doesn’t yield any results. If you want to dine at one of these mega-hotspots, well, good luck.
Additional reporting by Natasha Nyanin.