There are two kinds of people in the world: those who decide at 6 that they want to go to dinner at 7, and those who reserved tonight's table sometime last month. Neither has a perfect system. For while the last-minute eaters are invariably too late to get reservations at any of the restaurants of their choice, the planners arrive only to discover that the chef whose food they were so anxious to eat has just packed his pots and moved on.
In the modern world of restaurants, the early bird may not be the one who catches the worm. For while planners travel the world with their pockets full of clippings telling them where to get perfect pate in Paris and the best yak butter in Tibet, those who arrive with neither clippings nor clues have only to pick up the phone. Operators are standing by.
Whether you are a planner or the more spontaneous sort, here's a guide to all sorts of guides aimed at making eating easier.
There is one absolutely perfect service for people who've forgotten to make plans. If they subscribe to Entree, a traveler's newsletter, they can call any time of the day, from anywhere in the world, and ask for assistance. Think of it: There you are, alone in Tibet, with a mad desire to eat linguine. Call Entree and let them tell you where to go.
That is, in fact, exactly the sort of question they will be able to answer. The newsletter itself is quirky, breezily written and sophisticated. It arrives in the mailbox every month with rather arcane advice for the well-heeled traveler. Who else, after all, would be interested in a newsletter that tells you, in one month, about where to stay in Fiji and Katmandu, reviews a fabulously expensive hotel in Connecticut, a restaurant in Paris where you drink wine out of baby bottles, describes airport health clubs in Dallas and gives you an address to send for Viennese tortes by mail?
Entree costs $45 a year, which gives you a monthly newsletter and access to the 24-hour telephone hot line. Write to Entree, Box 5148, Santa Barbara 93150 , (805) 969-5848.
For anyone with an urgent need for local information, the Foodsource Hotline at (213) 930-2111, (818) 995-7572 and (714) 771-7411 answers the phone from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. The operators are friendly, chatty and well-informed, and they will answer questions on everything from where to eat to what to do when your mousse won't unmold. Starting this week, they will even make your reservations. Best of all, the service is free.
The Foodsource people also print a newsletter called L.A. a La Carte. It is written in a style so casual that it's more like talking than writing, and it's not much to look at. But editors Chloe Ross and Rita Garlington are in touch with the L.A. food community, and the little newsletter is filled with useful tips and information.
The Foodsource Hotline is free and L.A. a La Carte costs $30 a year; for a subscription, write to 200 S. Martel Ave., Los Angeles 90036.
Spontaneous eaters who find themselves in Vancouver will be glad to know that Western Canada has a similar hot line. The Vancouver Dine Line operates seven days a week from 11 to 11. A computerized service, it answers more than 100 calls a day from people desperate for dining advice. The service is free and the number is (604) 699-Dine.
New York also has a restaurant line. If you want to know where to eat in the Big Apple, call Dial and Dine at (212) 226-3388. Food phones, in fact, are a fast-growing business, and I would not be surprised to find them in cities all across America sometime soon.
But many people don't want to let their fingers do the walking; for them, the anticipation is one of the greatest pleasures of going out to eat. Newsletters were created for such people. One of the newest, and to my mind one of the best, European Wine and Food, is an erudite, well-written and beautifully designed resource for serious eaters. Each issue has 12 tightly packed pages of prose ranging from the scholarly to the frankly sensual. The June issue describes a weekend of eating in Brussels, tells you where to get fish and chips in London and discovers some out-of-the-way restaurants in the suburbs of Paris and in Dijon. There is also an article about the best restaurant supply store in Italy (it has been open since 1860), an evaluation of the new guide by Henri Gault (on his own now, without Millau) and an interview with Italian wine maker Angelo Solci. For people who take their time at the table very, very seriously, this new newsletter is a wonderful treat.
European Wine and Food costs $38 a year. Payable by cheque (as they spell it) or American Express to the Southwest Press, Southwest House, Bath, BA1 2 XU, England.
Anybody who does much traveling within the United States should know about the new Mariani's "Coast to Coast Dining Guide" (Times Books: $12.95).