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No Wait at the Inn

December 20, 1987|RUTH REICHL

If you wanted to go out to dinner the Thursday before last, you could have called at 4 and gotten a table for two in any restaurant in the city. I know, because I tried it.

With the help of a friend I called 58 restaurants and asked for a table in the name of Smith. Not one--not Spago, not Rebecca's, not Citrus, not Cha Cha Cha--turned us down. Oh, some of them were not prepared to feed us dinner at 8, but with the exception of an establishment that was closed for a private party, not a single restaurant said that a table was out of the question.

I was so surprised that we tried it again the following evening. After all, everybody knows that if you want a Friday night dinner at restaurants like Chinois, L'Orangerie or the Ivy, you have to book weeks in advance. Guess again. Every one of those restaurants found me a table. In fact, of the 58 restaurants we called on Friday at 4, only four were fully booked.

What does it mean? You may recall that when I tried a similar experiment last year the results were somewhat different. Last year tables were available in all the top of the line, expensive restaurants. The hip new grills and cafes, on the other hand, found my request for a table a few hours hence highly entertaining. One year later they were less amused.

This year, in fact, no pattern was apparent. As might be expected in a town perennially enamored of the new, the restaurants that opened in '87 were generally the busiest. Of the four that refused me a table on Friday, one is brand new and star-studded (Malibu Adobe), another the year's biggest new hit (Citrus).

Conventional wisdom says that the stock market crash is taking its toll on really expensive restaurants. But this does not explain why L'Escoffier, one of the most expensive (and traditional) restaurants in town, was completely sold out. Nor does it solve the puzzle of the Saddle Peak Lodge, an expensive restaurant in remote Calabasas, which was not only fully booked on Friday, but also among Thursday's biggest draws.

I personally suspect that the answer lies in changing tastes. We have become less rigid in our restaurant tastes. It doesn't seem to matter if a restaurant is stodgy or noisy, haute or hip. We are willing to dress up and happy to come as we are. We'll spend a lot of money--or we'll spend a little. Even celebrities aren't the draw they once were. We are, it seems, learning to eat to please ourselves instead of fashion.

Meanwhile, restaurants keep opening at a furious pace. Their quality gets better and better. Every year there are more good restaurants to go to. We are blessed with an embarrassment of riches.

This may be bad news for restaurants--but it's good news for the rest of us. No more need to plan your dining schedule weeks in advance. Feel like eating out tonight? All you have to do is pick up the phone. Your table is waiting.

'A Table for Two at 8 Thursday?'

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