Reservations For French Laundry
Most people familiar with the world of high-end food know that the best restaurant in all of California, and possibly all of the United States, is the French Laundry. Thomas Keller’s culinary haven in tiny Yountville was the only restaurant in the greater Bay Area to earn the hallowed three-star rating from the Michelin Guide in 2007. The restaurant sits inside a charming vintage house; its kitchen garden grows right across the street where anyone can walk down the rows of vegetables and herbs.
Sounds like foodie paradise, right? There’s just one problem: getting a table.
The difficulty in getting reservations to the French Laundry is almost as legendary as the French Laundry itself. Rather than expecting to dine at the French Laundry during a planned trip to the Wine Country, savvy travelers expect to plan their whole trip around whatever French Laundry reservation they manage to get.
The bare facts: The French Laundry takes reservations two months in advance. Precisely two months. The restaurant accepts reservations by phone, online, and via local concierges. Reservations are accepted for parties of two, four, or six. No more and no less. Diners can choose between lunch and dinner seatings that offer the same menu. It’s easier to get a table for lunch than it is for dinner. Lunch or dinner takes two and a half to four hours to consume. Budget $500 per person for your meal if you plan to drink wine, and $300–350 if you don’t.
The French Laundry starts taking phone reservations at 9 a.m. daily. Between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m., program their number on your speed-dial and begin calling. Continue calling again and again until you get an answer. If you get a continuous busy signal past 11 a.m., you’ll probably need to try again the next day. And maybe the day after that.
Making reservations online works much the same way as on the phone, only it’s harder. The French Laundry offers only one table (for lunch) online per day. Go online at OpenTable (www.opentable.com) at about 8:30 a.m. and start trying to snag that table. If you’re still trying at 9:30 a.m., it’s probably already gone.
Hands down the low-stress way to get a coveted French Laundry table is to hire a concierge to do it for you. The French Laundry lets concierges walk downtown to the restaurant each day to put in bookings for their clients. Call or email a concierge and expect to pay a nominal fee ($20–30), but if you can afford to dine at the French Laundry, that’s pocket change. Give your new best friend a range of dates and times that will suit you, and he or she will do their best to accommodate your request. Do not expect get your first choice of times; flexible diners will find themselves with a remarkably trouble-free reservation experience.
So is it really worth all this rigmarole just to get into one lousy restaurant, then pay a sizeable part of a month’s salary for a single meal?
From the gracious welcome at the door to the stunning service throughout the meal to the food that can be found nowhere else, dining at the French Laundry is worth both the hassle and the price tag. I speak from experience and am dying to go back!
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition