Bribing your way into a restaurant

When going to dinner on a Saturday in New York, one only has a few options: eat early, eat late, or eat at home. Last night we were confronted by Williamsburg Saturday-night economics, four restaurants in a row with over an hour wait, and I was reminded of a story that I read ages ago entitled Pocketful of Dough. The author, Bruce Feiler, is paid by Gourmet magazine to bribe his way into restaurants:

Curious, I hatched a plan. I would go to some of the hardest-to-penetrate restaurants in New York armed with little more than an empty stomach, an iron-clad willingness to be humiliated, and a fistful of dough. Most people (including the editors of this magazine) assumed I would get turned down at half the places on my list. “You’ll never get into Daniel,” said one. “Union Square Cafe?!” said another. “Forget it.”

My plan was to show up between 8:15 and 8:30 on varying nights of the week. I would go with a different companion each night. I would try to get a reservation by telephone that afternoon and go only if I were turned down. And I would carry a twenty and a fifty in my left pocket, and a hundred in my right pocket. I did have an incentive: I could eat at any place I could successfully finagle my way into.

What results is a classic piece of journalism that I cite at least twice a year. That is to say, I am only referring to it, not a practicing bribe-maker. Since the cat has been out of the sack for over 7 years now, I wonder what effect Bruce Feiler has had on wait times in New York? Next time I go to Williamsburg on a Saturday night, I will definitely bring some dough and report back on the timeliness of this technique.

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