How to Score Seats at the Most Exclusive Restaurants and Bars

We sit at bars.

It doesn’t matter if it’s considered a fine-dining restaurant or if it’s an actual dive bar, we always prefer to sit at the bar. When we make reservations, we request bar seats, and if they won’t reserve them, we wait until they open up and forgo our table 98% of the time.

Many people think we’re crazy. If we’re paying $200 for a meal (sans wine), why would we want a bar stool? Don’t you want a great table? With more room and an actual server?


Because to us, a bar seat is always the best seat in the house. And we design every one of our clients’ bars with the respect they deserve.

Arguably, it can be a better experience sitting at the bar. “Bar sitting” is also inclusive of chef’s counter, kitchen counter, or any other counter seating as well. And the inside scoop is that the bartenders often know the menu best and will give you an honest assessment of what they like, rather than delivering a script. There’s also often a different bar menu available, so you have your choice of the bar menu or full dining menu.

Bartenders are also great at coming up with drink ideas and new things, balancing a social experience with a great dining one. And if you’re in a new city, they are the most in-the-know about other great places in town, with industry insights you can’t find on Google or (God help you if you use) Yelp.

And, if the owner or designer did a good job (always our final test in our line of work), the bar is one of the best places to eat. Comfortable, interactive, and a has great vantage point.

The best part: no reservations needed. Walk in and the bar is full? The great thing about bars is that people move much more quickly. Some are there for drinks only, others are waiting for their reservation time. So here are a few of our favorite strategies to nab those bar seats if it’s busy:

The stealth hover:

Do an assessment of all the people seated. First, look for checks that have been delivered or credit cards that have come out. If you’re not seeing any, look for empty glasses or finished dessert plates. There’s your target. Order a drink from the bartender and stand somewhere within lunging distance. You drink. You hover. But be cool about it, not stalker-like.

The befriending:

Do a quick room scan and find who has the power. It’s usually the bartender, sometimes the host. Be nice to them. Smile. Don’t demand. Order a drink and simply say you’d love a few seats at the bar for dinner. Is anyone close to being seated soon? The caveat here is you have to be a little charming and actually nice. If you are, it can work, and they’ll help you get priority if people are waiting.

Let me buy you a dessert:

If there’s no motion at all, target the Chardonnay Chicas. It’s usually a few women gossiping and catching up, and impossibly not moving, even though their white-wine glasses have been empty for an hour (sorry for the stereotype, but as a woman, I can get away with it). Hang out near them for a bit and look for an opening to offer to buy them dessert… As bribery for their stools when they leave. When we’ve delivered this proposition in a really nice, funny way, it has worked several times. Since this tactic is the weirdest, only use in an emergency.

You’ve secured your bar seats. The next-most entertaining part is the people you meet there.

This is an important subset of the “people you meet on the way.” Because David always talks to everyone, the results are often mixed and always entertaining.

Once in New York, we were sitting at the bar at the now-defunct Colicchio & Sons in the Meatpacking District. A couple waiting for their table pulled up two stools next to him. As he was chatting with the bartender, he engaged the next-door couple in a bit of conversation. After about 10 minutes or so of back and forth, the couple was shown to their table.

The bartender looked at us and said, “Do you know who you were talking to?”

“Well, I did, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a clue. He talks to everyone,” I responded.

He said, “Who were they?”

The bartender answered, “Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele.”

Yep, he may be the only male in America to strike up a conversation with Gisele (and, for that matter, Tom Brady) and not have a clue. That’s one to remember.

Others, like “The Chuck,” you try very hard to forget.

The danger of bar sitting is running up against The Chuck. The real, actual Chuck was so memorably horrible that all other annoyances are named after him in his honor.

Chuck started our relationship with the always lovely “Sweetheart” greeting and leer, followed by my oh-so-favorite elbow spread, in which his elbow was in the middle of my personal space. That was the best part. It went downhill from there.

Chuck then voice-texted at least 10-15 people to let them know where he was, what he was doing, and ended every one with kisses. Voice-texted. In a bar. Thankfully, he didn’t confirm any medical appointments or ailments, but we now knew way too much about our new pal Chuck.

Next, Chuck helped himself to our food and the French fries from the couple on his other side. This included reaching over to grab the bernaise boat, run his finger along the inside, and lick it off, before asking the bartender for more bernaise. For his neighbor’s fries.

Chuck had been there nearly two hours before us (I knew this, naturally, because of the voice-texting). His bill had been sitting in front of him since we ordered over an hour before, and Chuck was still there, ready to torment the next unlucky suckers, when we left.

I glanced over at his bar bill for this torturous ordeal, thinking the bartender deserved a couple of hundos. Chuck’s bill was about $45. His tip was $3.

It’s all part of the entertainment. But I hope the bartender spit in “his” bernaise.