Recession? You wouldn’t know it from San Francisco’s restaurant scene. Just try getting a table for four on a Saturday night with less than 24 hours notice.

Unreasonable? Maybe, but what about spontaneity? Admittedly, the spontaneity was a result of my forgetting to make a reservation, but we could have been being spontaneous. Either way, over the phone or on OpenTable, the answer was NO, unless we were willing to eat at 5:45 or 10:30.

Fortunately, one of my favorite restaurants, Garcon, a charming French bistro in the Mission, offered to squeeze us in and my crisis—looking like a self-centered jerk—was averted. If we arrived by 8, the hostess promised to squeeze us in. We arrived at 7:30, had a cocktail and a nice bottle of wine at the bar, and watched as countless others were turned away.  By 8:15 we were sitting at a cozy table, had a great meal, and a perfect evening.

So why did Garcon make room for us? Maybe it was because I sounded so pathetic on the phone, but most likely it was because I eat at the bar at least twice a month, and generally once a month, I stop in with friends for a late-night dinner.

While it’s tempting to always try the latest and greatest, the tried and true need love too. There’s just something special about eating at a restaurant where the food is really good, they know you, and are happy to see you. Not that you get special treatment, it’s just nice to feel a part of the fabric.

And if you do become a regular, when the time comes and you really need a favor, most likely they’ll give you one of those tables they save walk-ins only or someone “special,” because that’s who you will be.

Tips for Making Your “Go To” Restaurant:

  • Go on slow nights. Everyone from the chef to the busboy will remember your face when the restaurant is slow.
  • Eat at the bar. The hostess, the bartender, the manager, and the chef, all make a stop at the bar on slower nights.
  • Compliment the chef, tip well, and make sure the manager knew you were happy when you left.
  • Stop by at least two-three times a month.
  • Bring in people with you.
  • Recommend the place to friends.
  • Be accommodating. If you’re asking for a special favor, say a table at 8:00, take the 7:45 or 8:15 if that’s where they can fit you in, and be on time.
  • Call instead of showing up at the door.
  • And don’t abuse it. Special favors should be for just that, special occasions when you really need a table.