Reservations for this famed Napa (well technically Yountville) restaurant are ridiculously difficult. I was recently able to snag one via OpenTable and thought I'd write about what I learned.
After reading about things online, this is what I gathered are the best ways to get reservations at French Laundry. Although I'm only speculating, I imagine the following probably applies to all high end restaurants.
A number of hotels in the area have slots reserved for their guests at French Laundry. I know of couples that have gotten reservations using this mechanism. It's by far the easiest way. (Note: I didn't do this.)
2) Concierge Services
A number of reservation slots appear to be reserved for concierge services such as through Visa or Amex. This is your best attempt if you want to avoid paying for a hotel room nearby (especially true if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area). However, it's not as easy as you are fighting with other concierge customers. (Note: I didn't do this.)
Reservations 2 months in advance open up at 10am everyday. I know of atleast one person that was able to get reservations via this mechanism, painstakingly calling everyday until they were able to get through. (Note: I didn't do this.)
Some, although very few, tables are available on Opentable. If you're patient and look all the time, eventually things will open up. This is especially true of short notice reservations, see below for more details.
5) Cancellation Wait List
French Laundry apparently maintains a cancellation wait list if you put your name down for a specific day. You have to call the restaurant for this. (Note: I didn't do this.) I imagine this is a viable option only for those local to the San Francisco Bay Area or those vacationing in Napa.
What You Should Do
You should be flexible on the time you're willing to go and the group size. Dinner for two at 6pm several months out on a Saturday? That's probably the most romantic and desired reservation time. If that's what you want, it's going to be tough. I would bet that hotel and concierge service is the best bet to get these optimal times.
However, dinner for 4 at 9:15 pm on a Wednesday? That's going to be easier. Dinner for 6 at 9:15pm on a Monday? Even easier.
So if you're willing to go on a weekday. If you're willing to go at an non-optimal time. If you're willing to gather a group (and can gather others), reservations can be done half easily. Tables for 6 can be obtained on OpenTable far easier than tables for 4. You won't notice the reservations available on Opentable all the time, but they pop up with half-regularity. In fact, right now (as I write this) there are tons of reservations for 6 available for the next 2 months listed on OpenTable. Seven of them are for 9:15pm and two are for 5:30pm. One of the 9:15pm slots is even available on a Sunday. Everything else is on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.
In fact, if you're willing to go on semi-short notice, reservations are even easier. While it's not something you see everyday, the reality is that cancellations do happen. Although I'm only speculating, I imagine concierge slots/hotel slots do not always get filled (especially on weekdays). So I semi-regularly see reservation slots open up on Opentable < 1 week in advance of a date. At the end of the day French Laundry is a business, they gotta make money :P
Although I'm only speculating, I believe a lot of cancellations also happen because of foodies like me. Someone sees a reservation slot for 4 or 6. Knowing how hard it is to get reservations, they snag the reservation hoping to gather a group of people to go with them. In the 1-2 weeks before the reservation, if they can't get a group together (because lets be realistic, finding 3-5 friends to shell out > $300 for dinner is hard), they give up the reservation.
Be aware that cancellations < 3 days in advance will likely incur a $100 per person cancellation fee, so that's part of the danger of going on short notice. So you need to plan your group of friends/family before hand for going to this restaurant.
Hope that helps someone out there.
Blog post with details of the French Laundry dinner is here.
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