The Key To Getting Last-Minute Reservations At Popular Restaurants

If you live in a major metropolitan city, you've likely resigned yourself to the idea that trying to get a last-minute dinner reservation at a popular restaurant is the dining equivalent of looking for love at first sight in a dimly lit dive bar: It's never going to happen. And if you are hoping to dine with a larger group of people, your luck is about to get even worse.

Extremely popular restaurants have become impossible to book these days thanks to a number of factors. The use of the Resy app to book reservations has become nearly ubiquitous, and once a reservation becomes impossible to get, that only makes diners more willing to do whatever it takes to get in the door. It's become common for reservation chasers to set their timers a month out from their preferred dining date in order to attempt to book a table the minute a restaurant releases new reservations. This means that tables can be fully booked for the month, leaving last-minute bookers with few options — where they might even wind up on a months-long wait list for a restaurant that doesn't exist.

There are a few methods for getting into these hot spots day of, however. And the easiest one is simply to pick up the phone to find cancellations.

Call your restaurant

We've become so used to handling our day-to-day business with the touch of a button on a screen that sometimes we forget that our phones were actually designed for us to call people. If you're hunting for a last-minute dinner reservation, try calling the restaurant the afternoon of your dining date. They may have some openings due to last-minute cancellations, and they'll be more than willing to fit you in if they have the space.

Even if the restaurant doesn't have any availability, while you're on the phone, you can ask them about their walk-in policy. Some restaurants accept walk-ins while others don't, and a number of them always leave certain seats, like seats at the bar or outdoor tables, open for walk-ins. Your host can probably tell you the likelihood of a walk-in being successful, and if you live close enough to the restaurant, you could also stop by in person to ask. Go early, around 6 p.m. (or even 5 p.m.), if you're hoping to get a walk-in before the dinner rush. This will also give you higher odds of getting to enjoy a leisurely dinner.

Timing is everything

The more desirable of a time slot you're looking for, the harder it will be for you to get a last-minute reservation at a popular restaurant. Friday night at 8 p.m. will not be your best bet, nor will Saturday brunch. Trying for walk-ins earlier in the evening will both up your chance of getting a seat, and it will also give you more time to find another place if your first pick doesn't work out. Because no one wants to go to three different restaurants when they're starting to feel hangry.

If you're really determined to get into an exclusive restaurant, however, you might want to see if they have tables available during less busy times. A lunchtime reservation or walk-in on a weekday may be easier to get into than dinner, and your meal may even be cheaper. It's also worth shooting for a last-minute reservation on days with bad weather. While it might not be ideal, people are far more likely to cancel their reservation if it's pouring rain or starting to snow, leaving you with an open table.