WHO’S IN CHARGE

Dallas’ top maitre d’s tell you how to get a table.

YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT IF YOU haven’t been there. On the coasts, diners are often asked to put down a deposit or leave a credit card number when they make a dinner reservation because no-shows are so expensive for restaurants. These days, restaurants can track a reservation like a FedEx package-the new Dallas branch of Palomino’s recently issued us a confirmation number for lunch. A dinner reservation is even more valuable. And harder to get. The best way to get a table is to be a regular-you will get preferential treatment. Bui that’s an investment, It lakes hundreds of dollar’s worth of dinners to make an impression on the guy ai the door. And the rules of the game vary from place to place. Here’s how it works at Dallas’ most elusive dining destinations.

Franco Bertolasi at The Riviera

Call two or three weeks ahead if you want a prime-lime reservation at The Riviera on a weekend. If you’re a regular and the reservationist turns you down, call back and talk to Bertolasi. Regulars do get priority because “they deserve it,” he says. “Many of them have been regulars for 14 years.” Bertolasi says he’d be insulted, insulted, if someone offered him money for a table. On the other hand, “Some people do say thank you on the way out.” Call it a down payment on next visit’s priority seating. There are Riviera regulars who dine in the restaurant every Saturday night. For them Bertolasi holds a table, but he says, “They still have to reconfirm every week.” Especially if they want to switch to Friday.

Even when the whole restaurant is booked, “You play with your room like a chess board,” Bertolasi says. “Some people show up late or without reservations, or they want to switch tables. I might say, ’I’ve got a better table coming up’ or buy them a drink in the lounge. One of my favorite things to tell people is, ’If it’s possible, it’s easy.’ You really spoil them with attention afterward and make it up. I hate to say it, but some people have to suffer for the sake of others, so regulars come first. And. you can get away with murder afterward if you do it right to begin with.”

We had no idea that a philosophy inspired his famous hand-kissing. All this time we thought he was just glad to see us.

George Majdalani

at AquaKnox and Star Canyon

GEORGE MAJDALANI, LONGTIME MANAGER at Star Canyon and now boss at AquaKnox, takes pride in the restaurants’ egalitarian reservations system, supposedly kept pure and uncorrupted by the technological Rock System that safeguards seating from human influence and filthy lucre. So, if you want a table al Star Canyon on a weekend night between 6:30 and 9 p.m., call four weeks ahead. Period. And if you want a particular table, you may have to add to that lead time.

Of course, if you really know Majdalani or Michael Cox or Stephan Pyles, you could try giving them a call. Everyone else: Call between 2 and 4 p.m. the day you want to dine. That’s when Star Canyon calls to confirm reservations, so that’s when you’ll find out if there are cancellations. Majdalani used to hold six tables in reserve, but the demand grew so much that he now books the place completely. High-minded Majdalani says Star Canyon never sells a table for money because the room is so open, other customers would see, get upset, and leave.

Dinner at AquaKnox is equally elusive. But there is the option of the bar. where no reservations are taken. If you sit there long enough, a table in the dining room might open up. Next spring.

Wayne Broadwell

at The Mansion on Turtle Creek WAYNE BROADWELL, GATEKEEP-er at The Mansion, says he always has a table in his back pocket lor regulars but. with his opportunistic eye fixed on the future, he says he also “likes to focus on the new blood. I do read the obituaries. And sometimes it seems to me that all our regulars are dying.”

Meanwhile, his task is to fit as many demanding diners as possible into his domain. Broadwell uses The Mansion bar as a holding tank while he juggles diners in a game of elite musical chairs. He “suggests” that guests call four or five weeks ahead for a weekend reservat ion but says that almost any other night, your party of two or four will be accommodated if you don’t mind sipping awhile in the bai first. “Wait in the bar” is also Broad well’s suggestion to hotel guests who didn’t know they needed to make restaurant reservations even before their hotel reservations. His favorite non-committal word for when someone might be seated: “shortly.”

There are two pages for every night in The Mansion reservation book, and on the second page at the top right are seven blanks reserved for Broadwell. Reservations operators fill in the pages, and as long as one of those blank spaces remains, Broadwell will take a table. When the seven blanks are full, you’ll be sipping and hearing that word, “shortly.”

So, does a $100 bill gel you a table? “Certainly!” says Broadwell. “A hundred-dollar bill is an attention-getter and repri-oritizes everything.”

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