In the past few years, and in recent weeks, Melbourne seems to have become swamped with restaurants that have a no booking policy. Is it arrogance? Is it a sign of a more flexible spontaneous dining culture? Has the queue culture arrived?
As the Melbourne food public become more food savvy, more eager to try the next big thing and with the onslaught of social media, queues outside restaurants are becoming more commonplace. I have read that some opinion points to reviewers going in too early and creating a buzz, this could also be attributed to the extensive food blog network in Melbourne and it’s growing readership. If you were in say New York or Sydney an eating culture of “being seen” definitely exists, but even in those cities, the high end places you are still able to book. In Melbourne you can definitely still book somewhere high end, I waited 4 months for a table at Vue De Monde, but again you must be prepared to wait.
So where does this leave us, more than just hungry I’m guessing. Get on a waiting list for a high end restaurant and wait months or get in line for the latest “in” spot and wait up to an hour or…. I’ve read that it was Sydney’s Longrain opening in Melbourne to much hype and with a no booking policy that set the trend. There was a bit of backlash from us Melbournians and the introduction of a booking service for groups of 6 or more was introduced. What Longrain did do was hit on the notion of allowing people to sit at the bar enjoy a fabulous cocktail and equally fabulous bar food whilst waiting for a table to become free. This works in a few ways, increased dollars for the restaurant, people eat and drink at the bar and then do the same again when a table becomes available. It has also made eating at the bar as equally desirable as eating at a table.
The first time I attempted to visit Longrain it was a Friday night and I was starving to be greeted by “it’s a 3 hour wait minimum” um “No thanks”. In saying that I am equally happy to sit at the bar at Cumulus Inc, eat my fine fare and indulge in good wine, it’s how it’s delivered and a lot of the time it’s the staff that need to be super sharp and accommodating when it comes to no-reservations. The person put in charge of running the floor and juggling the number of people in the queue and tables free, needs to be on their game. I reckon they hired well at Mamasita, notorious for its queues (which are garnering cult status as being as much a part of the dining experience as sitting in the restaurant itself) the guy running the floor, took my number and called me within the exact second of the time he promised, voila table available.
In the past month we have seen the opening of two restaurants that don’t take bookings, Golden Fields and Chin Chin. The buzz on social network sites like Twitter and on Melbourne Food Blogs has been incredible, including my own (apologies it was my first attempt at something resembling a review, I’ll try to get better). In relation to Chin Chin I found myself using Twitter to see what the best time might be for us to arrive, it seems that either everyone else did too or word has spread either get there early or later but at peak times be prepared to wait. The gentleman running the floor on the night we visited was affable and accommodating, so I can’t really say what it would be like if we had to wait.
I am, however, starting to think that I may be the exception in this ever accepting dining cohort cause I’d like to know when I get there I can get a table and stat eating. You see, I have kids. Whilst having children draws equal parts admiration and disdain from those in the hospitality industry and sure I get that the person running the floor that night doesn’t really care if the babysitter can’t stay all night, it matters to me. I’m passionate about food, so I will go to these new no reservation places but probably not with my husband. As much as I’d like to be wholly flexible and cool about waiting infinitely for the promise of the flavour to come, it just can’t happen on “date-night”. Gee is that a sign I’m getting old or just a lack of flexibility?
I must admit I like the notion of neighbourhoods full of establishments that share the crowd, what I mean is. If you can’t get into say Gigibaba there is an equally good bar near by that you can warm a seat at whilst waiting for your table up the way. I am also enjoying my ability to use Twitter to check in advance the best time for me to be there and I even noticed that Union Dining and some other establishments are taking “twookings” yes that’s a booking via Twitter. I don’t know, perhaps for some it’s part of the “chase” actually getting a table is reward in itself, but unlike those that are queuing for hours outside Zara to get something everyone else will be wearing, I like to be a little different.
It seems the no reservations trend is here to stay, my suggestion is, loosen up, relax and go with the flow. You never know, you may even get something to eat.
*photo courtesy of Guardian.co.uk