Dear Graydon Carter,
Hi, you don’t know me, I’m just a silly food blogger who likes to eat out sometimes. For example, yesterday I went to a Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood (Los Pollitos in Park Slope) and it was very tasty. We showed up there at 7 PM, without a reservation, and they sat us immediately. Granted, the food is very basic–I had a chicken burrito–but it’s nice to know it’s there. If I ever want a burrito, I can go there and that makes me happy.
Your restaurant, Ye Waverly Inn, seems to function in a different way. For starters: you don’t serve burritos. More importantly, though, you don’t take reservations. In fact, when people try to call your restaurant, they get a pre-recorded message that gives directions to the restaurant without taking messages. In other words: unless you know somebody who knows somebody, you can’t eat there. You’ve made the place a very exclusive joint.
Normally, this would be a really bad business model. Imagine a dentist who doesn’t take appointments and who only does dental work on people he knows. He’d be sucking lots of nitrous oxide to wile the time away. Only a dentist is not a restaurant; the dental profession thrives on consistency and skill; the restaurant business thrives on the very thing you’ve created with your restaurant: buzz.
Only, you’ve done it in a very clever way. You can justify your restaurant’s stand-offishness because (a) you claim that the restaurant isn’t open (your outgoing message says it’ll open in the fall); and (b) even though it is open and people are eating there, you claim it’s more of a private club, for people connected to you and the magazine. So no one can be mad for not being allowed into a private dinner right? I wasn’t mad when Angela Perkins had a birthday party in middle school that I wasn’t invited to, was I? I moved on with my life. And I’m happy to do that with your Waverly Inn.
Except, last week my parents were in town for my dad’s birthday. They were staying at a hotel–I’d rather not say which, in case you want to get into THEIR private dinner party (if you know what I mean)–and the hotel concierge, who they’ve known for years, told them that, if they liked, he could make a reservation for us at one of the hottest restaurants in New York: Ye Waverly Inn. “What we do,” said the concierge, “is we send a page to the restaurant a few days before in person. They secure the reservation and then we confirm the reservation with you.”
And that’s exactly what happened. My parents were thrilled. I was mildly enthused–I heard the food wasn’t so great–but I thought it would be cool to see what all the buzz was about. Maybe we’d see some glitterati. Or literati. Or both: Diane Von Furstenberg with Joan Didion sharing Mac & Cheese.
We showed up at the restaurant at 6:30, the time of our reservation. Actually, my parents were already there; I came (with Craig, my boyfriend ) a tiny drop after. We walked in expecting to see my parents at a table. Instead, we saw them talking to the host with disappointed looks on their faces.
“They don’t have our reservation,” said my mom.
I looked up at the host. “Really?” I asked. “Don’t you have a print-out?” I asked my mom.
“I do,” she said. “But they say that the person who the hotel made the reservation with–Courtney–doesn’t work here.”
“That’s weird,” I said.
“We don’t have a Courtney here,” confirmed the host. “And tonight we have a private dinner party, so we wouldn’t have taken the reservation.”
Was he calling my mom a liar? The hotel? Courtney?
Honestly, Graydon, I didn’t really care. I was over it. Instead, I was already brainstorming our many other restaurant options there in the West Village. And wouldn’t you know it, one of my favorite restaurants in New York–maybe in the world–Blue Hill, when we called, was incredibly gracious and agreed to take us in at 7. All we had to do was walk over.
And that’s what we did. And the meal was fantastic. Unpretentious, unfussy: just really good food in a really comfortable setting. By the end of the dinner, we’d forgotten that your Waverly Inn even existed. “Waverly Inn?” one of us slurred. “What’s a Waverly Inn?”
That would end our tale, except that, the next day, the concierge at my parents hotel was completely flustered by what had happened to us. He wrote your restaurant an e-mail that asked for an explanation, saying that the hotel’s page had made the reservation with Courtney five days prior. What had happened?
Your restaurant wrote back (and I quote verbatim): “We apologize profusely. Consequently, Courtney was let go yesterday and we would like to offer your guest a reservation this evening at any time of her liking.”
Courtney was let go?? But the host said there was no Courtney!!? You mean there WAS a Courtney and you fired her on our account? I doubt that very much.
And even if that’s true, that’s messed up! You fired someone for taking a reservation at your restaurant? Oh wait, it’s not a restaurant? It’s a private club? But how come pages from my parents hotel can get hotel guests in? How did Frank Bruni get in? Or, for that matter, Ruth Reichl? Graydon, what’s going on here? Are you a club or a restaurant? Make up your mind.
It was nice of you, though, to invite us back. Maybe we’ll take you up on that in a few months and we can evaluate your club/restaurant on the merits. But, as for right now, I think I’ll stick to burritos in Park Slope.