Valentine’s Day is a little more than two weeks away, and as everybody knows, the only right way to celebrate is to take your sweetie to a super-fancy restaurant and eat chocolate and oysters and champagne off a white tablecloth covered with scattered rose petals. (And it’s on a Friday this year, so regular 9-5 working stiffs can really go wild with the champagne!) Alas, if you want to perform a real act of love and fealty by trying to obtain the toughest restaurant in the country, and you haven’t gotten around to it by now, well then, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re too late. I mean, I’m sure you knew this already, just like you know that you’re probably not going to fly on a private jet to another city and stay in a suite at the Ritz or whatever, but this is really my way of easing into today’s bit of restaurant trivia, which is a list of the toughest restaurant reservations in the U.S.
The list, compiled by The Daily Meal and published by the Chicago Tribune, is based on reviews, data from Open Table and Michelin, and self-reported waiting times from restaurant websites. (No, White Castle is not on it.) Alas, it’s in alphabetical order, so there’s no telling which is the most difficult reservation, but I’m willing to put my money on Damon Baehrel in Earlton, New York (though a 2016 New Yorker story raised the possibility that it may be an elaborate fraud). Other restaurants rely on baroque systems, such as The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine, which requires diners to send in their reservation requests via snail mail (imagine!) and Talula’s Table in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, where “reservations are accepted exactly one year to the day, and the first caller at 7 a.m. Eastern gets the table the following year.” (Talula’s Table also only seats parties with a minimum of four people, so it’s not quite the place for an intimate dinner a deux.) But at least you can get into these places: Rao’s in New York City only accepts diners with “table rights.”
On the other hand, there are plenty of other places on this list where you can get a table if you’re willing to be more flexible with your schedule, like settling for lunch instead of dinner, or dining at 10 p.m. You still get bragging rights, and you can impress your friends with stories about how you ate there and how amazing it was, and they can still ignore you.