Restaurant Pulse Check

Wednesday's New York Times Dining section featured a photo of Mario Batali, Sirio Maccioni and Jean-Georges Vongerichten wearing signs with pleas to come visit their restaurants.

Times critic Frank Bruni writes that "if you eat out regularly in New York, you’ve noticed a different reception, an altered mood: extreme solicitousness tinged with outright desperation."

Amid the talk of economic woes, I've encountered packed restaurants in DC the past few weeks. In the spirit of New York's reservation trackers, Grub Street's Two at Eight and Eater's resyfeed, I wondered what the result would be if I checked OpenTable two days out for prime time reservations for two — Saturday at 7:30 p.m. — at some of DC hottest restaurants. A sort of pulse check of our restaurant scene, if you will.

This is of course completely unscientific, and you can draw your own conclusions. And this is not meant to gloss over dropping restaurant revenues, staff cuts and other hardships. All I know is I still can't get into some of my favorite spots without planning well ahead. Here's a look at the results for selected restaurants, tested Thursday morning, for Saturday tables:

• Blue Duck Tavern: booked
• Central: booked
• CityZen: booked
• Marvin: booked
• Proof: booked
• Citronelle: booked
• The Source: booked
• Rasika: 6:15 p.m.
• Bourbon Steak: 6 or 9:15 p.m.
• Corduroy: 5:30 or 9 p.m.
• Sei: 6:30 or 9 p.m.
• Westend: 6 or 9 p.m.


Anonymous said...

I think some of these spots only make certain times available on opentable, which will skew your results. If you tried calling, I'd bet at least a few of them would have a spot to squeeze you in during the more prime 7-8 time slots.

Amanda said...

You're absolutely right, which is why I say this is unscientific. A lot of places don't release all their tables; then again, a lot do, so... like I said totally unscientific.

ModernDomestic said...

We went to Proof last night at around 7 and, after waiting 25 minutes for a place to open up at the bar, left and went somewhere else. Granted, there were a couple open tables in the restaurant, but then it was a Wednesday . . . I think after reading that NY Times article I was expecting an empty place. Boy was I wrong!

Anonymous said...

Nothing scientific here either, but we're definitely seeing mostly packed houses all over town when we go out to eat.

They do say DC is insulated from recessions, but it may also have something to do with the fact that a lot of Washingtonians just don't cook at home.

Either way, well done for looking into this, Amanda.

Husband said...

I would tell you that New York and DC are going through two very different economic trends, while both negative. From the people I talk to in NYC restaurant business, its all got to do with the finance and related businesses not having cash anymore.

The private dining rooms, one of the most lucrative parts of a restaurants, would be filled for months in advance. But now, because finance folks don't have jobs, or cutting spending, no one is booking them. And it is causing serious contraction. I mean we are talking a couple closings a week in the upper tier restaurants, and some people talking about 35% of those restaurants gone by the end of this.

DC is seeing more traditional recession where people aren't spending money on alcohol, like just a glass of wine versus a bottle... or a cheaper bottle rather than the special one, or expensive dining. So it's clearly hurting the more luxury brands. But, if you are in the midlevel or quick service in both city... you might actually come out ahead when this all settles out.

Anonymous said...

Well, I can understand why West End Bistro isn't full -- the few meals I've had there were extremely unimpressive. What puzzles me is why Blue Duck Tavern is booked up -- the fries at Bourbon easily destroy theirs, the BDT service is on the weak side, and the food really isn't that good, often too seasoned or spiced; I love rosemary, but the steak that the waiter recommended had a rosemary bush on it.

In DC, the higher end restaurants aren't as numerous as in NYC, so you'll still see them doing okay, especially during prime dining times. The true test is how they are doing during non-prime times and who the diners are -- your "average" Joe who wanted a nice meal out will be looking to cook at home or for fast food. When you see a place like Citronelle reducing the days they are open, you sense some effect. Other places that are buffered from the economy will be places like Central or The Source, where the food is great, but you have a varied range of prices -- the lounge at The Source has great food for a great price, while Central's entrees have such large portions, you could easily skip on an appetizer and dessert, walking out with a $30 bill/person.