Under the table

By Hyacinth Miles

Two weeks before my co-worker’s fifth wedding anniversary, she made reservations at one of the more fashionable restaurants in the area. Because it was a special occasion, she asked to be seated near a window, since—with all due respect to Jane Austen— the window seats in this restaurant were particularly fine. One might even say that the windows were the reason for this venue’s existence, certainly it wasn’t the food.

When my friend and her husband arrived, they found they had been given a table in a dimly lit back corner. “I requested a window seat two weeks ago.” Abby said.

“Sorry” said the maitre d’. “None available.

“What about those?” Abby pointed to two small tables pushed together right next to the window.

“Oh. Uh, well, we can’t break them up,” said the man, flushing. He left them to their menus and returned a few minutes later with another couple. “These two will be joining you.” He said in an offhand way, seating them at Abby’s table and dashing away.

This wasn’t exactly the romantic evening for two, Abby and her husband had been planning. They had to make small talk with other strangers who had been screwed over by the maitre d’. The waiter got their order wrong. To add insult to injury, as they were walking out the door, the maitre d’ was busily separating the two tables Abby had had her eye on.

“A hundred and fifty dollars!” she groused, the next day in the office. “That’s one hundred dollars an hour to be patronized for ordering white wine with pork.”

“You did?” I asked.

“It’s the other white meat,” she said. “Anyway, I made those reservations two weeks in advance. What does it take to get a good table in this town?”

What indeed? Lexington isn’t exactly the land of the velvet ropes. We have limited numbers of restaurants with any significant amount of élan. So what determines who gets to sit where?

There had to be a way to crack the code. So for this year’s Best of Lex celebration in Ace I decided to unearth the best way to get a good table in Lexington.

To begin with, you should make every effort to be famous. Fame is extremely important when it comes to securing the best of everything. But just how famous do you need to be? Famous, like your horse just won the Breeder’s Cup, or famous like a local weatherman? Do you have to be Wendell Berry?

“You’re making this too complicated,” said my father. “To get a good table, you just have to bribe the maitre d’.” This hadn’t occurred to me, for obvious lifestyle reasons. For a second I was lost in the image of myself suavely passing off a bill to some sorority girl type wearing tight black pants, too much eye-makeup, and clutching plastic menus. “Make sure we’re on the right side of the Bouncy-Ball Playland, Dollface.”

“So how much is an ideal bribe?” I asked.

“Five dollars,” said my mother, with great authority.

Now I know people who are less likely to try to bribe the maitre d’ for a good table than my mother, but since those people are all socialists, I thought this warranted further investigation.

At first I just tried cold calling some of Lexington’s finer restaurant and asking for the maitre d’, to see if I could get a few of them to admit to taking bribes, then hint at what would be an appropriate amount. But apparently no one in Lexington actually has the job title maitre d’, and so I kept getting passed off to the owner or the manager, and since I couldn’t quite bring myself to ask, point blank, if their employees took bribes (and if so, how much) I usually just ended up muttering incoherently and dropping the phone like it had just turned into a python.

So I turned to the great bastion for failed investigative reporters, the Internet. Surprisingly there were very few resources on the correct way to bribe a maitre d’. In fact my web search turned up only about 30 pages (in comparison, “How to have sex with a squirrel” turned up 68). From what I could glean from these pages, 50 dollars would mark you as a true sophisticate, but 20 dollars would do, in a pinch. These were New York prices too. Off hand, I’d say that in Lexington, a city where I can count on both hands the number of places where a meal for two would cost more than fifty dollars, bribing the maitre d’ with more than your final bill, might be a little gauche.

Most likely the question is an academic one. To paraphrase Woody Allen, in Lexington restaurants, with very few exceptions, ninety percent of success is showing up, with the other ten percent dependent upon personal hygiene. n