50 Best Restaurants for Groups

Good for Groups Restaurants 2009 50 Best Restaurants for GroupsDo you want to know where the best places to dine out with a big party are? OpenTable knows, thanks to the results of our 2009 Diners’ Choice Awards for Good for Groups restaurants. Derived from nearly four million reviews submitted by OpenTable diners for more than 10,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, this list speaks to diners who love to share a meal with more than a few fellow foodies.

OpenTable’s list makes it easy to make plans with all your friends and family and features an array of cuisines, from Greek and Italian to American and ethnic barbecue and brewhouses. The next time you’re dining out in a group, consult our Good for Groups restaurant list to reserve tables for larger groups, as well as our new Private Dining pages, which can help you explore private dining options and plan banquets and parties for up to hundreds of guests.

Restaurant Websites: Fun or Flawed?

Restaurant Websites Restaurant Websites: Fun or Flawed?The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Michael Bauer shines a spotlight today on restaurant websites, pointing out the aspects that are most frustrating to him as a diner. His primary complaints are the lack of a current menu and the difficulty in locating a restaurant’s hours of operations. What I find vexing are Flash introductions (often with silly music!) and menus being available only as PDFs (I fear my MacBook will soon burst into flames from all the menu PDFs sitting idly in my “downloads” folder).

What frustrates you most about restaurant websites? And, what are some examples of the very best restaurant websites? Chime in here or on Facebook, and check back for our expert tips on creating an effective, diner-friendly restaurant website.

Food for Thought: Eat Out for Education in San Francisco on November 11

Food for Thought 2009 Food for Thought: Eat Out for Education in San Francisco on November 11If you’re going to be dining out in San Francisco’s Mission area on Wednesday, November 11, your meal can make a difference in the lives of Mission Graduates, a non-profit organization. Food for Thought is an annual, one-day “dine-out” event during which participating restaurants will donate a portion of their proceeds to help increase the number of youth from San Francisco’s Mission District who are prepared for and complete a college education.

Some of the Mission’s most popular restaurants are taking part in this worthwhile event, from Farina and Flour + Water to Slow Club and Spork. Help educate tomorrow’s college graduates while you educate and entertain your palate. Reserve now!

Thanksgiving and Restaurants: Do You Know Where You’re Dining?

Thanksgiving 2009 Thanksgiving and Restaurants: Do You Know Where Youre Dining?There are just 20 days left until Thanksgiving! Have you made your reservations yet? If not, the good news is that there are still many open tables awaiting you and your loved ones. The even better news? There are many specials and dining deals that restaurants are rolling out for this national holiday that’s a favorite of foodies. You can find an array of prix-fixe dining deals, many priced at under $30 per adult.

This year, leave the shopping, the cooking, and the clean up to professionals, and share a good meal with good friends and family at a restaurant near you.

Find deals and tables near you now.

What Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do: Waiter Rant Strikes Back!

Waiter rant What Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do: Waiter Rant Strikes Back!The New York Times recently gave Bruce Buschel, a contributor who is opening his very first restaurant, carte blanche to create an exhaustive list of things restaurant staffers should never do (and by “restaurant staffers” he really means “waiters”). As someone who’s been on both sides of the dining equation, waiting tables for more than a few years and eating out in and around Manhattan very frequently, I was taken aback at Buschel’s unrealistic (and irrational) expectations. I suspected other industry professionals shared my reaction so I reached out to one of the most famous of all — Steve Dublanica, the man behind the popular Waiter Rant blog and author of the book Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip — Confessions of a Cynical Waiter (HarperCollins).

“First, I would be terrified to work for this guy! Mr. Buschel has never run a restaurant,” Dublanica says. “This list puts a muzzle on waiters, personality wise and salesmanship wise. It’s dehumanizing.” The list is also clearly born of ignorance as wait staff usually do not dictate policy. Says Dublanica, “They hand these things down from on high that you, as a waiter, have to do.” To wit, many of Buschel’s ideas are verboten at restaurants I’ve worked at as they would have violated rules set by the owners or management, including seating a table when all members of the party are not present; offering a complimentary drink or amuse bouche if there is a delay in seating; not asking if a table wants tap or bottled water; failing to announce one’s name; refusing to hustle lobsters (or any other special of the day); and not acknowledging regulars and repeat customers.

Some of the items that truly ticked off Dublanica include Buschel’s suggestion that a waiter steam the label off a bottle of wine if the patron likes it and present it to her with the bill. “Steaming the label off the bottle and handing it to somebody? That’s never going to happen – unless you’re the person who ran up a $47,221.09 check at Nello in New York.  For THAT guy, we’ll steam the label off.” For everyone else, he suggests snapping a photo of the wine label. “Take a picture. You’ve got it and you’re not going to lose it!”

He also takes issue with Buschel’s assertion that a waiter should not interject personal favorites when listing the specials. “When I dine out, I ask the waiter, ‘What do you like?’ Part of the whole dining experience is having a conversation with the staff. They know what sells, what’s going out the door, what people are enjoying.” He reminds Buschel, too, “Some folks want to be told what’s good and put their experience in a waiter’s  hands.”

Regarding not saying, “Good choice,” he counters, “Sometimes a diner really HAS made a good choice. If you’re asked for a recommendation and you say, ‘The osso bucco is spectactular,’ and she orders that, you should say ‘Good choice!’” He also has no problem with servers saying, “No problem.” “It’s an accepted colloquialism in our culture,” he points out.

Dublanica reveals that as a diner, he’s fine when waiters do some of these don’ts. “Don’t bang into chairs or tables when passing by? I was at Les Halles and they literally had to pull the entire table out for my date to sit down. I think the waiters bumped me three times, but there was no way around it. It’s just a by-product of how close together the tables are,” he notes.

“All his suggestions – in a sterile, perfect world, they may make some sense. But the reality of a restaurant is far different,” says Dublanica, who promises to pay a visit to Buschel’s restaurant when it opens. “I think I’ll sneak in.”

Private Dining Takes the Hassle Out of Holiday Party Planning

Private Dining Private Dining Takes the Hassle Out of Holiday Party PlanningTrying to figure out where to book an event? OpenTable’s new Private Dining pages eliminate the guesswork with a few clicks. Designed to help you find the perfect spot for your next party or private event, Private Dining pages allow you to browse hundreds of listings, filter by neighborhood, price or cuisine type, and view photos of private dining rooms and other event spaces, all in one place.

To get started, visit a restaurant’s Private Dining page and simply fill out the brief contact form.  OpenTable immediately submits your inquiry directly to the person the restaurant has designated to receive private dining requests. That person will contact you by email or phone (if you provide a phone number) to provide more information and answer any questions you might have, typically within two business days. We encourage you to initiate negotiations with several restaurants at once to get a sense of your options before finalizing the booking with the restaurant of your choice.

Maya Kalman, of Swank Productions, an event planning and design firm in Manhattan, says, “We’re always on the lookout for resources for finding private rooms. Having this kind of tool is great. It’s saves a lot of time on our end as well as that of the restaurant.” She states, “The ability to find available rooms on a specific day is invaluable, particularly around the holidays when there is a limited number of days to host events. People are often vying for the same days, especially this year,” she notes. Kalman, whose company is planning a number of holiday parties at restaurants, adds, “People are rethinking events and realizing that restaurants are great venues as they offer flexibility, intimacy, and fabulous food.”

You can find participating restaurants by looking for the “Private Dining” tab on a restaurant’s profile page, by clicking on the “Private Dining” icon just below the search widget on the right side of your start page, or under the “Large Party and Banquet Booking Information” option under “Offers and Events” on your start page. Currently available in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., Private Dining will launch in Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Vancouver on November 10.

Last Supper: What’s Your Ideal Final Meal?

When world-renowned chef Thomas Keller (Ad Hoc, Bouchon, The French Laundry, Per Se) lost his beloved father in 2008, he was able to find a bit of comfort in the fact that he’d prepared, carefully and lovingly, his father’s final meal. Keller didn’t know it at the time, but the simple dish of barbecued chicken, mashed potatoes, and collard greens — followed by a seasonal strawberry shortcake — would be his dad’s last.

While Chef Keller doesn’t reveal what his last meal might be in this article, he did so in the entertaining and appetite-inspiring My Last Meal, along with other famous chefs, including Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Wylie Dufresne, and Daniel Boulud (who wants his last meal prepared by Alain Ducasse).

Last supper Last Supper: Whats Your Ideal Final Meal?My last meal would probably be cobbled together from a number of different restaurants. I might start with an ice-cold vodka Martini with Michael Mina‘s truffled popcorn. Next, the oyster foie gras from Morimoto. Also, crispy poached eggs with caviar from Perry Street. It would take me a bit more time to narrow down my entree selection as it’s so hard to pick just one protein, but I would certainly want whatever it is with a side of craftsteak‘s highly addictive Parker House rolls (I crave them fortnightly). Dessert is easy: anything from pastry chef Dominique Ansel at Daniel.

Which chef or restaurant would you want to prepare your last meal (many, many years from now, naturally!) and why? Share your thoughts on Facebook or right here!

OpenTable Mobile Apps: More Than 1 Million Served

iPhone App1 OpenTable Mobile Apps: More Than 1 Million ServedMore and more diners are booking reservations on the go. How do we know? Since launching our first mobile application, we’ve seated more than 1,000,000 hungry diners through them!

With mobile applications for the iPhone, Palm, Blackberry, and Android operating systems, there’s an OpenTable app for almost every device. If your phone doesn’t support any of these apps, you can still book reservations on the fly through OpenTable by pointing your browser to our mobile-optimized Web site at http://mobile.opentable.com.

Download the free OpenTable mobile application that suits your smartphone now — and start making reservations wherever you are.


Score a Great Table During the World Series

Score a Great Table During the World Series1 Score a Great Table During the World SeriesEven if you’re not a fan of baseball, you may still want to pay attention to what’s happening in New York and Philadelphia in the coming days. According to the New York Post, it’s easier to find open tables at some of the city’s hottest restaurants on game nights. Restaurants and bars with television sets aren’t seeing a slide in business, but at high-end restaurants that aren’t showing the game, such as David Burke Townhouse, prime-time tables that would typically be filled are yours for the taking. A similar phenomenon is probably taking place in Philadelphia.

If you’ve got a bigger appetite for world-class cuisine than the World Series (or you don’t mind setting your DVR), search for open tables at New York’s and Philadelphia’s finest restaurants. Remaining game dates are October 29, October 31, November 1, November 2, November 4, and November 5, and unlike the Yanks and the Phillies, you probably won’t strike out.

What the Aughts Wrought: Terrible Trends in Dining?

Restaurant Trends What the Aughts Wrought: Terrible Trends in Dining?The Chicago Tribune has tongues wagging over their recent list of the “10 Worst Dining Trends of the Last Decade.” Industry heavyweights weigh in, including David Chang of Momofuku fame and Epicurious.com‘s Tanya Steele. Dissed and dismissed are trios of sliders, molecular gastronomy, and communal tables, among others.

Everyone’s entitled to her or his opinion — and they’re also entitled to mine. First, I happen to love sliders (especially those served curbside at Old Homestead). The ubiquitous trio of sliders that haunt other menus may seem a bit tiresome, but my real beef (pun, intended) with them is that many things are called sliders — yet most are not. I consider a slider to be a diminutive beef burger on a similarly sized bun (see also Castle, White). Grilled cheese sliders? Lobster sliders? Meatball sliders? They may be tasty, but, please, call them something else.

Molecular gastronomy is either everyone’s darling or everyone’s favorite whipping post. I believe what chefs, such as Wylie Dufresne of wd-50, are doing is daring, inventive, and innovative. Challenging expectations about what’s on your plate adds the elements of mystery and surprise to dining out. And, as someone who has had the pleasure of studying briefly with Dave Arnold, L’Ecole’s resident mad gastronomical scientist, immersion cooking and manipulating ingredients’ textures and appearances are mind-blowing good fun. It’s not for everyone, but what’s wrong with a few select chefs thinking outside the oven?

The communal table comes under fire, too. I actually think of these as more a construct of the nineties (in this country, at least) and, in truth, I enjoy them. I first dined (stateside) at Asia de Cuba‘s elegant shared table and had a lively and delicious meal. I returned twice more and sat at private tables, but neither was quite as enjoyable as that collective experience. The Baltimore Sun concurs that communal tables can, indeed, create a more social meal.

Premature and reactionary (and, oftentimes, unverified) restaurant reviews are also cited. Even if you understand how difficult working at — or running! — a restaurant is, imagine how tough it is to open one from the ground up. As someone who’s both a diner and a former restaurant worker, I think every business deserves a modest grace period, even beyond the soft opening, to find its feet before being subjected to stringent, critical scrutiny.

There are some points I agree with on the Tribune’s list. (I still can’t discuss, without gagging, the particulars of a foie gras foam I once attempted to choke down.) However, the trends of the aughts that I think ought to go the way of “Bennifer” include*: Lollipop-style meats. Restaurant staff who are as chilly as liquid nitrogen. Overpriced comfort foods. Martini and/or “signature cocktail” lists. Panna cotta. Establishments that neglect to put salt on the table. Short ribs. Specials that are too numerous and involved for anyone to remember (“What was the second part of the fifth special?”). And, obviously, bottled water.

What dining and restaurant trends are you tired of? Weigh in here or over on Facebook.

*Disclaimer: Excepting aloof restaurant staffers, expensive dishes, environmentally incorrect water, and a lack of salt, all of these items are actually perfectly acceptable — in small portions.