Does tipping the maÎtre d' get you a better table?
It works on television.
Slip the maitre d' a 20--or even some advice on cheap long-distance service--and voilà, you skip ahead 10 places in line, ahead of the Vanderbilts, the Astors, and the Modanos. Servers part and bow in servile compliance as the host escorts you to the best table. Sure, there's a brief wait as they clear Mark Cuban out of the booth and usher him to a lesser table. But the host apologizes repeatedly and offers to give your shoes a thorough lick-shine.
That's television, but does it work in the real world? Does bribing the maître d' get you a better table?
"It does happen at larger places," claims Seth deWit, manager of Watel's. "It's a hush-hush kind of thing." Houston's manager Francis Luttmer also fingers other restaurants unnamed. "At some restaurants that works," he says vaguely. "It happens where there are distinctly better tables. Here, our greeters won't take your money." But the Burning Question never accepts a vague answer. We sent a crack team undercover, armed with bribing money in crisp 10s and 20s, determined to find out if a little palm grease works on Dallas hosts and hostesses.
Watel's placed our team in a prime corner table--by a window, no less--before they could even pull a bill from their money clips. "You feel as if you want to do it," says deWit of efforts to tip for a better table, "but we're just not inclined to." Instead, he offers a bit of practical advice: "Rather than hand the guy a big wad of money, why not just call ahead?" Watel's promises to accommodate requests, if possible, no need for a tip. Hmmm. This is more complicated than we thought.
Houston's does not accept reservations. Any attempt to slip a greeter a little green would incite other patrons crowded around the maître d' stand. No, bribery requires privacy.
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The team next turned to the Samba Room, a current Knox-Henderson area hot spot. Once again, the maître d' disrupted our team's mission by asking whether we wanted a table out near the action or a quiet spot in the back. Once again, no money changed hands; they ushered us to a good table, and we never unfolded the crisp new 20. "You can tip us at your discretion," says Natalie Lynch of the Samba Room, "but it's not requested or expected. Anyway, just what is a good table?" Opinions differ, in other words, on good spots and bad spots, acceptable noise levels, and all the other factors. Later in the evening, as the restaurant fills, finding any table becomes difficult.
A number of people suggest tipping the maître d' on the way out as a gesture of thanks for a good evening. But, when someone (name withheld) tried this maneuver at the French Room, the maître d' rebuffed him with a kindly "that's not necessary."
Somewhere in this town, some maître d' must, from time to time, find a 20 slapped into his or her hand followed by a request for a specific table, but it's rare.
Either that or our undercover teams do a piss-poor job.