Waiting for a table doesn’t have to be the frustrating saga people make it out to be. Melburnians love to eat out and they want the best. So don’t be surprised if you rock up at that great new eatery only to discover half of Melbourne has had the same thought. With more restaurants enforcing a no bookings policy, waits of one to two hours are becoming almost expected. But as we know, good things come to those who wait. And on the up side, a no bookings policy allows us to keep our dining decisions spontaneous.
We chat with the gatekeepers of three of Melbourne’s most popular no bookings restaurants – Chin Chin, Mamasita and Golden Fields – to get some hints on how to handle the crowds.
Jessica Ho from Chin Chin
Since opening just over three months ago, this Thai diner has been consistently brimming with diners. “We’re busy every day,” says Jessica Ho, host and crowd controller. “A Monday night is just as busy as a Saturday.”
Chin Chin’s no booking policy reflects owner Chris Lucas’s aversion to formality. “He has a whole theory on the death of fine dining,” says Ho. In keeping with this line of thinking, you won’t see tablecloths, uniforms or bound menus. “The whole concept of the restaurant is based on the worker’s dining halls in Bangkok, where people can walk in off the street.”
They open at 11am and Ho recommends this as a good time to arrive for lunch. “By 12.30pm we’re full. That said, lunch does turn over quicker than dinner.”
Chin Chin stays open between lunch and dinner, so if you’re in the mood for a late lunch or early dinner, the hours between 3pm and 5pm are a good time to go. “My advice to people would just be smart, be prepared and leave an appropriate amount of time.“ Ho suggests. “We don’t hold you to ransom; we’re happy for people to come put their name on the list then have a drink, and we’ll text you when your table’s ready.”
Nick Peters from Mamasita
Mamasita is one hot babe and her reputation has not diminished in the 19 months since she opened her doors. The stairway is still constantly filled with patrons queuing to get their hands in some authentic Mexican food.
Nick Peters is the welcoming man who handles the throngs of people vying for a table. We asked him why Mamasita doesn’t take bookings. “One of the best things about Mamasita is the busy, bustling atmosphere – when tables sit empty, it lessens the vibe in the room,” he explains. And bustle it certainly does. On their busiest nights (Friday and Saturday), a group of four can expect a wait of a little over two hours. So if you’re prone to getting a little narky when you’re hungry, we suggest you have a big lunch beforehand.
Generally, it’s less of a wait for groups of two as the venue has a lot of bar space. But if you have a group larger than two they offer a call-back service. So there are pros and cons to both options.
Like Chin Chin, lunch service towards the beginning of the week is generally a bit quieter, and the hours between 2pm and 5pm are again a good time to get a table. Peters urges people to be quite informal about the whole thing. “For me, the best approach is to be casual about it – come past, leave your name, go for a wander and enjoy your evening – let us stress about finding you a table!”
Leeroy Kirk-Walker from Golden Fields
Golden Fields recently graced the front cover of our winter print edition and sent Melbourne into a frenzy with Andrew McConnell’s Asian inspired menu. If you’re wondering what all the hype is about, you obviously haven’t tried their lobster rolls.
“No reservations is not a system that suits every occasion, but if you're up for it, it can be an excellent start to a excellent evening,” says manager Leeroy Kirk-Walker. Kirk-Walker has worked with McConnell for three years and knows that the no booking system works from their experience at Cumulus Inc.
“It means that there is always a chance that there is a table, because it means never being booked out,” he says. “It means we can have more people in the restaurant than there are tables whilst people wait and enjoy a beverage and be a part of the restaurant experience.”
Waiting for a table doesn’t have to be an ordeal. Kirk-Walker reminds us that if you are open-minded and willing, waiting can be enjoyable. “I love it when guests arrive and wait and drink and share food with people they don't know and then bid each other farewell as they make their way through to the tables or bar space. I just find that so unexpected and nice.”
But if you really don’t want to wait, Kirk-Walker assures us that the restaurant is just as good during the day (maybe even better), and it’s quieter. “Come for lunch, the kitchen is always open! [It’s] the same menu, brighter room, prettier light... And breakfast! I love reading the newspaper on table 30 in the AM.”