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7 Subtle Ways to Earn VIP Status
Industry vets and other restaurant insiders weigh in on what moves to make (without being annoying) in order to get the royal treatment
When at a restaurant, we notice certain things about it. The food. The decor. The service. We also—especially the more discerning among us—clock the little things, from the music to the bathroom to that ethereal yet all-important component known as the viiiibe, man. These details color our opinion of a place and influence the likelihood of a return visit. If this is obvious, apologies — we know this isn’t your first rodeo.
But here’s something you might not have thought about: turns out the restaurant notices things about us, too. Not in an omnipotent, Big Brother kind of way. But, you know, as in human beings recognizing other human beings and what those human beings say and do or don’t say and don’t do. Meaning, within the walls of a restaurant, the way we comport ourselves matters — especially if we hope to get a little bit of that love typically reserved for VIPs and the most regular of regulars. Act like someone who knows their stuff, and you’ll be treated as such. And while a blazer is no longer required, there are subtle hints that the staff still notices, and, oftentimes, can’t help but reward you for.
These things are signals, and at Blackbird, we’re obsessed with—among other details—just that: signals. As we iterate on product, one of the core questions we ask ourselves is: how can the simple act of tapping the Blackbird chip at the host stand with your phone immediately signal to a restaurant that a pro has arrived — one whose business might be worth courting. Is it a specific tier of earned membership? A high $FLY balance? A robust collection of NFT cards, ready to be fanned out each time you feel like flexing your status as a culinary explorer? Much more on all that soon.
In the meantime, there are certain analog moves you can adopt that’ll ensure you’re showing the restaurant you mean business, and the good news is none of them are ostentatious. To get these goods—or, as we like to call them, restaurant dog whistles—we reached out to a few friends (industry and industry-adjacent vets alike), and have taken the liberty of sharing them below.
Restaurant Dog Whistles
Use Industry Jargon
Nothing conveys restaurant knowledge quicker than speaking the industry’s lingua franca. You could read (or re-read) Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” to bone up on the patois preferred by both front and back of house, or you could just incorporate a few choice words and phrases. Noam Grossman, Founder of Upside Pizza (and a regular at Minetta Tavern), will “always ask for a two-top or a four-top instead of a table for two” when trying to score a walk-in. Blackbird Founder Ben Leventhal is particularly fond of the verb “fire” when out with his family, as in saying to their server soon after being seated, “would you fire the kids’ pastas?” Noam agrees: “Depending on the dinner vibe, I’ll sometimes request the second course ‘fired’ at a certain time.” Such shorthand not only showcases your knowledge, but it establishes a connection between you and the host or server — you’re a guest, sure, but you’re also on their team, understand the demands of the job, and will be empathetic rather than rude or demanding throughout the course of the meal.
Hospitality Goes Both Ways
Read Will Guidara, and you’ll understand the type of EQ required to create unforgettable hospitality experiences. But to complete the connection between host and guest, it’s up to the latter to reciprocate the good vibes. “A genuine smile and some manners go a long way when dining at a restaurant,” says restaurateur Bryce David of Williamsburg’s Mexican standout Ensenada. “You'd be surprised how many people at the front door ignore the question ‘how are you guys doing today?’ and just bark their name or reservation time with no eye contact! That's rough. Everyone in the industry just appreciates a little tact and some charm from our guests since the same, and then some, is expected of us.” Food writer Emily Wilson agrees, and even advocates that you get a little more specific in your small talk: “Simply asking the front of house staff—the host, your server, bartender—how they’re doing, and inquiring about how their night is going goes a long way in reciprocating hospitality, and also to show your interest in the restaurant. Asking if they’ve been slammed since X review, if it’s been quieter since it’s August, or if they have any new favorites on the menu, stuff like that. Also, most importantly, ask their name! Or if you already know it, make sure they know you know.”
Sit at The Bar
Perhaps the most obvious yet underrated move is grabbing a seat at the bar — especially for small parties and definitely if eating alone (just ask Blackbird head of sales Colin Camac, who practically lives atop a barstool). If you’re a walk-in, hitting the bar shows you’re both flexible and grateful, and it also ensures you a little extra attention. “Sitting at the bar is the best shot for establishing a quick connection with a crew member,” says Bryce David. “Bartenders are usually set up to have a more focused interaction with the guests since parties are usually three or less and the bartender is just covering a smaller section and handling the drinks as well as food and they have more time to strike up a casual conversation — since their station is the bar, they aren't traveling from table to table checking on guests.” Once seated, Naama Tamir, owner of Brooklyn’s Lighthouse, suggests ordering “a Martini or Negroni before anything else” as your go-to opening salvo.
A good guest seizes their destiny — carpe diem and all that. If you’re at the bar, the most logical way to do this is by eschewing the obvious on your drink order. “Ask about an obscure spirit, and/or try to find common ground on a drink” says Colin Camac. “It’s literally like just meeting someone for the first time, you present what you think they may find interesting.” Emily Wilson, ever the writer, is more specific in her order: “If I’m at the bar, I like to finish with green Chartreuse on the rocks, it’s a delicious digestif outside of the amaro world, and is something bartenders tend to give you a nod for ordering.” Naama Tamir likes the same decisiveness when it comes to food, but isn’t picky over the type of dish(es) — rather, it’s that ordering for the table (despite this writer’s own misgivings over the move) immediately shows that you’re fun, unfussy, and here for a good time. “If you are in a group, order oysters and fries for the table,” she suggests.
Lose Your Phone
This one should go without saying, and yet here we are: ditch the phone (only after tapping in with Blackbird, of course). You’re here for the restaurant experience, and nothing gives the wrong impression more to the staff than seeing your slack-jawed face awash in the fluorescent glow of your smartphone while you mindlessly scroll through TikTok or Instagram. It’s not only rude to the restaurant, but also to the folks you’re breaking bread with. Eating alone? The same rule applies — have some self-respect, my guy! Resist the urge to stave off any awkward feelings of the solo meal by pretending like you have something occupying your attention online, and the staff is sure to notice…in a good way! “Dine alone and don't be on your phone,” says Naama Tamir.
Share Your budget
The obscure can be intimidating. So can the expensive. Combine the two, and we’re talking double whammy. Enter wine, long the undoing of many a guest — especially those trying to impress on a date. Nothing red flags a cheap novice quite like waffling over the wine list. Rather than sweat things out under the gaze of the somm and your date, Nina Friend—former Food + Wine staffer and one of our favorite lifestyle journalists—suggests being transparent, both about your taste and knowledge (even if unrefined), as well as your budget.
“Wine lists can be long, intimidating, and sometimes plain confusing. When I choose a wine at a restaurant, I usually start by scanning the list for producers that I recognize. If nothing catches my eye, I’ll look at grape varietals to get a sense of what’s on offer. Then, I like to have a conversation with the sommelier or server. Instead of seeking general help to choose a bottle, I find that it’s beneficial to let the restaurant know what I like — even if that’s as simple as ‘light and crisp’ or ‘fruity, not floral.’ I also ask about the wines they’re excited about right now and what goes well with the food I’m thinking about ordering. Since wine lists often span a wide range of prices, it’s helpful to let the somm or server know your budget, too. Sharing specific numbers, like ‘I’d like to stay under $150’ or ‘I’m looking for something in the $60 to $80 range,’ acts as an anchor, and empowers the somm to choose something you’ll be excited to drink. And sometimes, if the restaurant knows that you know your stuff, they'll give you a taste of something special, whether that's a last drop of a fancy white Burgundy or a splash of really good port with dessert.”
Time Stamp It
This one might be the sneakiest and most effective on the list, especially for walk-ins taking that spontaneous stab at snagging the hot table — and it comes courtesy of our Founder. “I find if I give them a definitive time that I’ll be done by, say 8 p.m. if I’m trying to get a 7 p.m. two-top on a busy night, the restaurant is more likely to accommodate me,” says Ben Leventhal. He shrugs and smiles. “Of course when the buzzer goes off, I have to be cool with sticking to my word and leaving.”
There you have it. Be friendly. Be inquisitive. Be bold. Eat at the bar. Don’t be afraid to share your budget, and dine and die by the buzzer. Onward, friends, and into the rarified realm of the restaurant VIP you go.
Blackbird Labs, Inc.