How to Get French Laundry Reservations Without Losing Your Mind

Businessweek has a profile of the latest exclusive, farm-to-table, 16-course-meal restaurant, including a list of the “five toughest restaurant reservations in America”.

I found myself smiling because I recently ate at one of the places on that list – The French Laundry in Yountville, California – with just one phone call. How did I get a reservation? By wringing yet another benefit out of credit cards, of course!

The reservation process for The French Laundry is relatively egalitarian. Reservations are only accepted exactly two months ahead either via phone call or OpenTable.com exactly at 10:00am. No walk-ins allowed. I tried for days with repeated phone calls and frantic clicking, all with no luck.

Then I discovered that some people were able to get reservations using their American Express “Black” card, a card for big spenders willing to pay a $5,000 initiation fee and a $2,500 annual fee. I have a lot of credit cards, but this isn’t one of them.

However, others mentioned using the Concierge feature of Visa Signature cards. Look for the Visa Signature logo on that back of your existing cards. Here are some popular credit cards that are a Visa Signature, many with nice sign-up bonuses and no annual fee:

So I called the special Visa Concierge number (800-953-7392) and asked for help making a reservation for two. The next day, they called back and said that they couldn’t get me a reservation, but that they would keep trying and get back to me when they did. It took a little over a month, but one day I got a message that they had secured me a reservation on a Monday about 6 weeks ahead and for me to confirm that I wanted it. I surprised my wife with the news, and we decided to go for it as a special anniversary celebration.

I’ve read that certain high-demand restaurants have an arrangement with certain credit card companies to set aside a certain amount of seats for their “concierge” services. I imagine most people never use them. I don’t know if someone from Visa Signature really tried to call in every single day, if they have some sort of automated system for snapping up cancellations, or perhaps there is some sort of lottery. All I know is that it worked for me, and it should work for you if you’re flexible on dates.

As for the meal, the food and service were excellent, and we don’t regret splurging for such a memorable eating experience and Napa Valley trip. We even framed the menu and put it in our kitchen. At the same time, we have no plans to spend $600 on dinner again anytime soon. :)

Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this information on French Laundry. My husband and I are planning (hoping, if we can get in) to dine here for our 20th wedding anniversary which is in September 2015. Having this information can come in handy if I can’t get reservations the “traditional” way.

  2. I’m sure it’s a fine place, with good food. But I’m destined never to eat there, since restaurants that make it that hard to eat there have already succeeded in weeding me out as a customer. But thanks for the article, it’s another interesting one……

    • Jonathan Ping says:

      I don’t know if they are intentionally making it hard to eat there, but it certainly is a difficult reservation. For a much easier but still special option, check out my next post:

      http://www.mymoneyblog.com/tomales-bay-oysters.html

      • I would argue that the restaurant’s policy actually makes it somewhat easier for people to make reservations within the context of the restaurant being able to operate efficiently (i.e. without having to manage reservations months or even years in advance). At issue is the very limited supply at odds with the insanely high demand. I was able to get a reservation there once within a two week window of opportunity, though I regrettably had to cancel the reservation because it ended up not working within our travel schedule.

  3. This is funny timing because a few days ago I was googling info about Visa Signature Concierge. I remember reading a silly post a couple years back by a guy who probed how much he could get out of the concierge service:
    http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2010/05/01/credit-card-concierge/
    Anyway, I think I was going to google something like “visa signature concierge for cheapskates” or “visa signature concierge frugal,” and the top suggested result once I typed F was “visa signature concierge french laundry.” So there are lots of people doing this, or at least considering it….

    My searches came up short—I couldn’t find any reasonable uses for the concierge service for things that are not expensive.

  4. Is the Chase Freedom Visa a Visa Signature card or not? I’ve seen posts elsewhere stating that it isn’t, but does it offer Visa Concierge service regardless? I have a Chase Freedom card, but it’s a MasterCard. I’ve also heard that the Chase Freedom MasterCard is a Platinum MasterCard with its own concierge service, but I’m waiting for confirmation from Chase.

    • Many credit cards, including the Chase Freedom have multiple tiers. Whether they’ll give you a Visa Signature or not depends on your credit history. I have a Chase Freedom Visa Signature card, but I don’t think all Chase Freedom cards are Visa Signature.

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