Or maybe you’re a senior staffer for Steve Scalise, the second-ranking Republican in the House. The aide usually pings his usual server for one of his usual perches: table 10 in the main dining room. It’s the corner booth with a privacy curtain—the “rock-star table,” ever since Bono sat there. Only tonight he’d prefer a booth in the bar area. Trouble is it’s packed.
Not to worry. “A maître d’ always has a table in his back pocket,” Arnaud says. He adds the Hill staffer to the reservation system, and a bar booth with a reserved placard is his.
For these diners and the other VIPs on the books this evening—a congressman from Kentucky, a former media exec, a concierge from the W Hotel, a smattering of cherished regulars—the restaurant is extra-accommodating. Its maître d’s spot their special customers instantly, greet them by name, and immediately whisk them to their tables. Good cop, good cop…
First, the hierarchy. Because this is Washington, many restaurants naturally have a pecking order for their top clientele. All VIPs of Le Diplomate, the French brasserie in Logan Circle, are dubbed “PPX”—personnes particulièrement extraordinaires—and tracked in real time on a kitchen whiteboard as they dine. But some, such as a neighborhood regular, are classified as “TTA,” for Try to Accommodate. Others are “MA,” for Must Accommodate, including Jill Biden; Gérard Araud, the outgoing French ambassador; and Jim Abdo, the developer who basically rebuilt 14th Street. An MA commands a table, stat.
At Rare Steakhouse in downtown DC, former managing director Justin Abad categorized semiregular VIPs as “soigné,” French for “handled with care,” and those who came in three to five times a week or held multiple functions at the restaurant throughout the year as “super soigné.” The lower tier would often be treated to a complimentary Prosecco, while those handled with extra care—select media figures and lawyers, for instance—might be given a free shellfish platter on occasion.
Here is much more by Jessica Sidman. Have you ever wondered why at some places, and no I do not mean the old El Bulli, it is so hard to get a table at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night no matter when you try asking? Those tables are being rationed by status, or if you are a very regular (and lucrative) customer of some kind.
And yet almost everyone still seems to think that restaurants are super-cool, correctly or not.