If food is indeed the new rock 'n' roll, long restaurant waits certainly make the analogy work. Like camping out for Taylor Swift tickets, Austin’s most popular restaurants draw throngs of fans and make getting a seat difficult without careful planning.
To help diners navigate the chaos, this month we focus less on preferred dishes and drinks and more on how to score a top table with the least amount of pain possible. As one would expect, restaurant crowds, waits, and policies can change over time, so take these as current guidelines rather than hard rules.
Franklin Barbecue is an experience that every Austinite should try at least once. Doing so, though, can be quite the commitment. While there is technically a workaround here in that takeout orders are accepted once a month (the first Monday of each month at 9 am), be advised that so many people apply that your odds are slim. Instead, do one of two things. First, watch the @FranklinBBQline Twitter handle for unofficial daily updates between 9 and 10 am. When you spot a short line, pounce. Alternatively, Aaron Franklin suggests planning your visit for a Wednesday or Thursday, which traditionally have the shortest lines. He does add the caveat that lines are variable. "[Wait] times are just dependent on how that day goes," he says. You can also go on a day with inclement weather (note: Austin residents hate cold weather). The line itself can be a fun one-off experience, but why subject yourself to any more waiting than you have to?
A parting shot of advice from Stacy Franklin: "The best thing to do? Dip by at around 2 pm and see what’s left!"
In the days when Ramen Tatsu-Ya was operating from its original, tiny North Austin outlet, waits could often exceed an hour. With two locations now in play and more seating at the South Lamar Boulevard outlet, waits for Tatsu-Ya's legendary ramen are now becoming easier for the team to manage.
Tatsu-Ya’s Patrick Jones shares the following insider tips: "If you really need expedited service, weeknights before 7 pm and after 9 pm are often quick! Lunch is also fairly mellow at our North location." Jones adds that since colder weather usually stirs ramen cravings, choosing a hotter day for a visit can cut your wait time significantly.
While Austin’s pizza game has been upped tremendously in recent years, residents remain fiercely loyal to the shop that started the movement toward quality pies. Home Slice remains packed during peak lunch and dinner hours, but avoiding lines here is easier than at most popular Austin spots simply due to extended hours. The restaurant is open 11 am to 11 pm on weekdays and 11 am to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. To minimize your wait, go from 11 am to noon, 2 to 5 pm, or after 9 pm. You can also call More Home Slice for a take-out order at 512-444-7437 if you prefer to dine at home. Demand for Home Slice will also be satiated by a new location in 2016 at 53rd and Duval streets.
After a recent move to 1906 E. Cesar Chavez St., La Barbecue’s Ali Mueller reports that lines are currently on the rise. "Our shortest lines are Wednesday and Thursday — you can usually expect to wait around 30 minutes. On Friday, it is usually more like 45 minutes, and Saturdays are busiest at around 90 minutes. Sunday is easier than Saturday, but not by much," says Mueller. She gives readers one temporary solution to long lines: La Barbecue’s newly announced dinner service, which starts at 6 pm. "Word is starting to get around, but the line is currently shortest at night."
At the new dinner service, regular items will be supplemented with specials like buffalo quail, cured pork sliders, and a house-made hot dog.
For five years, the local burger chain has been packing in guests with a variety of creative burgers and craft beers. Like Home Slice, timing is key here. Avoid weekends and peak dinner hours to bypass long lines, and use the weekday 1:30 to 5:30 pm window for the shortest lines possible. Small parties of one to three guests can also check with the host stand to see if bar seating is available, which can also cut your wait.
Bufalina’s charm lies in the simple and thoughtful approach. The menu is small and easy to navigate, and the atmosphere is casual. The space’s small size means there’s usually a large crowd out front waiting. The workaround here is simple, though. For small groups, arriving a few minutes before opening at 5:30 pm (note: Bufalina serves dinner only) should net you a table. When in doubt, if there are fewer than 35 people waiting, you’re probably fine. Large groups of eight to 10 have it even easier: Email email@example.com with your preferred date, and they’ll hold one of the large picnic-style tables for you at 5:30 pm.
After their success with both La Condesa and Sway, Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki’s new east side project Launderette opened to huge crowds, and it has stayed full nightly since. The space is small, but two workarounds are available. First, for groups of seven to nine, advance reservations are available at firstname.lastname@example.org. If dining with a smaller party, the restaurant’s PR representative suggests stopping in right at 5 pm on either Monday or Tuesday to minimize your wait.
Danny Meyer’s world-conquering burger chain opened two locations in Austin this year. Each draw lines, though not in the crazy numbers as the NYC original. Management from The Domain location offers the following line-skipping tips: "Lunch lines get shorter around 1 pm, and if you’d prefer no line, try coming on weekdays between 2 and 5:30 pm. Sunday evenings are another good time for quick entry." Shake Shack management also adds that, "Shake Shack stores are pros at keeping lines moving, so even at peak times, you’ll usually wait for 20 minutes or less."
The problem solvers
The often crushed Barley Swine was a dilemma for many Austin foodies. Bryce Gilmore’s elegant farm-to-table fare was great, but the tiny space was a tough sell. The restaurant has now adopted reservations, albeit requiring a credit card number. If you book, make sure you mean it: Last-minute cancellations are charged $85 per person. The trade is fair — if you want Barley Swine to hold a table, you agree to take the spot. Reserve 30 days in advance for the prime weekend seats.
While the "regular" prix fixe dinner is available to book via OpenTable, the tiny tasting room uses dining’s newest innovation: tickets. The room’s 12 seats are available for a ticketed nightly seating at $120 a head and a candy tasting menu (meant for a post-dinner treat). The system essentially allows the restaurant to purchase only what it needs and helps keep pricing in check. The program is part of the Tock ticketing system also used by restaurants like The French Laundry and Alinea, and the data qui receives is analyzed to help restaurateurs reduce no-shows and satisfy demand.