It’s an annual conundrum: The gastronomic gems that dot our state shine bright enough year-round to draw so many rave diners come summer that it’s simply impossible to get in.
Lines wind around entire blocks in some cases. Parking battles are fought. And patience is being tested on all sides of the host stand. To avoid these scenarios, getting a reservation is always the rule of thumb. But in extremely popular places, that can be easier said than done.
Fore Street in Portland, for example, accepts reservations up to two months in advance and, starting in May, was completely full on Friday and Saturday nights until mid-July. That said, every night a third of the restaurant is reserved for walk-in customers, who are on a first-come, first-served basis – the walk-in waiting list for tables begins when doors open at 5 p.m. h.
“At the height of the season, people start lining up for dates at 4 or 5 p.m. every night of the week,” said Josh Dore, the longtime host of the famed restaurant whose official title is director of first impressions. However, he advises against arriving too early. “It gets a bit extreme when people show up before 4 p.m..”
Another clever tactic is gaining insider status as a guest of the hotel or inn that a restaurant may be part of. Some high-end spots, like Kennebunk’s White Barn Inn — its already coveted tables made even more sought after thanks to the buzz surrounding new executive chef Mathew Woolf — are making their reservation book available just two weeks in advance. Unless you are staying at the property. Hostel guests can book dinner anytime after booking a room, no matter how far in advance that date may be. Failing that, general manager Daniel Braun offers another idea: “We always encourage walk-ins to our beloved Little Barn,” the smart, casual complement to the more formal dining room.
Of course, some restaurants just don’t take reservations, so everyone has the same walk-in status. Unless you take advantage of a little-known option offered by places like Bay Haven Lobster Pound in Cornish. The ultra-casual fried seafood restaurant is a frenzy all summer long. “It’s the busiest restaurant I’ve ever worked in,” said manager Chuck Poulin. “But if you have a group of six or more, call a few hours or even days ahead, and we can get a table set up.” For everyone else, there are picnic tables to relax after having a drink at the bar, to kill the waiting time.
Dolphin Marina & Restaurant takes a similar approach — the only reservations the ever-crowded Harpswell waterfront offers are for groups of six to 12 — and even those are hard to come by on weekends. They advise calling at least a few days in advance for this. Wait times for walk-in tours average between 30 and 60 minutes – just enough time to play cornhole, or simply lounge at the picnic tables and soak up the views of the lake. ‘ocean. Or you can order takeout and enjoy your meal there.
The well at Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth has taken this practice to another level. For starters, it only offers prepaid reservations made online for its dinners, which chef Jason Williams serves in private gazebos or at picnic tables. But if guests show up without a reservation — who book weeks in advance in the summer — they’re welcomed into the foyer for cocktails and light snacks, or to wander around the working farm.
A restaurant that doesn’t even exist yet is already waiting for the crowds. The highly anticipated Twelve, set to open in Portland in early July and led by chef Colin Wyatt (formerly of New York’s Eleven Madison Park and Daniel) and general manager Daniel Gorlas (Per Se), was already turning down requests at first. of spring. To that end, they have booked the bar for walk-in dining. “And if you don’t get a reservation,” Gorlas said, “don’t ignore the online waiting list. We’ll be watching that very closely and calling as things open up.
The Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster Co. in Freeport, which is perpetually closed in high season, only accepts walk-in customers. (Waiters recommend arriving between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to ensure you eat before the 7 p.m. closing time.) Even takeout can get risky in the summer, as the parking lot is often as crowded as the dining rooms. One solution: switch to an approach by sea; the dock has reserved places to pull up. So if you needed another excuse to buy or rent a boat, here it is.
Alexandra Hall is a longtime lifestyle writer from New England who lives in Maine.
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