You’re reading From the Woman Who Keeps the Book, a regular series that aims to answer the question that matters most, “How do I get in?” The first answer is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently. There are always secret tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So, here we go, straight to the source to get them for you.
You don’t need to be told that snagging a table at Misi is a feat. But here’s general manager Caroline Conrad, who presides over the gates of acclaimed chef Missy Robbins’ six-month-old sequel to Lilia (the restaurant that put Notify on the map), to inform your strategy. Sean Feeney is the co-owner and operator of this buzzy waterfront destination, anchored by an alluring open kitchen that goes through 30 three-liter cans of olive oil per week and dishes out 250 plates of pasta each night. (Ed note: To really stack the cards in your favor, for part of the interview, Conrad is joined by Misi’s maitre’d, Rachael Lombardy).
Resy: How many tables and seats are in Misi?
Caroline Conrad: We have 98 seats in total, [including] 15 seats at the bar [and] 35 counter seats. We offer the bar only for walk-in guests and the remainder of tables are available for reservations.
On any given night, is the kitchen counter completely booked?
Rachael Lombardy: If we have availability the night of, then of course we’ll accommodate walk-ins, but normally it is booked out.
How many seats in the restaurant are held for walk-ins?
CC: On those 15 seats, we estimate approximately three turns. So, that ends up being 45 seats available throughout the evening—I’d say about a quarter [of the seats], when you do the math. [Sometimes,] if we have guests come in a little bit earlier and we have tables or counter seats that aren’t booked out until 7 o’ clock, we’ll “out-by” those seats, which isn’t ideal, but at least it’s better than saying no. We certainly don’t like to say no. We love to provide options. The more options, the merrier, for the guest.
Can you define the term “out-by?”
RL: If we have a [two-top] reservation that’s at 7 or 7:30, that gives two people that walk in when we open at 5:30 an hour and a half to two hours to dine. And we just say, ‘the next reservation is at 7 or 7:30, so we would just need it back by then’– that would be an “out-by.”
When do reservations go online?
CC: 30 days in advance of the date.
If I were to set Notifies for Misi on Resy, is there a certain day of the week that I’d be most likely to get a reservation?
CC: Weather is certainly a factor in that. You’ll typically see notifications go out on nights that are incredibly cold, raining, [even] really warm out. We’ve had unseasonably warm weather recently, so we’ve seen drops in reservations because I think people want to spend more time outside.
I would say earlier in the week, most definitely. Holidays, I would imagine, as well. But we’re [only] six months in, so we’re still feeling things out and getting into a rhythm. It’s still hard to answer that, simply because we haven’t seen it all yet.
How did Misi’s three-star review in the New York Times have an affect, if any, on availability?
CC: I don’t think it changed much at all because we have a finite amount of seats.
RL: There might’ve been, for a few weeks, [an uptick in] walk-ins. But other than that, since we’ve opened, the book has been pretty steady.
CC: The emails we received around that time certainly increased. We had a lot more correspondence, for sure, but not much really changed for us. We were still as busy as we were on day one, which is wonderful.
It’s 5:30 on a Friday night. Can you set the scene?
CC: We see lines typically form at around 5 o’clock on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Earlier in the week, from Monday through Thursday, there’s a bit of a group gathered in the little vestibule, but for the most part we see the line gather [on the weekends].
Does the line stretch around the block? And how do you manage it?
(in unison): Yes.
RL: We’ve been giving guests apple cider while they’re waiting, since it’s been cold.
CC: …in little Misi espresso paper cups, which is really cute. People seem to really like that.
RL: We started forming two lines, with one person directing walk-ins and the other handling reservations, [which makes it easier to] accommodate. And then we have [the rest of the staff] help with seating.
CC: We try to get people in as fast as possible.
RL: Fast and smooth.
CC: Fast and smooth and warm and hospitable.
If I were to take my chances and show up at prime-time (7 pm) on a Friday night, how long do you estimate the wait would be?
RL: I tell people this all the time: I can’t give you an answer. Because someone will walk in, someone will cancel, and I’ll seat [the walk-in]. There could be ten people on the waitlist and it’ll be an hour wait, or you could walk in 20 minutes after we open and the wait could be three hours.
What strategy would you recommend to diners looking to snag a table?
CC: I recommend showing up as early as possible, typically right at 5:30 is the way to go. We [also] want to create as many outlets as possible for people to make reservations. Resy is one… We always try to make something work or at the very least provide alternate options. And then Missy and Sean have so many friends, so we do save tables for them. The very reason they wanted to open restaurants in the first place is [to have] a place for their friends to gather, so that’s a huge part of how we structure the book. Also by the phone, and walking in in-person certainly helps. We try to get to the phone as fast as we possibly can, but sometimes it’s nearly impossible when we have guests in front of us.
RL: Even during service, if I have the time, I’ll make a reservation. I have no problem doing that for anyone we can accommodate. Or even after their meal, I’ll make them a reservation. I give out my card, as well. We’re always trying to have people come, even if they’re not dining with us that evening. We never want someone to leave thinking they’re not wanted here. Making people happy is the most important thing.
Are guests welcome to have a drink at Misi while they wait to be seated?
CC: The host stand table was originally supposed to be an amaro display table. All of the beautiful bottles you see behind the bar were supposed to originally be on that table, but because we had a lot of guests waiting for bar seats or tables, we needed a place to accommodate them. [Now,] people simply stand around there and we give them a cocktail list or a beverage list. You can enjoy a glass of wine as you mingle… a lot of people meet one another. We’ve seen a lot of connections. It gets crowded, but we don’t receive many complaints about it; people really enjoy the system that we have. And we’re very hands-on: our management team and staff, if they don’t have a full section, will greet anyone who’s there to ask for a drink order.
In your view, what are the best seats in the house?
CC: I love the kitchen counter. If you’re in the industry, it’s fun. If you’re not in the industry, you pick up tips. My mom and dad sat there once and they were picking up tricks on how to make pasta. It’s entertaining, and our kitchen staff is really kind and interactive; if you engage with them, they’ll engage back. Plus, you [get to] see the intensity of [Missy’s] kitchen. You don’t often associate a high-intensity kitchen with vegetables and pasta. But there’s so much execution involved in these dishes—proper execution—and it’s all very precious. Not necessarily the plating portion of it all, but the preparation of it all.
What does it mean to be a regular at Misi?
Whether it is your first or 500th time at Misi our hope and dream is the same for every guest. When you walk through our doors you should feel safe, when you are in our presence you should feel comfortable, so that when you leave us you are happier and fulfilled. Nothing excites us more than building a loyal community within our walls. With each new face we greet we hope they leave just as excited as we are to be a part of it.
Have you had any particularly memorable guest experiences so far?
We’ve had an engagement here. That was really exciting. We have our pasta production room, which at night it turns into a private dining room. If, however, we don’t have a PDR booked that evening, it’s just available. We often give guests tours of the room– it’s a nice little spot to show people. One night we had a couple come in, and we pretended we were doing a tour. We brought them into the pasta room, and I excused myself, of course, and he got down on one knee and proposed, which was really sweet. The entire dining room erupted in claps and congratulations, and it was a very special night, it created a very cool vibe in here. We were probably open for a month at that point.
For those who are reading, what would you advise them not to do to get past the gate?
Just be flexible and adaptable. Be open to dining at the counter. We realize that they’re bar stools and maybe they’re not as desirable as seats with backs on them, but when you sit down you forget you don’t have a back, and you just ease into the experience.
And don’t push. There’s only so much flexibility we have in a given evening. If [a guest] approaches Rachael at the host stand and she says, ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t do this until this time,’ we ask that [they] trust our very well-trained, experienced staff.
Any other tips and tricks?
Be kind (laughs). We’re busy and we’re grateful for it! But, we will also be opening for lunch on March 1st.
That’s exciting! Will you serve lunch every day?
It’ll be Friday through Sunday, from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, to start. And [we’ll be serving] the same menu. So for people who can’t get in at night, come during the day! It’ll be a very similar experience. We have a lot of natural light, so it’ll be a great option.
Say I successfully land a table at Misi. What should definitely be ordered?
The fettucine. The tortelli, of course. I love the chickpea pappardelle, I think that’s such a fabulous dish. As far as the antipasti, the braised butter beans is one of the newer additions to our menu. Very wintery, warm and hearty, and it’s unbelievable. I’m also a sucker for the marinated peppers, that probably won’t go anywhere anytime soon. With ricotta, on the crostinis. Epic. But you can’t go wrong. The little gem salad is this gorgeous combination of little gem and all Italian greens, just dressed in a very simple, red wine vinaigrette with some toasted hazelnuts. It’s a simple, elegant dish, to complement [our] warm flavors.
Are there any off-menu dishes at Misi?
We have a Bistecca alla Fiorentina that we offer consistently, on a nightly basis, for $125. And then on the weekends, when we serve lunch, we’ll probably offer another off-menu item, maybe not the steak.
What’s your favorite gelato?
The mint stracciatella… [but] the olive oil, especially, is beautiful. We had one of our servers dine here the other night, and she said, ‘You know, we use so much olive oil in all of our dishes, not in a disproportionate way, but as compliment to each and every dish. To finish with an olive oil gelato just makes perfect sense.’
—And this coming from the gatekeeper of a restaurant infused with 90 liters of fresh olive oil a week.