Ask anyone who’s ever dined in Charleston where to eat, and FIG is bound to be name-dropped.
A leader of the city’s culinary renaissance in the early aughts, FIG has seduced long-standing regulars and perpetual visitors with its seasonal ode to the Lowcountry for the past 18 years. Throw in an award-winning wine list, warm service, and a cherished bar, and it’s easy to see why this King Street area staple is still one of the hardest tables to book in the entire city.
Luckily for you, you’re reading From The One Who Keeps The Book, a series that aims to answer that most important of questions: How do I get in? The first answer is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently and there are always secret tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So here, we go straight to the source to get them for you.
At FIG, that’d be Morgan Calcote, the general manager and wine director who’s been overseeing the books for over eight years. Here, she reveals how to secure a table, the best seats in the house, and more.
Resy: How many seats are there at FIG?
Calcote: In our dining room, we have 70 seats if every table is fully utilized. The bar has about 14 total seats for dining, and we also have the outside tables along our sidewalk — those can accommodate about 15 people.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
28 days, so four weeks to the day of the week, at noon, eastern time. That’s when our reservations are available online and over the phone.
And how quickly do these tend to get booked out?
In the last four weeks, the pace of those being secured by guests has increased to a level that we haven’t seen in over a year! Particularly Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, it’s been pretty astounding to see how quickly those reservations get captured a month out.
I was working last Friday or Saturday and in the time I took two phone calls, it took 3 minutes [for] the majority of our reservations [to be] booked between 5:30 and 9:30.
Those prime tables are hot.
[Laughs] We’re still at a total of 18 tables that are bookable inside right now. That, times two and a half seatings per night, it’s not a great number of tables, really. A lot of interest for limited availability, which is a good challenge, but a challenge, nonetheless.
A lot of your seating inventory is set aside for walk-ins, then?
Yes, just by the nature of the particular seating areas. We accommodate our walk-in diners at the bar and our sidewalk tables.
The bar, historically for us, has primarily been a walk-in only area. Regulars really love the bar; it’s a really fun part of our experience. It’s a little bit different than the dining room but you still get the same great service and the same great food and atmosphere. And that’s the thing we encourage people to consider, especially because there are more options for walk-in dining, inside and out. The weather is great in Charleston right now, so dining outside is really, really pleasant.
If someone were to set a Notify for FIG on Resy, is there a certain day of the week they’d be most likely to get a reservation?
I wish there was a magic book… There is no particular day of the week where we see more cancellations. Mondays very closely resemble a weekend night in terms of volume and indoor activity interest for us. But occasionally, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are quieter days in terms of walk-ins and people adding themselves to the Notify list. So, if you’re traveling to the city or you live here and want to have an experience at FIG, the midweek is sometimes a bit better of a bet to get that notification, if there’s a cancellation or an opening.
How long is your Notify list on average?
It’s generally pretty healthy [laughs]. A guest on the Notify list is able to secure it before our in-house team monitoring the books even sees it, it’s gone before we know! That has been really successful for a lot of people, so we certainly encourage it. There are definitely nights where the number of people on the Notify list are triple what we see on our actual reservations.
Can you share a good story that’s gone down at the door?
The door is such a dynamic place. The host stand is where you get a lot of good people-watching. We’ve had some heartwarming experiences there, most lately when we’ve seen some of our long-time regulars that we haven’t seen in a year because of the pandemic. We’ve been seeing them come back in because they’re fully vaccinated, they feel safe coming into our restaurant again. There’s been some really touching reunions. We’ve felt that our FIG family has been missing some members and it’s really nice to have them coming back more tangibly, more in person.
Is there any other way to snag a table?
Be flexible. Utilize all the avenues. Book as far out as you can. If you can’t get a reservation, walk in. I always tell people, “Show up!” [laughs] We want you here, we want people to have wonderful meals with us, so take all the possibilities that Resy offers — bookings, the Notify list, the Waitlist feature [if you’re walking in]. So just come on in, we’ll figure it out. It might be a wait, it may not be the table that [you want], it may be outside versus in, but we are in the business of taking care of people, to nourish them. We want to do that, so if you show up, we’ll do our very best to make it happen.
At what time does the dining room open?
It opens right up at 5 o’clock. We are closed on Sundays and don’t do lunch service, so it’s dinner service Monday through Saturday. We do see people that are kind of queuing up outside the door in advance of that 5 o’clock open time — typically no earlier than 4:45 — to see if they can walk in and dine at the bar, or where have you.
Can guests grab a drink at FIG while they wait to be seated?
In that [bar] area, we’ve got a little counter where we serve beverages only. [It’s] a great place to hang out and preview dishes as they go to their tables, but also have a cocktail.
Currently, we do have outside benches where people can have cocktails and wait with us. And then if the waitlist if particularly hefty, we can take a phone number and give them a call when the table is available. There’s a couple of cute bars in the neighborhood that we try to utilize as our partners to help accommodate people.
“We are in the business of taking care of people… So if you show up, we’ll do our very best to make it happen.”
Our closest neighbor and the place we most often send people is a small bar called Doar Bros., diagonal from us. They are awesome, they do a great job of welcoming guests and crafting cocktails and they have some snacks they can serve too, if it’s a really long wait before you join us [laughs]. We love our relationship. They introduced themselves when they were in the opening stages, and they were like, “Send all of your people you don’t have room for here!” and we were like, “Okay!” because our bar area is fairly narrow. They’ve been a great outlet for some of those guests.
In your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house?
Ooh. I really like sitting at the bar. The energy is lively and a little more communal. People are engaging across the bar, connecting dots, and having “small world” moments, like “Oh, I know so-and-so and you know so-and-so!” Those things happen a lot at the bar, there are connections all of kind there. I love that energy.
And then there’s a couple of tables in the dining room that I think are really just special, where you can sit and take it all in, and be a part of the energy of the dining room and have a great panorama of all the things going on, the bustle of a busy night of service.
What’s the best table for a date?
There are two booths in the back of the dining room. They’re very cool-looking, romantic. We’ve had a couple of proposals at those tables — successful! — and they make you feel like you’re in a VIP section. You can be in your own little world back there.
And for a hangout with a small group of friends?
The table upfront that we use for walk-in parties of five and six, that high-top table has a really great energy for an impromptu night out. But with booking a reservation, the first large [table] in the center of the dining room, as you walk in from the bar, has certainly hosted its fair share of fun-looking evenings.
What are the best things to order for a first timer?
We are always changing things — our menu evolves — but there are some cornerstone items, some classics or signature dishes, that are always featured on our menu. And those are certainly worthy of experiencing your first time at the restaurant.
The chicken liver pâté is something we’ve been meticulously crafting with excellent quality chicken livers for the entire life of the restaurant. Perfectly toasted brioche and bright pickles, just all of those bites, it’s just so, so delicious. And a great way to get started.
The ricotta gnocchi with Bolognese is another kind of must for the restaurant. It’s one of those things [where] the dish, its reputation, travels by word-of-mouth from previous diners to future diners. They come in, and they’re like, “Hey, we heard we have to have this.” And then you affirm that.
We encourage people to have those. And then, there’s always things on the menu that are more seasonally driven, more of-the-moment, and I like to have a meal where you can juxtapose those two things — the classic and a very much “right now” dish together.
What’s your personal favorite on the menu right now?
There’s a salad that has come and gone on the menu over the years. It’s called the nine vegetable salad. It’s somewhat self-explanatory [laughs]. It is nine vegetables that Chef [Jason Stanhope] has decided are excellent in their own right and he prepares each vegetable individually in the way that we think is going to showcase them in the most delicious fashion possible — sometimes served raw, or blanched, or quickly marinated, sometimes they’re roasted. But all the vegetables are then chilled and then dressed in a pretty classic Caesar with shaved little ribbons of mimolette cheese, this savory granola, nuts, sesame, and just a hint of citrus and spice that has this comeback factor. Every bite is a little bit different, every bite makes you want another, and another, and another.
What’s your favorite time of day at the restaurant?
I really love our pre-service meetings with the staff. That coming together and making sure we’re all checked in, caught up, and we have a little time to laugh together. And then we get down to the business of service and talk about food and guests that we can expect that night. Tasting wine or a new cocktail. Chef comes out and, very eloquently, talks about dishes he’s passionate about on the menu or really excited about. I love that time because we all come together and get our collective mental energies ready for the evening.
I also really love the middle of the later half of the evening, when it’s bustling, and the energy is great, and the lighting is just right. There’s this great buzz and vibrancy to the restaurant. There’s no beating that.
Looking ahead, what are you most excited for?
As a restaurant and a community, we’re really looking forward to the next phase of all of the challenges that have come our way in the last year and a half. It made us reexamine a ton of stuff, everything from the grounds-up of operations to how we hire. Every aspect of what we were doing routinely, we were forced to stop and look at, and say, “Is this the way forward or do we change this?” Overwhelmingly, we’ve been really reassured that the foundations and philosophies we have as a restaurant are strong and we’re excited to progress through this year and beyond, with whatever else comes our way.
FIG is open Monday through Saturday for dinner starting at 5 p.m.
- Reservations drop at noon, 28 days in advance.
- But the bar and sidewalk tables are reserved for walk-ins.
- Best bet to securing a table without a Resy? Show up before 5 p.m. when the doors open.
- Definitely order the ricotta gnocchi Bolognese, a standby on the menu.
- Morgan’s absolute favorite though, is the always-changing nine vegetable salad.