There was a time when getting a table at Lyla Lila, Midtown’s super-buzzy southern European restaurant, was very easy. All you needed to do was look for a reservation.
That worked for a brief window, the three months between when the swanky Peachtree Street dining destination located directly across from the Fox Theatre first opened in December 2019, and when it shut down in March 2020 due to the first round of COVID lockdowns. There was a second window a few months later in June, when it partially reopened with limited menu options.
Things are different now. In the past six months, two events have turned Lyla Lila into one of Atlanta’s hottest restaurants. First, The New York Times named Lyla Lila one of America’s favorite restaurants, in a glowing October 2021 review. Then, last month it was selected as a semifinalist for multiple James Beard Foundation awards, including Best Chef: Southeast for Craig Richards, and outstanding wine program. While Lyla Lila didn’t make it to the Beard finalist list, the buzz has not lightened, and the challenge of getting a reservation is, as you might assume, significant.
“We’re as big as we possibly can be, and we’re super grateful,” says general manager Chris Blackburn. “It was a slow build-up through 2021. We’ve gone from barely filling up, wondering how this was all going to play out, to now being almost booked solid for about eight weeks out.”
And that brings us here to The One Who Keeps The Book, a regular series that aims to answer all the most important questions about how to get into a restaurant. The first answer is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently, and there are always tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So here, we go straight to the source to get them for you.
General manager Chris Blackburn took a recent moment to give Resy a bit of guidance on how to secure a table at Lyla Lila, and a few menu recommendations he thinks you’ll love.
How many seats are there at Lyla Lila?
There are 126 seats total in the restaurant. 26 in the private dining room, 68 in the main dining room, 15 at the bar, and 17 at the surrounding bar area tables. The patio should be back open later this spring, where we’ll add some larger umbrellas for shade/privacy.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
We go about 90 days out, on a rolling basis. So essentially once you get past today, right after midnight, the next day will open up. I think we’re into May at this point.
How quickly do those usually get booked out?
That far in advance, they don’t book quite as quickly. I think you’ve definitely got a couple of weeks before you start seeing everything get taken. Obviously Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are a bit different than Friday and Saturday — they get booked out pretty quickly.
The New York Times article was quite thrilling for all of us, and certainly unexpected. Before, we were booked maybe a couple of weeks out, which is pretty standard for Atlanta. But certainly we had slots available. Then, pretty much to the day, we started being booked four weeks out, five weeks out, six weeks out, and now we’re seeing the weekend’s almost booked solid for about eight weeks out.
There are a couple of availabilities here and there, but pretty much even during the week now, between 5:30 and 9 p.m, we’re five to six weeks out. And obviously with The Fox being back in play it makes us busy earlier, which is fantastic.
How many seats are usually kept open for walk-ins?
We don’t really hold tables — we we prefer to have all those booked. We do have the seats at the bar and we have four two-top cocktail tables, all of which are full-service, and we have those set aside for walk-ins.
What is the typical wait time for a walk-in?
On show nights at The Fox they fill up rather quickly. They have their own kind of ebb and flow, but typically the wait’s kind of minimal. Sometimes on Fridays and Saturdays for a spot at the bar you might have to wait 20 to 30 minutes. But it’s typically not that bad. We don’t get too backed up.
When are your busiest nights?
There’s certainly a little more flexibility in the earlier parts of the week. One: they don’t book out quite as far in advance. I mean, you’re still looking at four to five weeks out for prime time but we’re seeing more business dinners that drive Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights of service. Tourism is starting to come back and that kind of drives that early part of the week. The space is beautiful, but it looks so much better when it’s full. And that’s kind of where we are.
How long is the Resy Notify list usually?
There were 330 people on the Notify list this past Saturday. That’s pretty standard for the weekends. It’s usually 100 or so for the weekdays.
Out of all the options one might have, what is the best way to score a table?
Honestly, that Notify list. We have a lot of regulars and a lot of first-time guests that sign up. Some people are kind of skeptical if it actually works or not, but we take the additional step to tell people when to start looking for those emails. The confirmation text for each business day goes out between 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on the day prior. So typically the guidance I would give someone calling or emailing to inquire about reservations is to make sure push notifications are on your phone for your email account, and just start watching your inbox for that Resy notification email between 4 and 5. That’s typically when we see the most movement.
Are there any other ways to snag a table?
You know, we don’t have a secret stash. I think the best thing to do is be patient and understanding. It’s very unnatural to work in hospitality and have to say “no,” but that’s kind of where we are. Quite literally, my job is to fill the restaurant with as many people as I possibly can, every night. But if you’re flexible with your party size, day of the week or time — knowing that we’re not a large restaurant and we don’t have space to accommodate a lot of large parties — we can typically work something out for you. And don’t be afraid to give us a call to see if a last-minute table has opened up. You know as well as I do, millions of things happen throughout the day. Reservations cancel; they don’t show up. There’s no magic pill. People offer bribes all the time. We’re always appreciative, but we’re happy just to get as many people as we can.
In your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house?
So there’s a couple of ways to approach this. My favorite table is Table 25. It is the corner table in the bar that has two windows, super cozy. I think it can be very romantic, how you feel at that corner in the bar with the windows, the streets, traffic going by… It feels like you might have stepped into another city altogether. I love that table.
Of course, the four round booths, like Table 36 in the main dining room, in a corner, also on a window. It’s very popular and very desirable. That’s one of the tables everyone wants.
The thing about our restaurant, or the dining room in particular, is we didn’t really jam a lot of tables together. We wanted people to feel like they’re in an upscale dining room amongst other people, but at the same time with a little time and space to yourself. And I think, to our design team’s credit, they really pulled that off very well.
Can people request specific tables?
Certainly. We do our very best every night to accommodate everyone’s seating requests. Obviously, you do get to a point where you’re just not able to. So at that point, we take a look. Let’s say there’s two or three requests for Table 36. I just simply go back and look who made the reservation and request first, and then we honor that. We try to be as fair as possible.
When is Lyla Lila least and most busy?
Honestly, now, it’s kind of busy every day. Everybody likes to eat around 6:45 p.m., or a little bit later. With The Fox revving back up we get busier much earlier. Especially on the show days it’s a different dynamic — a very fast-paced service. And then when we turn the restaurant once, when everyone departs for their 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. show, and essentially flip the entire restaurant. It’s crazy how busy we actually are every day.
It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Can you set the scene?
Bustling would be a really good word. It kind of depends on what part of the restaurant you’re in. We have the private dining room that we use for a la carte service and larger groups when it’s not booked. The dining room has its own little vibe as well, it’s a little quieter. And then the bar has great energy. I think playing vinyl records really kind of adds to the overall atmosphere and vibe. It allows us the opportunity to kind of change the mood when we want.
What kind of music is played inside the restaurant?
We start the night, usually with jazz, and then we kind of pick up the tempo as the night goes on. If we feel there’s a need for a little bit more energy and buzz in the room, like it’s not quite energetic enough, we’ll make a change. We’ll throw on some Michael Jackson or some Prince. You might hear some new wave. All this started essentially with Craig [Richards] bringing in his record collection, and we’ve since added to that. We have a digital audio file that we use that’s kind of our backup, but the vinyl takes precedence over everything. As far as the selections played each night, the bartenders primarily will drive that, and Craig always pops on an album. It’s music by committee, whatever we feel like we want to jam to. It’s really fun to see how that energy changes.
What should someone order from the menu?
There are certainly items on the menu that have been on since day one and at this point, they will never come off the menu. We tried a couple of items, and there was outrage, so we brought them right back. If it’s your first time, the cold-smoked scallops are always a winner. It’s one of those dishes where all the flavor components are there, and there’s a little theater to it, with revealing the smoke at the table. It’s a fun dish. If we’re talking pastas, certainly the duck lasagna. That was one of the late additions to the menu right before we opened that’s taken on a life of its own. Cacio e pepe I would certainly recommend. It’s a very simple dish, but there’s nothing to hide behind. The execution has to be flawless. And it’s something that initially was not on the menu. Craig has always done cacio e pepe and he was hoping he could get away from it for a minute, I think. But a lot of his longtime regulars would request it, and finally we were making it so much off-menu we just put it on the menu.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We’re just having a lot of fun doing what we’re getting. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really thrilling and truly exciting to be part of it. I really look forward to the opportunity to share what we do with everybody. We’re super-grateful for all the support from our regulars who have been with us since day one, or who have actually followed me through whatever restaurant I was working in. The same goes for Craig. It’s really fun to share all that with everyone and kind of see how we’ve all grown up.