The Southern fried chicken Parm at BoccaLupo. Photo courtesy of BoccaLupo

The One Who Keeps the BookAtlanta

How to Score a Table at BoccaLupo, Atlanta’s Palace of Pasta

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Jason Furst, general manager at BoccaLupo, jokingly calls himself a “reservations systems nerd.” That’s not a bad type of nerd to be when you run Inman Park’s BoccaLupo, one of the best and most highly rated restaurants in Atlanta. 

Furst also says his self-appointed title is not restricted to restaurant reservation geekdom. “I’m just kind of like a true nerd,” Furst says with a laugh. “I also handle staff scheduling, payroll, and invoices. I have a spreadsheet for pretty much everything.”

In our latest edition of The One Who Keeps the Book, Furst shares the secrets on getting a reservation at BoccaLupo, including an unexpected place celebrities love to claim but you can actually request for your best chance at seating, and more. 

Chef Bruce Logue with his back turned, working the kitchen line. Photo by Jason Furst
Chef Bruce Logue with his back turned, working the kitchen line. Photo by Jason Furst

An Atlanta native, Furst learned the inner mechanisms of fine dining in Atlata after spending eight years working at Kevin Rathbun’s family of restaurants, first as a beverage manager at Kevin Rathbun Steak, then as general manager at KR Steakbar. He knows what it’s like to have a popular restaurant filled with busy staff and hungry customers, and a waitlist of folks ready to snag an unclaimed reservation, night after night.

“A lot of planning goes into that,” Furst says of managing reservation requests. “We do everything we can to take care of our kitchen. They are the backbone of this restaurant; they’re what made this place great for so many years.” So as much as anything the limits on reservations are to ensure the kitchen can perform consistently.

“The consistency and reputation is what drives our demand,” Furst says, ” and if you don’t have the demand, it’s all for naught.”

Also, BoccaLupo is a small operation. The Italian-American restaurant’s angular midcentury modern windows and retractable garage-style overhead patio doors do a lot to extend the intimate dining room. But the limited space both adds to the appeal and makes it a hard seat to nab — as any Atlanta diner who’s attempted to score a reservation in recent months can attest. 

The restaurant currently is operating on a four-day weekly schedule, which Furst says means they have to be super-efficient in ensuring the experience lives up to the standards regulars expect and the reputation first-timers have heard so much about. And it’s not like BoccaLupo’s popularity was low before the pandemic. 

BoccaLupo’s aesthetic — a simple, wood-meets-metal interior design with bright red patio umbrellas to accent the bright cream-colored exterior paint — keeps things in casual balance, with added help from great music. The neighborhood’s buzzy energy runs throughout the evening, with constant activity around a succinctly curated selection of drinks at the corner-curved bar. Then there’s the menu from chef Bruce Logue, also a native Atlantan, whose phenomenal pastas — including the hugely popular black spaghetti — have almost become mandatory dining assignments for those of us lucky enough to live in the metro Atlanta area, and especially those near the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail.   

When you’re overseeing the delivery of exceptional food and drink in this sort of setting, it’s important to have great systems in place, but it’s also important to maintain flexibility, especially if you’re trying to win a pair of seats for dinner. And being cool, Furst says, is one of several ways to get a little assisted luck on your reservation whenever possible.

Resy: How many seats are there at BoccaLupo?

Furst: We have 20 tables, essentially, with a couch and this uncovered patio. The busiest night we’ve had that I’ve seen is around 185 [guests]. 

But there are varying degrees of certainty to be able to actually seat folks. There are staffing issues and other stuff that goes into it. We will never lose quality just for revenue. 

When do reservations drop on Resy?

Wednesday around 1 p.m.

And how quickly do these tend to get booked out?

They fill up by 5 p.m, no matter what, even if I have an empty book. It’s a luxury. I’ve never seen that level of demand, and I worked at Kevin Rathbun Steak.

Are any of the seats in the restaurant held for walk-ins?

The bar seating. And we have 10 seats at the bar.

The welcoming red door at BoccaLupo. Photo courtesy of BoccaLupo
The welcoming red door at BoccaLupo. Photo courtesy of BoccaLupo

What is the typical wait time for a walk-in?

It’s hard to answer … One Friday night we didn’t have a wait at the bar at all. The next Saturday night I had to just say no to some people. It was like 8 p.m. and I wasn’t sure we’d have seats in two hours. It can range pretty drastically. 

How long is your Notify list on average?

Deep. Real deep. Weekends are much busier than weekdays. A few weekends ago we had 130 on our list for Friday, and 128 for Saturday. A lot of people got in, because we had 60 cancellations and no-shows, which we get a lot of. 

Those aren’t the people we want to come here. They don’t realize how much that damages us. We have a very finite amount of tables, so when someone doesn’t show up, or cancels 20 minutes before reservation time, it has a pretty big impact on what we’re doing. 

Are there any other ways to snag a table?

Put yourself on the Notify list on Wednesdays and Thursdays. And if you walk in any day before 7 p.m., you’re gonna get sat before 8:30, like, for sure. I know it’s a little bit of a wait but it’s not so bad, especially on Wednesdays and Thursdays — we need all the support we can get. 

And when you’re here, make connections with us. I talk to everyone. That’s what I’m here to do. When you want to get in next time, the process will be a lot easier for you. 

Out of all the options, which one has the best chance of scoring a table?

Come sit at the bar, have a beer and pasta, and get out of here for 25 bucks. If my bartender says “That guy is awesome,” I’m gonna make sure that guy gets a table when he comes.

If you’re not kind to the people I’m around, I can’t bend over backwards for you. But if you are, you’ll get the moon — the best of BoccaLupo. And the best of us is so good.

Photo by Jason Furst
Photo by Jason Furst

In your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house?

The L-shaped couch on the patio, which is the favorite spot for celebrities. I find that when I book it as a table, people say it’s too casual. I’d be stoked if I got that table but I’m a casual kind of guy, so I don’t book it unless I get a text from somebody cool that requests it. 

My servers get the same respect with that. I want them to have regulars who get access beyond what others might get, so [customers] can text [servers], and if they ask me I can put ‘em in. 

When is BoccaLupo least and most busy?

This place goes up every night. By 6:30 p.m., it’s completely full. Friday is the toughest. 

You see everybody at the bar bobbing their head, vibing, doing a little shimmy after they eat a bite of pasta. That’s what it should be.

It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Can you set the scene?

It’s completely full by 7 p.m., but we space everything out very intentionally. You see everybody at the bar bobbing their head, vibing, doing a little shimmy after they eat a bite of pasta. That’s what it should be.

How about midday on a weekday?

Come in on a Wednesday or Thursday, put yourself on the Notify list and you’ll definitely get in every time. Even if you don’t have a reservation, just bank on it. We get cancellations every day, and they get refilled.

The dining room. Photo by Jason Furst
The dining room. Photo by Jason Furst

What kind of music is played inside the restaurant?  

Mostly hip-hop. Sometimes we’ll play Spotify artists radio. Kanye on Spotify is my staff’s favorite.  I also have a classic ATL playlist of stuff I grew up on — OutKast, Ludacris, Jeezy, Young Dro.  

Lately I’ve been doing full albums and saying “F it” a little bit, because I would love to go to a restaurant and hear the entirety of “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” [Kendrick Lamar’s major-label debut]. And we play the real versions so it’s gotten a little wild in here a few times, for about 20 seconds. 

The ambiance in this place matters so much. Every night’s different, but I’ve had so many people say the music is awesome, and some you might not expect, like this guy in his 50s with his family, in a Tesla … I think I was playing “To Pimp a Butterfly” [Kendrick Lamar’s second album], and later he came up and said “Dude, the music tonight is fire, man.” 

What should someone order from the menu?

The tasting menu is always awesome. Chef Logue gets the best produce from the best farmers, and we have great purveyors of meats and fish. He gets offered different cuts and produce on a day-to-day basis, and he curates the tasting menu based on the food he gets, not what he wants to do with the menu. 

That’s an important distinction. This is what we have that’s the best right now, and we’re going to figure out what we want to do with it, thoughtfully. 

It’s around $90. My recommendation is to order one for a table, then an appetizer and an entree. That way you get to try a lot and it’s not overwhelming. A lot of times at restaurants you only get one thing and it’s a lot. But I can eat three halves a lot quicker than I can eat one whole, plus sharing is cooler.

Of course our customers love the black squid ink pasta with Calabrian sausage, red shrimp, and breadcrumbs for texture. It’s a great dish. But I always recommend venturing out. 

The menu’s pretty tight: eight or so pastas, and always a risotto that changes daily. But you really can’t go wrong. And less important than what I think is finding what matches you, because whatever we put on the menu we do it well. The trick of it all is matching it to you. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m trying to maximize the good people in the restaurant. If you’re a good person and you really want to get in here, I’m gonna do my best to get you a table. 

If you come in, and say “Hey, I know the food’s gonna be worth it; I’m gonna get a drink, sit outside and have a drink,” we’ll get you in. I’m a get-you-in kind of guy.

 

Mike Jordan is Resy’s Southeast editor, and a longtime Atlanta-based multimedia journalist. His byline can be frequently found at The Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Magazine, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Eater Atlanta, and Thrillist, where he served as the founding Atlanta editor. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.