The One Who Keeps the Book Washington D.C.
How to Get Into Le Diplomate, and What to Order Once You’re There
Is it too late to wish Le Diplomate a very happy 10th birthday?
What is arguably D.C.’s most cherished French brasserie, adored for its decadent French onion soup, sky-high seafood towers, gorgeous dining room, and warm service, just celebrated its tenth anniversary this past April, and Stephen Starr’s 14th Street hit is as popular as ever.
Can’t seem to get a prime-time table? Fret not, you’re in the right spot. In this edition of The One Who Keeps the Book, we speak to general manager Peter Koll, who’s been with the Starr group for six years. Read on as he makes the case for a late-night Resy, why brunch is his favorite time of day, and divulges where you should be sitting and what you should be ordering.
How many seats are there at Le Diplomate?
Peter Koll: About 350. It’s a little over 200 inside between the bar and dining room, and then another 150 outside.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
30 days in advance at midnight.
And how quickly do the primetime tables tend to get booked out?
Pretty quickly, especially on weekends. Fridays and Saturdays between 6 and 8:30 p.m. if you’re anything larger than a group of four will typically be snagged by 10 a.m. that day. Brunches do tend to completely book up about three weeks in advance, and that’s for all parties.
Are any of the seats held for walk-ins?
About a third of the restaurant is held for guests without reservations. So, the entire 28 seats that we have at our bar and high tops, as well as a handful of tables inside, and the vast majority of our outside dining are all held for guests without reservations. All of the outside tables with the exception of about 30 seats are heated or have fans, and are completely covered and protected from the elements. So it’s a pretty approachable dining area, even if it looks like it’s going to be a little cool or potentially rain.
What’s the best time for a walk-in to come by to get seated promptly?
The earlier the better. For brunches, because people know to come in on the earlier side, we tend to have a little bit of a line out the door right at 9:30 a.m. when we open. With that being said, we are generally able to accommodate the first 80 to 100 people who walk in without reservations without much difficulty. After that, it gets a little bit trickier.
Dinner is kind of same thing: in that 5 to 6-6:30 p.m. range, we’re usually able to accommodate people without too much of a wait or any wait at all. It’s rare for us on any day of the week or weekend to not have at least a 30-to-45-minute wait going on once we get past that six o’clock hour.
How many covers do you do on your busiest nights?
Saturday nights, we’ll do between 750 and 800 guests for dinner. With that being said, it’s not drastically slower for the rest of the week. Even on our quietest nights, you know, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we’ll still be doing between 500 to 600 guests for the night.
Do you know how long your Resy Notify list is on average?
For tonight, we have 263 on the Notify list. For Mother’s Day, which is its own kind of beast, we have 1,900 people on the Notify list for Mother’s Day brunch.
Yeah [laughs]. It was escalating pretty quickly, and it’s been it’s been oscillating between 1,875 and 1,925 for the last day.
Are there certain days or times when there’s a better chance to score a prime-time reservation?
Earlier in the week is usually a little bit easier — Tuesdays and Wednesdays are by far the lowest in demand as far as reservations are concerned. We’re in a really fortunate position that we have such a great neighborhood and community — we have tons of neighborhood guests who are walking in every day of the week. So those primetime slots do go pretty quickly. But as far as reservations are concerned, Tuesdays and Wednesdays can be the easiest to snag online.
A lot of your availability on Resy right now is from 10 p.m. through midnight. What’s your case for eating at a later time at Le Dip?
We have a pretty full dining room for most of the night, so that energy really does carry through all the way. As a group of hospitality professionals, we do everything we can to make sure that people feel just as welcome if they’re coming in and sitting down at 11 p.m. as they are at 7 p.m. There’s no rush or onus to order quickly: You get the exact same experience that everyone else has had for the night.
We do have a lot of late-night diners who hang out at the bar. For insider stuff, you know, after 10-10:30 p.m. is when we tend to see some of our higher-profile guests who are looking to sneak in without being too recognized — just kind of pop in for a quick bite and get out of here. It’s always a fun group of people who are here a little bit later.
That’s an amazing incentive for dining later — you might spot a VIP …
How does one become a regular at Le Diplomate?
Lots of ways. Some of our most regular guests come in a little bit on the earlier side, especially between 3 and 5 p.m. when we don’t take reservations and we’re just in our limited midday menu; they just pop in. Some of our most regular guests are people who might come in and have a cocktail at the bar, go somewhere else for dinner, and then come back for late-night snacks and another nightcap with friends. The vast majority of them are neighborhood people, and know that they can walk in with limited wait if they time it right.
Loaded question, but in your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house?
Oof, yeah it is [laughs]. We have this beautiful room called L’Orangerie. It’s kind of a callout to the fact that the space was originally a laundromat when we first took it over before we renovated it and built it out as Le Diplomate. It’s got this absolutely beautiful antique green tile along the wall and an all-glass roof. It looks out onto the rest of our terrace, and we can actually open up the glass panels so that it’s all fresh air on a really nice day. And it really does feel like the most European setting when you’re sitting in that room and the doors are wide open. It’s just this really nice, kind of big-room energy with beautiful light. It’s probably the most photographed room in the dining room as well.
Can guests request a specific table in the guest notes when they book on Resy?
They can certainly request them — we do our best to honor all guests requests. But due to the nature of just how busy we are, we can never 100% guarantee it. We’ll always do our best to try to accommodate as close as possible. So you know, if someone was looking for a booth and we don’t have one of the circular booths available at the front — there are only four of those — we’ll do our best to find a table that has two booth seats and two chairs.
It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night. Can you set the scene for us?
7 p.m. on a Friday night, we are usually pretty full everywhere — patio, dining room, full bar, it’s good energy. We intentionally build our book so that the flow remains consistent from the moment we open our doors all the way through. [We play] a nice mix of old classic French, some jazz, and some more modern pop.
It’s someone’s first time at Le Dip: what do they absolutely have to order?
The French onion soup is definitely one of the core items that everyone’s crazy for. It’s really rich and has a little bit of sherry and vermouth in there, so there’s a nice touch of sweetness to it that helps cut some of the richness from the cheese and the onions. The burger Américan is by far the most popular item on our menu any time of day. For dessert, the profiteroles are definitely fan favorites as well.
What about your personal favorites?
I like the beef Bourguignon for an entrée. I think it’s just super classic brasserie fare. With the braised short rib and our pommes purée, it’s just the perfect representation of what we try to do. It’s straightforward in appearance but there’s just so much complexity in what goes on in the back end. It’s just rich and flavorful.
Anything worth noting about the drinks?
I think our wine program is exceptional. You know, for the size of this restaurant, we admittedly don’t have that large of a cellar space. John Loats, our beverage manager, really does an extraordinary job of keeping it intelligently curated to have a wide selection of things for everyone. We have nice table wine by the carafe if people are looking to have just a half or full carafe with a plate of oysters, and lounge on the patio. We have some more rare bottles if people are looking for that fun Francophile experience. And we have a lot of just beautiful celebratory bottles for people who are coming in for date night, an anniversary, just any kind of celebratory day.
Any other tips or tricks for making the most out of your time at Le Dip?
I would say being comfortable communicating and self-advocating. We are an admittedly very big and busy restaurant. As much as we do to make sure that things are as consistent and perfect as possible, we understand that there are mistakes that’re going to sneak through. But everyone in this building is dedicated to making sure that every person who is here is having an enjoyable time. So if something is not 100% right, let us know and we will fix it. Our only goal is to make sure that people are happy at the end of the meal.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
You know, we’re fortunate. We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary and we’re going stronger and stronger every year. We’re just hoping to continue building that, and building relationships with neighborhood regulars and guests who are joining us for the first time. Hopefully, we get to see a lot more new faces coming in, especially with Resy now.
Le Diplomate is open for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 11 p.m. and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Lunch is served from noon to 3 p.m. on weekdays, with weekend brunch served from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. A limited mid-day menu is served from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekends.