Why playing hard to get works for David Chang

It’s funny how much you suddenly want something, when it’s out of reach. So it was when I decided to make a reservation at Momofuku Seiobo — the Sydney branch of New York hot-shot David Chang’s restaurant empire.

Unfortunately for me — and the birthday boy I was hoping to surprise — the decision was not mine, but that of an online reservation system that required much jumping through hoops on the customer’s part.

With every hoop, my determination (or desperation) to land a table grew, even though I was nonplussed at the start.

Chang’s restaurant at The Star casino has been on my “to eat at” list since it opened earlier this year. But to be honest there are a lot of restaurants on that list. It’s a list that grows quicker than my capacity to dine out. Restaurants at the top of the list are often usurped by other — newer — destinations. Some have been on the list for years.

The problem is augmented by a reversal of normal human behaviour in that the more hype there is around a restaurant opening, the less appetite I have to eat there. So it was with the opening of Momofuku Seiobo.

Chang’s $175, 13-course, dinnertime, tasting menu didn’t encourage me either. My appetite for expensive, set-price, multi-course menus has dissipated. I’m small in stature and fill up at about the third course and become increasingly nonchalant about the food served, which is altogether the wrong attitude. So I was interested to see Chang offered a lighter, $100 lunch on Fridays and Saturdays (still eight courses, mind you).

Lunch on a Friday was out of the question and with only two Saturdays left before Christmas my expectation of securing a reservation was quite low. But I was unperturbed — there were other restaurants on my list, after all.

I hopped online to make a reservation, expecting my quest to be quashed within seconds. Not so fast! First you have to register an account, which means setting up (yet another) username and password that at some point you’ll forget and have to reset, and all that palava.

So I registered and logged on, only to be informed that the reservation site was closed from midnight to 10am each day. The time was 09:28:25 according to the countdown clock on the website. I logged off and decided to retry half an hour later.

I promptly forgot (probably because I was still somewhat nonplussed), and it was later in the day when I tried again to make the reservation. That’s when I saw the crucial note: “we only take reservations 10 days in advance, including the current day”. Damn — I had to wait another two days.

That was the turning point. The restrictions — and the competition now involved in securing a booking — suddenly made dining at Momofuku Seiobo quite compelling. Is that what Chang’s marketing team intends: to create an impression of inaccessibility, which heightens the idea of exclusivity, and bolsters desirability? If so, it was working.

I made a note in my calendar to try again two days later. I logged on at 10.15am and was taken to the diary that showed which days/times were still available. The next Saturday was completely booked out. There were large, red crosses next to each of five time slots.  If customers couldn’t book any earlier than 10 days in advance, and only from 10am, that meant the entire Saturday lunch service had booked out within 15 minutes.

It was unfathomable. People must have logged in bang on 10am to secure a booking. Who in their right mind would do something like that? Who would organised enough, or sufficiently obsessed? Well me, as it happens.

The booking restrictions meant I couldn’t try to make a booking for another 10 days. So I made a note in my electronic calendar 11 days in advance, just so I’d be primed. I made another calendar entry for 10am on the tenth day. Then I set it to send me an email alert at 9.45am as well as a sound notification five minutes before, just to be safe.

On the day, I anxiously logged on to the reservation site at about 9.55am. I watched the digital clock count down. Bang on 10am I clicked the ‘lunch’ option, and typed in the number of diners (two). I was taken to the diary page.

On the Saturday, next to some red crosses, there were a few green ticks, which indicated availability. I clicked on the tick next to the time slot of 1pm. Hallelujah — I’d made a booking.

Not quite! My credit card details were required and the countdown clock would hold my ‘temporary’ booking for only a short time. I raced around looking for my purse, plugged in my credit card details, and held my breath. Bingo – the reservation was made.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s inaugural The Munchies 2012 Awards — launched this week — bestowed on Momofuku Seiobo one of three prizes for The Restaurant-You-Can’t-Ever-Get-Into. I can see why.

I’m now gearing up for Saturday’s lunch at Momofuku Seiobo with great anticipation. It just took an officious online reservation system — and, I’m sure, some Momofuku marketing nous — to make me change my tune.



Filed under Chefs, Food Issues, Reflections

9 responses to “Why playing hard to get works for David Chang

  1. Eha

    Methinks I could have cooked you some delicious Roman pasta and salad, and, perchance some asparagus to start: no ridiculous bookings, no looking at watches to leave, no wild prices to pay and sitting under my Moreton Fig sipping wine [Oh, would have hoped for a bottle of lovely dry white from you – Mudgee perhaps 😉 !] Hmm: OK, I am curious: hope there will be a followup AFTER the blessed lunch!


  2. Reb

    Well Rachel you are more persistent than I am. I have been completely turned off by the complicated reservation system so will experience it vicariously trough your description. Life’s too short to spend that much time just getting the booking, just like I won’t queue at a restaurant that doesn’t let me book in advance. Will it be worth it? I’ll look forward to your thoughts.


  3. It’s funny I have that same click-to-win impulse when it comes to ebay and grays online. Just one more bid… one more try. Thank heavens I haven’t tried to book at Momofuku – it would have left me slightly distraught. You did well, enjoy it and lucky boy.


  4. what a saga! i would have given up … then again, i appreciate how such a process can make one obsessed with the hunt! hope the lunch is wonderful after all that.
    have a lovely christmas and see you in the new year XX


  5. It was a bit of the saga – and i missed out some elements of it (like the number of times i went in to the system to book, forgetting that it didn’t open until 10am). I hope the lunch is wonderful, too. Hope you have a great festive season. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the New Year.


  6. So after all of that pfaff, how was lunch??

    I went through something similar trying to book dinner at Babbo’s in New York. I wonder if they use a similar book system? In the end, it was just impossible and we ended up going to a different Mario Batali restaurant.


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