On many days, starting about 4:30 p.m., a line forms on Government Street in Chinatown outside the restaurant Brasserie L’école. They don’t accept reservations, so people line up before opening if they want a near-guarantee of a seat when the doors are unlocked at 5:30 p.m. Veterans of the lineups often chat with strangers, recalling previous Brasserie meals and sharing tales of food adventures. Some people keep to themselves, silently waiting for the doors to open, perhaps wishing that there was less chatter. Latecomers to the line do a little counting, hoping that enough seats are left for them when the doors open.
The sight of that Brasserie L’école line (and participating in it) has prompted a cataloguing of how Victoria restaurants handle lineups, and how you can get into a busy no-reservation place in a reasonably satisfactory fashion without cheating.
You can expect these main methods.
No. 1: No system that’s discernable, until you are admonished for breaking the secret rules. This happened to me at a dim sum restaurant. I think I line-jumped without knowing it.
No. 2: You seek out the greeter and ask to be placed on the waiting list. You then either line up, cluster haphazardly in a waiting area, or wander off until you get a phone call.
No. 3: You get in line as soon as you arrive, often outdoors, and a greeter eventually comes out to check on how many are in your group.
No. 4: You’re on your own. You watch for a table to open up, and you grab it. There might be an effort among the waiting patrons to follow a first-come, first-to-a-table etiquette.
To avoid heartache, you need to figure out which system the restaurant is using. You do this by asking. People near the front of the line are often a good source of information about this if you can’t catch the attention of a staffer.
Here’s what I’ve encountered at restaurants around Greater Victoria. Along with tales people have told me.
Brasserie L’ecole, 1715 Government St.
Come early and get in line before opening time. Or, enter the restaurant after it opens and ask the staffer who greets you to put your name on the waiting list. You’ll be given an estimate of how long your wait might be, and an offer to phone you when your table is ready. There’s typically no lineup outside the restaurant after it opens, though you can see people hanging about, waiting for their call.
Bin 4, 911 Yates, 3271 Maple St., 716 Goldstream Ave.
Things get especially hectic here after 9 p.m. when they offer their burgers at half price if you buy a drink (including non-alcoholic ones) at full price. Go inside, past all the waiting people, and have the person at the counter place your name on the waiting list. You’ll be phoned when a table is ready. I’ve waited 20 minutes to an hour. A lot of people hang out at the door; do not just join that crowd, submit your name. This is based on experiences at the Yates and Maple locations.
Blue Fox Cafe, 919 Fort St.
The lineups at this breakfast spot are legendary on weekends. I’ve never eaten there, but I did stop one day to quiz the people at the front of the line. They had been waiting for 45 minutes, and were still cheerful. It’s worth it, they said, and on a sunny day (which it was), it was nice just hanging out, with a meal on the horizon. Blue Fox has a helpful sign explaining the lineup etiquette, which involves getting into the line and waiting for a staffer to acknowledge you. The sign mentions reservations, but the Blue Fox website says they’re only accepted for noon or 1 p.m. on weekdays, or groups of six or more in the morning.
Jam Cafe, 542 Herald St.
Get in line immediately. Someone from the cafe comes out occasionally to put your name on the waiting list. With limited seating and glowing social media reviews, there’s pretty much a lineup here from opening to closing. But it’s not a place where people seem to linger. When I asked the people at the front of the line on a busy Sunday, they said they had been waiting 20 minutes.
Jade Fountain, 3366 Douglas St.
This dim sum place is at its busiest on weekends between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. You line up inside, along a narrow entry area. Try to get the attention of the host, show with your hands how many are in your group. It might be too noisy to talk. It might be too crowded to walk up to the host. Stand or grab a seat in the narrow waiting area after the host has acknowledged your group. You’ll eventually be called in a sort-of first-come, first-served sequence. I’ve occasionally marched past crowds of people shortly after arriving because our group was just the right size for the table available. Other times, it’s been up to a 45-minute wait. If you’ve lingered too long without ordering any food from the dim sum carts and there’s a crowd waiting, you might be encouraged to leave with unsubtle hints: everything cleared from your table, including the table cloth. I know this from personal experience.
Part and Parcel, 2656 Quadra St.
It’s an order at the counter and pay before you eat place. If it’s busy, you need to have faith that chairs will open up by the time your food is ready. People seem to be polite about this. When they see a bunch of people hanging around the edges of the restaurant waiting, and they’ve been lingering, they’ll wrap things up and point you to their table. That’s happened to me.
Olo, 509 Fisgard St.
Submit your name, and they’ll phone you when a table is available. They accept reservations, but not for weekend brunch.
Pagliacci’s, 1011 Broad St.
Tell the greeter you want a table, and get in line outside. When I stroll by at meal times, I often see a lineup.
Uchida, 633 Courtney St.
You need to order at the counter and pay before you eat. Uchida gets really crowded during the lunch hour. If there’s a free chair, claim it by putting your jacket on it when you enter, then join the line to order. Or have a companion sit down while you order. Do not claim a table that’s bigger than what you need. A stranger might join you, whether you like it or not. Another technique: I once saw a person standing behind a chair occupied by someone who was lingering. I didn’t stay long enough to see the end-result.
The Ruby at Hotel Zed, 3110 Douglas St.
I have not been here. But a Times Colonist article says that if you need to wait, you will be offered a coffee and invited to go to the hotel’s lounge to play video games or ping pong until a table is ready.
B.C. Ferries Pacific Buffet, on Spirit of Vancouver Island, Spirit of British Columbia, Coastal Celebration
You line up at the cash register and pay before you eat. Greeters show you to your table. Go to the buffet as soon as you board so that you stand a better chance of getting the table you want. At really busy times, you might be seated with strangers. Some people sprawl inhospitably, putting belongings all around their table, to fend off interlopers.
Vij’s, 1480 W 11th Ave., Vancouver
It’s the famous Indian restaurant in Vancouver, which famously doesn’t take reservations, even if you’re a celebrity. I have never been. But a colleague who did go said the waiting experience was the best he has ever had. They waited in the lounge, where they were treated royally, and offered a parade of appetizers at no charge.
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