How to get reservations, what to wear, and how to have the time of your life at this 3-Michelin star restaurant in Napa Valley.
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I just had a "big birthday." One with a zero on it. And for said "big birthday" my husband told me two years ago that he wanted to take me to The French Laundry for dinner. He told me way in advance to make sure that I was okay with it, to make sure that we had enough time to figure out how to snag reservations - and to have enough time to save up for it!
Um, YES, I'm okay with it, I WILL figure out how to get a reservation, and let's start putting pennies in that piggy bank now!
First, we had to snag the reservation.
When I sat down with my laptop at 9:50am PST on July 1, it was just about the most nerve-wracking, white knuckling feeling of my life. I signed in to my Tock account and went to The French Laundry reservations page and nervously kept hitting refresh on my screen.
I completely freaked out for a minute when when my computer clock actually showed one minute past the hour before I could click through - of course it was just my computer time that was off slightly, but it terrified me in the moment, knowing that reservations sometimes sell out for the entire two month window in 30 minutes.
As soon as I was able to click through on my chosen date, it was just click, click, confim, DONE. It happened in the blink of an eye and to be honest, I was so nervous that I was actually a little afraid I had accidentally made reservations for 6 people or something.
By 4 minutes past the hour I was done and confirmed for a birthday dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world!
What you need to know about making reservations at The French Laundry
When it came time to make the reservations, I read and read and read about it and found a lot of outdated information. I'm hoping this information will help YOU to get all of your questions answered so you can snag reservations easily. Or as easily as can be expected when trying to secure one of the most difficult reservations to get in the world...
Reservations at The French Laundry open 30 days in advance for a 60 day window on the first day of odd numbered months at 10am Pacific Time.
So that means on July 1 at 10am Pacific, reservations open for September 1 through October 31. On September 1, reservations open for November and December. Get it?
- If you can plan far enough ahead, make your reservation on the first day that they open for the best chance of getting one. I made ours on July 1 at 10am PST.
- All reservations must be pre-paid through a site called Tock.com and they cannot be canceled/refunded. (But they can be transferred/sold to another person.)
- Tables of 2 are the hardest to get. See if some friends want to join you at a table of 4 or 6!
- Reservations may be easier to get during the winter months when fewer people are traveling to the Napa Valley.
- The concierge will contact you a few days ahead of your reservation to confirm details. I let them know that my husband is gluten free and that we were celebrating my "big" birthday.
How to get a reservation at The French Laundry
- Create an account on Tock in advance.
- Sign in to your Tock account about 5 minutes before reservations open up for your desired date. And start hitting refresh!
- Weekday reservations are easier to get than weekends.
- Select the date you WANT. Don't click around looking at what is available. Reservations sometimes sell out within 30 minutes, so you don't have time to do this. If plan A date is booked, THEN go to plan B date.
- Reservation times range from 5:00pm to 8:45pm. Be open to what is available.
- Remember that The French Laundry serves lunch Thursday through Sunday and it is the EXACT same menu (and the same price.) Lunch reservations can be easier to get.
- If you can't get a reservation for your desired dates, join the waitlist.
Okay we got it! Now what?
Time to frantically plan a dream trip to Napa in less than 30 days that includes the Labor Day weekend holiday...
It just so happened that we were able to book our dinner on my actual birthday. We spent most of that day by the pool trying not to be nervous and trying not to eat too much so we weren't too full, but also trying not to starve ourselves so we wouldn't just wolf the food down when we got there.
I've watched Anthony Bourdain eat at The French Laundry on TV, I've done Chef Keller's Masterclass, I've read countless reviews about the dining experience there. I was ready! But nothing could have prepared me for what it was really like.
What it's like to eat at The French Laundry
When we arrived, I approached the host stand, told them my name, and they said "Happy Birthday!", which made my day. I wasn't expecting to get that right off the bat. We were seated in a corner of the dining room where I could see everything, they handed me the menu, and I totally flipped out.
Yes, that says Happy Birthday Debra on my menu. (And no, everyone in the restaurant did not have that written on their menu, it was just for us. My mother asked, so I thought you might...)
Our server, Manny, came to introduce himself and go over the menu and wine list. At this time, you can choose the Chef's Tasting menu, or the Tasting of the Vegetables, and find out about supplements that you might want to add, like the caviar, truffle mac 'n' cheese or Wagyu beef.
We chose the Chef's Tasting and didn't do any supplements. The regular menu, which changes every day except for a couple of items, is fabulous enough as it is!
So let's get started. The meal begins with the salmon cornets. They've been on the menu from day one and always start the meal.
This is an amuse bouche that comes out before the meal begins. Like a little salmon ice cream cone. So cute! It was followed by a butter-cracker sandwiched with spicy cheese spread. Kind of a tongue-in-cheek homage to those snack cracker packs you would get at a gas station, (only much, much better.) It was fun and it made us giggle.
The stage was set for the evening: very whimsical and NOT stuffy!
We were sitting there in our nicest clothes, feeling happy but a little out of our element, we don't do this every day. A little nervous, a little apprehensive. And then... Bruce Springsteen comes on over the dining room speakers. Yes, that's right, The Boss. Not classical music, not jazz, nothing fancy or elitist.
Again – NOT stuffy.
And the lady at the table in the far corner sounded like Aunt Bethany from Christmas Vacation. She was having a good ol' time for everyone to hear, so we finally decided to just relax and remember we were there to enjoy ourselves. It's not like we were having dinner with The Queen.
Next course, Oysters and Pearls, oysters in a sabayon sauce with caviar. Also on the menu since they opened.
I was absolutely in my giddy zone and I asked questions about many of the courses when they came out. I mean, maaaaaaybe I can figure out how to adapt an idea or two for a recipe of my own?
The staff was happy to answer and smile and chat and they knew the answer to everything: how it was cooked, what it was made out of, where the produce/cheese/meat came from, etc.
Along with the classic rock coming across the speakers, we continued with the whimsy on the menu. Bread is not simply put on the table, there is a specific bread course. Mine was a tomato English muffin.
It was presented as "Thomas's English muffin." Chef Thomas Keller. Thomas's English muffin. Get it?
And that's how the evening continued. It's not casual, but you are made to feel comfortable. Who would want to sit there with a stick up their butt the whole time anyway? To quote the Sex Pistols, that would be "No fun."
We had quail that had been pressed between two slices of bacon, served on the most gorgeous plate, ever.
We had pot roast that was braised for 60 hours. Yes, 60 hours. Yes, pot roast. It was incredible.
And I was getting pretty full when out came the gougère filled with local cheese with a truffle cream sauce. I ate it real slow...I was hoping my digestive system was going to find some more room somewhere.
(About this point, Aunt Bethany over in the corner started on her after dinner port, in case you needed an update.)
When it was time for dessert, they brought the most beautiful, classy birthday cake. (That means no singing.)
The cake was about two inches wide and eight inches long. I said, "Is all of that for me?" And he said, "We're going back to the kitchen to slice it up for you, and then bring you a whole bunch of other things, too."
So here's a tip: There are about 6 desserts and they bring them ALL AT THE SAME TIME! I saw a tray going to other tables and I thought it was a situation where you choose your dessert. Nope. Because this is The French Laundry – You. Get. Everything.
Basically, they told me that if they coursed out the desserts, everyone would just fall asleep. You've already been there about three hours at this point, so it's a dessert free-for-all.
Oh, and then they present you with a beautiful wooden box filled with exquisitely decorated chocolates of every flavor and let you choose one.
I was just laughing my head off about it. I mean, we were getting our money's worth and more. But I was full about three courses ago. I ate the cake, I ate the ice cream, I ate the dessert with fresh peaches grown just down the road.
But the donuts and the cookies and candy? I couldn't.
I said, "I don't know if people do this here, but you're gonna have to wrap this to go, because I can't eat anymore, but I will NOT waste these."
Had 'em with my coffee the next day.
Our server, Manny, came by the table to let us know he was going to take us back to the kitchen for a tour when we finished.
And he had a bottle of sparking wine in his hands. I thought he was just on his way to another table.
He thanked us for coming in to celebrate, and said that in honor of my milestone birthday they were going to send us home with a bottle of Chef Keller's reserve sparkling wine from Schramsberg Vineyards located nearby. You can only get this wine at his restaurants, and they engraved the bottle for me!
Our kitchen tour was just the icing on top of the sprinkles on top of the cherry on top of all those desserts. To be able to see the precision, the organization, the teamwork - I was in Virgo heaven!
I also think it's a way for the kitchen staff to show their appreciation for you, since they don't get facetime with the guests otherwise. They invite you into their world a little.
Manny explained all of the stations to us and what everyone was working on, and we were able to meet the Chef de Cuisine.
Then they sent us home with a beautiful bag full of our menus, my dessert leftovers, the sparking wine, a book about their local purveyors, and little tins of shortbread cookies! More. Food.
Was it worth it?
Did it live up to the hype? YES! What made it so great? One word: Hospitality. They respect the fact that you've paid hundreds of dollars for dinner and waited months to get there, and that you likely don't do this kind of thing very often – or ever.
What made this experience one of the best evenings of my life was how welcome we felt, how warm the staff was, how invitingly each dish was presented. From each person on the staff from the kitchen to the front of the house, it was clear that they were passionate about their work, really glad to see us, and they wanted us to enjoy ourselves to the fullest.
How much does it cost to eat at The French Laundry?
As of January 1, 2019, it costs $325 per person to dine at The French Laundry inclusive of service, but this does not include wine. The same menu is served for lunch and dinner and they are the same price.
Is wine included with dinner at The French Laundry?
Wine and cocktails are not included with your pre-paid dinner.
There is a wine pairing available, but I just can't drink that much wine, and we had a 30 minute drive back to our hotel, so we had wine by the glass.
And just an FYI, you are in a region that produces fine wine, eating at one of the best restaurants in the world. The wine by the glass is not necessarily "cheap". Currently, by the glass prices range from $13 to a glass of Somoma Coast rosé, to $75 for a glass of Dom Perignon champagne, those prices include gratuity.
On average, you can expect to pay $20 - $40 for a glass of wine. But don't think of this as expensive, think of it as a chance to try a glass of something that you wouldn't be able to afford an entire bottle of.
Your server will try to confirm the wines you would like throughout your meal at the beginning so that you can be served the next glass when it's appropriate and not have to keep looking at the wine list and disrupting the flow of the meal.
We started with a glass of the rosé because we like rosé, and it was local, and it was HOT outside, and followed up with a glass of Napa Valley cabernet that was about $40 per glass.
We also found the pours to be very generous.
Can you eat at The French Laundry if you are gluten-free?
YES! Thomas Keller and his team actually developed the Cup4Cup gluten-free flour, so they can swap out the bread course and other items with their gluten-free version. Only gluten-free items are made in The French Laundry kitchen. Items with gluten are produced across town in their bakery to avoid any cross-contamination. Anyone who is gluten free can eat here worry-free!
My husband is gluten-free and he was given a gluten-free cone for his salmon cornet. For the bread course, his was different than mine, he had cornbread instead of the English muffin that I received, and they replaced his gougère cheese course with a plate with fresh little strawberries, comté cheese and pistachio - that plate was actually one of his favorites of the night.
What is the dress code at The French Laundry?
Dress nicely! This is fun! My husband, who never wears suits, actually bought a new suit to wear to this dinner and he didn't regret it.
Jackets are required for men, but ties are not. NO shorts, tennis shoes or distressed jeans are allowed. Regular, nice jeans are apparently acceptable (but I wouldn't advise wearing them.)
There will be a wide range of people and styles there, so don't feel self-conscious if you don't have a fancy designer label to wear.
You do YOU - the dressy version. A nice dress, or dress slacks and a fancy top are fine for women. I never wear heels, so I wore some fancy sandals.
Tips for dining at The French Laundry
- Have FUN!
- Don't be scared and quiet. This is not a place to sit in reverence and speak in hushed tones. Talk to each other and the staff. (Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen were playing through the dining room speakers while we were there - it's not stuffy!)
- Don't be afraid to ask questions! The staff is very knowledgeable about the food and how it is prepared, and they are passionate about what they do. Your server or any person that brings the food will be happy to assist you.
- Don't know which wine to choose? Again - ask your server and don't be embarrassed to tell them your price range. The wine list is huge and can be overwhelming. Our server recommended the perfect Napa Valley Cabernet to accompany our meal at the right price for us.
- You CAN take pictures! Everyone does it. Don't feel self conscious. Just don't use a flash!
- ENJOY your meal. Savor the food and pace yourself. You will not be rushed by the staff! Each table is on its own schedule, and they will not bring another course until you have finished the one in front of you. You have a long way to go, so make sure you take your time with each course so you will be ready to dive in when the next one comes.
- Go outside to go to the bathroom. No, that's not what you think it means. There is a beautiful courtyard, surrounded by some dining areas for larger groups, and there are restrooms you can access from there. The courtyard is beautiful and you don't want to miss seeing it, (especially if you were too nervous and excited like I was when we walked in to even notice it was there.)
- Ask for a tour of the kitchen when you finish your meal!
The French Laundry is helmed by Chef Thomas Keller, and is located in Yountville, CA in the Napa Valley. Chef Keller is famous for his use of local, seasonal produce, and acute attention to detail, resulting in a truly unique and revolutionary approach to American fine dining.
Shop this post
- I wore a Diane Von Furstenberg silk jersey dress
- Alexis Bittar is my favorite jewelry. I wore my Diamond Dust Dewdrop earrings and a crystal encrusted cuff similar to this one.
- I don't do heels. I chose my Rebecca Minkoff studded sandals that are like these, but with a different strap.
- My husband's suit is Calvin Klein and shirt is by Joseph Abboud
More travel stories
- Here's everything I ate at Mercado Little Spain in NYC
- Visit Reims, France for all the champagne and a great Christmas market.
- As always, we traveled carry-on only for this trip to Napa. Check out this post to learn about the suitcases, bags, and organizers we use to travel light!
This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read my full disclosure policy here.