Aaron Silverman wants you to be able to come in for dinner tonight. He knows the waits are long at his hit restaurant Rose's Luxury — now a staple on the Eater DC 38 and a member of Bill Addison's first-ever National 38. Lines form early, and waits can stretch over the course of hours. But even so, Silverman says it's the best way. "If we took reservations right now, we'd probably be booked up weeks, months in advance," he explains while taking a break from his cooking duties at Feast Portland. "It's a little bit of a pain in the butt to have to wait, but it's a guarantee that you can get in, which is nice."
At about two years in, Rose's Luxury is still one of the buzziest restaurants in the city. And the word will only continue to travel as Silverman works on opening his second restaurant, Pineapple and Pearls. The new restaurant will be Silverman's take on fine dining — complete with reservations. "It's kind of the same soul as Rose's, but dressed up," he explains, noting that instead of "exclusivity" he wants the restaurant to focus on "enjoyment and pleasure." Here now, a look back at how Rose's Luxury became DC's toughest door and hottest table:
Why did you decide to open Rose's Luxury as no reservations restaurant?
We never expected it to be such a busy restaurant. Reservations weren't really much of an issue. First, we were a more casual restaurant. Our average dish price is $12, $13. It's not that casual places don't take reservations, but if you're high-end, you have to. We thought we could probably get away without taking reservations. That was the first thing. It doesn't make sense with more casual restaurants sometimes.
The second piece was we were in a neighborhood [Capitol Hill] that I live in. I'm planning on living there for a long time. I wanted to do a restaurant that would be good for the neighborhood, that would support the neighborhood, and [have] the neighborhood support us. To take reservations was not advantageous to the neighborhood. Then anybody can make a reservation from anywhere, block up any slot and the neighbors can't get in. We have a 20-year lease. We wanted to survive all 20 years, when we're not hot stuff anymore. We just want to be a really good restaurant. That's all we ever strive to: Just be a really good restaurant for our neighbors, and because of that, not taking reservations benefits them...
Then the last and most important reason is that the whole idea of what we're doing was about making people happy and showing them a good time. Part of that is not kicking people out of their seats. We were trying to get rid of anything that creates a negative feeling or dining experience. Being told you have to go because they're waiting for the next reservation sucks.
So what are some of the strategies your staff uses when it comes to the line, especially in terms of keeping people happy?
It's typically a host and a manger who will run out before we open. It's pretty simple. We go out and we talk to everyone. If it gets very long, we'll start talking and going down the line and telling people, "How many people are you? Two, three, four? You're in about an hour wait. You guys are about a two-hour wait. You guys are a four-hour wait." Sometimes, you get to the part of the line where you're like, we're probably not going to have any more seats tonight.
"Once you’re inside and you’re a guest, we’re taking extremely good care of you."
We go out early, and we speak to everyone in line so that they're not waiting out there for nothing and all night or day unnecessarily. On super hot days we do ice pops and on cold days we do hot cider, stuff like that. We try and do everything we can to make the wait easier outside, but at the same time, there's only so much we can control and so far we can go outside of our building and our boundaries. We can't control the demand. We can't control what happens outside. We just try and make sure no matter what we do, once you're inside and you're a guest, we're taking extremely good care of you.
What was the turning point? When did it become, "We have a new restaurant and it's busy," to, "Oh my gosh. The line."?
It actually happened consistently. It wasn't like one day or one month. We started out pretty busy and with 27 staff members. Now we're at 64. In the first three months we [realized], "Oh my God, we need more people." So, we hired four more people. One cook, one server, one bartender, one manager. Then, the next month, we were busy again. We were increasing sales by 30 percent every month for the first year and a half.
We started busy, like a normal restaurant busy. Then a couple months in, the Washington Post review came out. That gave us a nice bump. Then the Washingtonian guy came out, that gave us a nice bump. Then the summer is a beautiful time in our neighborhood... that gave us a nice bump. At that point, it was just before Bon Appetit released an article and on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, we'd have maybe 100 people in line before we opened. We were seating the entire restaurant at once. We were mostly full immediately when we opened. When the Bon Appetit article came out, it just turned that Monday, Friday, Saturday into every day of the week. It was month by month. It wasn't just like (snaps his fingers).
Do you find that the waits fluctuate day to day, or is it more consistent throughout the week?
It's consistently about the same amount of people who show up every day. Friday and Saturdays are obviously way more nuts. The wait depends on how many people and what time you want to eat. If you're two people, it could be 30 minutes to two hours. If you're eight, we only have one table that seats eight, so you might not get in at all. It just depends. But definitely Friday and Saturday are the worst waits.
What's your number-one tip for prospective Rose's Luxury diners?
It's an awesome neighborhood. Show up early and drop your name and then go do something. Go shopping, hang out in the neighborhood, go to the bars next door or come to our bar upstairs.
I think the word is out, and everyone has good expectations. You're not going to eat right away. Everyone understands that, unless you're the first 50 people in line. Most people are cool with that. They show up right when we open, they wait 10 minutes to put their name down... and then come back in a couple hours and they have their dinner.
"The word is out and everyone has good expectations. You’re not going to eat right away."
How did you handle the Obamas' visit? What was required?
I can't share too many details. Michelle has been in twice. She brought the President with her the second time. We've had other people in the building who had Secret Service with them, so we're used to Secret Service being in the building. It's not unusual in DC. Secret Service is actually really cool. They're super funny. We just had a lot of Secret Service in the building, dogs, probably 50 Secret Service people, watching people when they come in and out. There was for sure all kinds of security. We didn't really notice that much. I'm sure there were tons of security checks going on before we found out.
So you didn't know very far in advance that they were coming?
Right before. I was the only one who knew. I wasn't even allowed to tell my staff until, literally, they showed up. I think they figured out something was going on because we had to clock off the whole back dining room. When you start seeing Secret Service around, you know somebody is coming. It's just a matter of how many do you see? Then you kind of have an idea of who it might be. [The Obamas] were super awesome though, by the way. They were like the coolest people. So, so nice. So, so friendly. Unbelievable. We just all wanted to hang out with them.
A few years in, what do you see as the major pros and cons of the no reservation system?
The cons are that you have to wait outside. That sucks. We didn't create this line, people are just showing up everyday. We didn't intend for it to be there. It's a little distracting to the neighborhood, but we've been able to manage it and finesse it so that it doesn't bother the neighbors too much. Those are the only real cons to it, I think.
The pros are the buzz in general... It's been great for everybody on the street. It's already a busy neighborhood. It's only making it busier. I don't know if there's any pros to the line, but to not taking reservations, I think it's just... If we took reservations right now, we'd probably be booked up weeks, months in advance. If you want to go tonight, you can go tonight. One hundred percent guarantee, you can go. You may have to wait, but you can get it. It's no doubt.
Why take reservations at your upcoming restaurant Pineapple and Pearls?
It's going to be a very high-end, fine dining, special occasion, expensive restaurant. It makes sense to have reservations for that. We only have six tables and we're only open four nights a week. We don't want another line. Reservations make sense.
"It’s the same soul as Rose’s, but dressed up."
What details can you share about Pineapple and Pearls?
During the day time, there will be a very small coffee shop and to-go spot. The idea is that we want to bring back fine dining. It's still around, but it's been fading out a little bit in its glory in the last decade or two. There's still a dozen or so incredible fine-dining restaurants in this country, but I think fine dining as a whole has been kind of trending out.
We'd like to bring it back and in the way of not [being], "Put on a suit and jacket, we're going out for a fancy dinner." In the sense of celebratory happiness, exciting dining, fine dining should really be a celebratory experience. It should be about enjoyment, excitement, and over-the-top fun and pleasure. You're paying more, but you're getting more expensive ingredients, nicer plates, et cetera. There's a place for that, and I think it's disappeared a lot. There's still a lot of people who do it in this country, but I feel there's less and less. To try and bring it back [to] the '80s when everybody in New York, bankers were spending boat loads of money. (We're actually not going to be that expensive.)
Is this restaurant going to be your Dorsia?
That's really funny. How did they get in? I don't think exclusivity is what we're looking for. We're trying to actually avoid that quite a bit, but we are trying to make it celebratory. I think that's the key word. Everything will be super refined, super high-end, but really about enjoyment and pleasure. It's kind of the same soul as Rose's, but dressed up.