The Galatoire’s Tradition: Waiting in Line for Fine Dining

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David Gooch’s great grand uncle came to New Orleans in the 1870’s. In 1905, he purchased a two-story restaurant on Rue Bourbon, right in the heart of the Vieux Carre. Gooch says , “They looked at the great local seafood, the beautiful trout, redfish, shrimp, oysters and crabmeat and started preparing it in a traditional French manner and it’s kinda developed into the cuisine we have now which is sort of a French Creole cuisine.”

Today, Chef Michael Sichel carries on that cuisine. We catch him in the bustling kitchen. “I’m making the famous, world famous brochettes. Beautiful Louisiana gulf coast oysters. Look at the size of these, look at how beautiful they are at the moment.” However, it’s not just beautiful oysters bringing customers back for more.  While food’s being prepped and servers set the tables, the line is already growing out front!

On any given Friday morning while you may be at work, these folks have a very different idea. They’ve been waiting in line for hours, some even days- just have to lunch at Galatoire’s. Terri Conley is visiting from Dallas. “You know, I’ve heard a lot about it, that it’s a real experience, especially on Fridays. It takes some effort to get in, but we kinda planned our week around it, so we got here at 9:00 o’clock this morning!”

What’s the occasion? Tradition.

Gooch says, “Our dining room has a lot of intangibles. You can feel the excitement, the electricity in the air. Maybe it’s a combination of the mirrors, the reflection, the noise level, people smiling and just having a good time.”

The tradition of noisy Friday lunches dates back to the 1970’s. Since Galatoire’s doesn’t take reservations, it became increasingly tough to get in. Then one day, 25 years ago, Gooch saw a certain socialite waiting in line…on Thursday! “And she says David, I’m not here for today, I’m here for tomorrow because last year I invited all my social buddies to have lunch at Galatoire’s and I got here at 6:00 in the morning and I wasn’t able to get a table. I was so embarrassed that this year I decided I’m going to be first in line.”

These days, you’ll see plenty of people waiting, even people being paid to wait. When the bar finally opens at 11:00 am and the dining room at 11:30, it’s easy to see what they’re waiting for: part fine-dining, part-cocktail party and 100% New Orleans.