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The NY Translation of Prix Fixe: ‘Sold Out’

July 14, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Definition of a New York minute: the amount of time it took natives to grab every $19.92 lunch reservation this week at Manhattan’s priciest restaurants.

Quicker than you can say Al Gore, there were no seats left at the city’s primo eateries. Le Cirque? Le sold-out. Bouley? Boo-hoo. The Quilted Giraffe? Quit calling.

Last week’s announcement of the prix fixe special, designed to give conventioneers a taste of the good life, set off a phone frenzy for reservations unlike anything city-hardened restaurateurs had ever seen.

The Quilted Giraffe fielded six calls a minute for five hours. Le Cirque, booked solid in an hour, was taking 5,000 calls a day. Disappointed callers to Bouley wanted $19.92 meals to go.

″It’s July, we’re usually in the summer doldrums. So why not?″ offer the special price, asked Andrew Friemdan, marketing director at the standing-room only Russian Tea Room. ″It’s like running a sale.″

The Kmart coupon-clipping crowd has nothing on hungry New Yorkers. Everyone from actor Robert De Niro to Rep. Ted Weiss tried to take advantage of the cheap eats. Most got shut out - and that was days before the delegates even arrived.

″For the first time in seven years, people are telling us they needed operator assistance to get through,″ said Danny Meyer of the sold-out Union Square Cafe.

″Can you imagine what the guy says when the operator asks, ‘Is this an emergency?’ ‘Yeah,’ the guy answers, ’I’ve got to make a lunch reservation.‴

In all, 17 of the restaurants were completely packed before one delegate had unpacked. There are openings for a $19.92 lunch at an additional 92 restaurants.

There just aren’t any openings at the hot spots that are king of the hill, top of the heap, A-No. 1.

″The conventioneers will have to go to the Quilted Giraffe at dinner, but not at $19.92,″ said Tim Zagat, the restaurant rating guru who helped cook up the restaurant plan.

Not very likely, according to one of the many delegates feeling the pinch of tough economic times. ″We’re on tight budgets. I’m not ashamed to admit it,″ said delegate Doug Aurand of Rockville, Ill.

Dining out in New York is almost guaranteed to lighten your wallet. A McDonald’s lunch of two quarter-pounders, fries and a soda runs about $9 in midtown. Even a pretzel from a street vendor sets you back $1.25; a can of soda is another $1.

You can understand Aurand’s concern, but De Niro? The restaurant he co- owns, the TriBeCa Grill, is offering the $19.92 deal, but he wanted a seat at the Quilted Giraffe (usual lunch price: $45 per person).

″Someone from his office called and said he had to give a very important lunch. I said, ’If it’s so important, why doesn’t he come for dinner at the regular price? Robert De Niro can afford it,‴ recounted Susan Wine, owner of the East Side restaurant.

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