9 Tricks for Getting a Table (and Being a VIP) at Hot Restaurants

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How do you skip the line and get the corner table? (photo: Thomas Hawk)

An evening out should be special, especially if it’s an expensive evening.

But too often it’s a disappointment. Does the following scenario sound familiar? After weeks of trying to score a reservation at that new restaurant that just got a great review, you finally get one – only to find yourself waiting until 9pm for the table you were promised at 8pm. When you’re finally seated, you find yourself waiting – for a drink, for your food, for your check, even for your coat.

It might be somewhat tolerable if you looked around and saw that everyone was treated the same, but that’s rarely the case.

There always seems to be at least one table getting the VIP treatment. It’s like a little oasis: The diners aren’t kept waiting; the waiters are particularly attentive; and the chef may even come out to say hello or send over some extra desserts at the end. Who doesn’t want to be treated like that?

I’m not fussy and I’m not high maintenance. I think those are two reasons I stumbled upon the secrets of being treated like a VIP… Read More

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Hacking Japan: Inside Tokyo for Less than New York – Part 2

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(Photo: Sprengben)

This is part 2 of 2 and a continuation of Part 1, which covered the top 4 unusual experiences, must-learn suffixes, budget-saving and healthy fast food, and more.

Below I explore choosing location, 5-star food for 2-star prices, drinking, and day trips from the concrete jungle of Tokyo… Read More

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Hacking Japan: Inside Tokyo for Less than New York

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(Photo: e-chan)

Several dozen of you asked for Tokyo hacks after the How to Live Like a Rock Star in Buenos Aires how-to guide.

Summer is upon us, and to encourage all of you to dream of traveling eastward, this is Part 1 of a 2-part series on hacking the world’s foremost cherry-blossom-meets-Bladerunner playground.

To begin: Most of what you hear about Tokyo is either a vast exaggeration or massive understatement.

The world’s most expensive city? Ridiculous. You can have an incredible meal and full night out for less than in NYC (try anything above floor 5 in Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku), and no tipping to boot. Certainly nowhere near the mind-numbing prices of London. Japanese weirdness? Most definitely. Quirky and futuristic, light-hearted but oddly Dilbert, Tokyo is a fusion of inventiveness and eccentricity found nowhere else on earth.

I’ve lived in Tokyo four or five times since 1995 and consider myself more Edokko (Tokyoite) than Californian. Here are a few of my tips for hacking it—seeing the real deal with real Japanese—while keeping the wallet (mostly) intact… Read More

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The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction)

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The menu in the Slovak Republic: full-contact video below.

Long time no see! I just landed back in CA from a long overdue mini-retirement through London, Scotland, Sardinia, Slovak Republic, Austria, Amsterdam, and Japan.

Some unpleasant surprises awaited me when I checked in on the evil e-mail inbox. Why? I let them happen.

I always do.

Here are just a few of the goodies that awaited me this time:

-One of our fulfillment companies has been shut-down due to the president’s death, causing a 20%+ loss in monthly orders and requiring an emergency shift of all web design and order processing.

-Missed radio and magazine appearances and upset would-be interviewers.

-More than a dozen lost joint-venture partnership opportunities.

It’s not that I go out of my way to irritate people — not at all — but I recognize one critical fact: oftentimes, in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.

What did I get in exchange for temporarily putting on blinders and taking a few glancing blows?

-I followed the Rugby World Cup in Europe and was able to watch the New Zealand All Blacks live, a dream I’ve had for the last 5 years.

-I was able to shoot every gun I’ve ever dreamed of firing since brainwashing myself with Commando. Bless the Slovak Republic and their paramilitaries (video at the end of this post).

-I was able to film a television series pilot in Japan, a lifelong dream and the most fun I’ve had in months, if not years.

-I met with my Japanese publisher, Seishisha (Tel: 03-5574-8511) and had media interviews in Tokyo, where the 4HWW is now #1 in several of the largest chains.
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-I took a complete 10-day media fast and felt like I’d had a two-year vacation from computers.

-I attended the Tokyo International Film Festival and hung out with one of my heroes, the producer of the Planet Earth television series.

Once you realize that you can turn off the noise without the world ending, you’re liberated in a way that few people ever know.

Just remember: if you don’t have attention, you don’t have time. Did I have time to check e-mail and voicemail? Sure. It might take 10 minutes. Did I have the attention to risk fishing for crises in those 10 minutes? Not at all.

As tempting as it is to “just check e-mail for one minute,” I didn’t do it. I know from experience that any problem found in the inbox will linger on the brain for hours or days after you shut-down the computer, rendering “free time” useless with preoccupation. It’s the worst of states, where you experience neither relaxation nor productivity. Be focused on work or focused on something else, never in-between.

Time without attention is worthless, so value attention over time.

Here are a few questions that can help you put on the productivity blinders and put things in perspective. Even when you’re not traveling the world, develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things, whether important tasks or true peak experiences. If you do force the time but puncture it with distractions, you won’t have the attention to appreciate it.

-What is the one goal, if completed, that could change everything?

-What is the most urgent thing right now that you feel you “must” or “should” do?

-Can you let the urgent “fail” — even for a day — to get to the next milestone with your potential lifechanging tasks?

-What’s been on your “to-do” list the longest? Start it first thing in the morning and don’t allow interruptions or lunch until you finish.

Will “bad” things happen? Small problems will crop up, yes. A few people will complain and quickly get over it. BUT, the bigger picture items you complete will let you see these for what they are–minutiae and repairable hiccups.

Make this trade a habit. Let the small bad things happen and make the big good things happen.

[This post kicked up some strong comments! If you'd like to see my responses, just search for "###" in the comments.]

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Odds and Ends:

-Here is another signed original 4HWW manuscript with the bonus stories that didn’t make it into the published version! Perhaps you saw recently that a 1st-printing Harry Potter fetches more than $40K. 4HWW is no Harry Potter yet, but unedited manuscripts are a rarer item. The Ebay auction is here, and you have 72 hours. The last one sold for $1,525 and there were 8 copies available. Now there are only 6 left. The total winning bid will be donated to this school in Nepal, where your name will appear on a plaque on the door. If you would like to skip the auction, just PayPal $2,000 for however many copies you want (max of 5) to timothy-at-brainquicken.com. The total will also be donated to education. If someone beats you to the punch, I’ll refund you.

-For those interested, I’m featured on pg. 67 of this month’s Men’s Fitness. Nothing fitness-related, just 4HWW stuff.

-I did a fun interview on .SAP INFO, where I talk about all things quantifiable.


Weapons of Mass Distraction: boys love guns. I’m sorry, but that’s how we are wired, especially at $80 for a full Soviet arsenal, complete with anti-tank machine gun. Don’t worry, I’m just a target shooter. No strapping guns to my bed just yet.

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How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires…

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One of the most common questions I’m asked is: what is your favorite place you’ve visited? While I love dozens of cities and just as many countries, I have four that immediately jump to mind: San Francisco, Tokyo, Berlin, and Buenos Aires. I’ve listed them in descending order of expense, and this is where I’ll tie it back to an oddly common question I get:

How do I become a tango expert?

I’m the first American to hold a Guinness World Record in tango, which was done on a lark while I was living in BsAs (that’s Buenos Aires) in 2005 and competed in the world championships. Fortunately for you, dear reader, becoming a tango expert and living like a rock star can go hand-in-hand if you hack BsAs properly.

First, why BsAs? Four reasons off the top of my head:

1. Created by immigrants from Spain, Italy, and Germany, you get the best food, architecture, and culture from all three. This mix of genetics also produces some incredible physical specimens. In fact, I rank Argentines right up there with Norwegians as the most beautiful people in the world.

2. In my experience, it’s the safest city in South America. It looks like Paris in many places, and I have never felt threatened on the street, even after 2am. Try that in SF or NYC.

3. Argentina is the New Zealand of the western hemisphere. From tropical rain forests in the north to world-class skiing in Patagonia, it has it all. Check out rare tropical birds or watch penguins get eaten by killer whales — it’s your choice. Argentina is the most beautifully diverse country I have ever visited.

4. It is possible to live like a millionaire on $30,000 a year. I’ve been there four times and can tell you this: dollars get you a quality of life that is all but impossible in the US. Even with the getting-there costs, I saved more than $10,000 on my last trip when compared to just sitting on my ass in Silicon Valley, and I was living like a rock star the whole time in BsAs: 5-star meals, VIP tables, you name it.

So, should you take the jump and move to Argentina? I have friends who have done it, but I recommend you take a 1-3-month “mini-retirement” first to take it for a test drive. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

1. Timing:

Airfare will run between $500-850 roundtrip, so ensure that you’re staying for a while. Remember that it’s summer and hot as hell in BsAs in December-January. November or March-April are gorgeous, and summer time in the US is perfect for skiing in Bariloche or Las Lenas.

2. Flights:

I generally fly Continental/Copa through Panama, as I like to spend 1-4 weeks snorkeling in Coiba in Panama (why not get two trips for the price of one?). If not, Aerolineas Argentina often offers good prices, and you can sometimes get deals by flying into Rio or Sao Paulo, Brazil and then to BsAs on Gol or TAM. check airfares immediately after 1am on Saturday nights (Sunday mornings), when many airlines lower prices based on “flight load” (ratio of sold-to-empty seats).

3. Housing:

One negative to Argentina, especially BsAs — people will attempt to overcharge you. This will happen in any country with weak currency. I’ve rented rooms with families, used Argentine brokers to get shared apartments, rented posh penthouses from expats, and found hidden gems through Germans. My conclusion? It’s not worth the headache to deal with most Argentines and attempt to save a few hundred dollars. I had a huge pain in the ass with a dishonest Argentine landlord who refused to return my deposit — and I speak fluent Argentine Spanish — so now I deal exclusively with non-Argentines. There are some great Argies, to be sure, but they have the reputation among South Americans for being unreliable (!). Use http://www.craigslist.org or my favorite outfit: http://www.ba4uapartments.com.ar I’m not gay, but I do like how gay-friendly agencies keep their apartments: impeccably clean.

You’ll pay 3x more than an Argentine. A decent room in a good location can be found for $300 USD, a great single bedroom apartment can be found for $700-800 USD, but here’s one tip: if you can get a friend to come with you (or if you have a family), a two-bedroom or three-bedroom can be had for $1,200-1,300, and it will be 10x more luxurious than the one-bedroom. My favorite areas to live are, in descending order of preference: Recoleta (I like near Plaza Francia), Palermo, Barrio Norte, and San Telmo. Puerto Madero is the most expensive area and people fight for it, but it’s quite boring unless it’s a weekend evening.

4. Clubs, VIP treatment, and Food:

Spend an evening walking around one of the best hotels in BsAs, such as The Four Seasons, Sheraton, or Hotel Alvear, and make friends with one of the managers on call. They get VIP tables at all of the top clubs — Asia de Cuba, Opera Bay, Mint, Amerika, etc. — and can get you on the lists, so invite them for drinks and ask them for suggestions of where to meet. If not, just visit the clubs around 10pm on a Thursday or Friday and ask to meet the director of special events, or the manager (“gerente”). Tell him you’d like to bring some friends to the club and ask how to get on the list. Keep his card in your wallet to flash at bouncers. Worst case scenario, just spend $50 USD with a few friends and you can get a 6-person VIP table with unlimited champagne for the night ;)

For wining and dining, my faves are Gran Bar Danzon and La Bistecca, but more than both combined, I love all of the hole-in-the-wall parrillada (Argentine BBQ) restaurants. Just wander down Lavalle off of Avenida Florida and take your pick: the beef sandwiches for $3 USD (use plenty of chimichurri) will blow your mind.

5. Tango:

I had no interest in tango before visiting Argentina. I thought it was effeminate and ridiculous, something out of Shall We Dance? (the Japanese original is not to be missed) The truth is that social tango is completely improvised (much like my first love, breakdancing). Chest to chest, strangers will embrace and get to know each other more in three minutes than 10 dates would otherwise accomplish. Every night of the week, tango rules the night, only really getting started around 1am. Here are some of my favorite milongas (tango dance halls):

“New wave” (nueva onda) tango and 20-30-something crowd:
“La Viruta” at Armenia and Cordoba, inside the Armenian Cultural Center (odd, I know). 1am+ on Wed, Sat, and Sunday are awesome. I took a kiwi friend of mine there the day before he flew back to NZ, and he said to me: “Thanks for ruining my life.” He had been in BsAs for three months and had never seen such wildlife.

Traditional and older crowd: “Sunderland” or “La Baldosa” — find “El Tangauta” magazine in any tango shop, or at La Viruta, for addresses and all the tango info you can handle. Also use Ctrl-F to find any of the milongas I mention here.

If it is your first time in BsAs, I would recommend having an Argentine friend call the teachers and ask for pricing for an unnamed “friend,” not mentioning that you’re a foreigner. Otherwise, I promise that you will be overcharged. Smelling dollars, someone who should cost 50 pesos/hour will ask for 80 dollars. You should be able to get excellent private lessons for 50 pesos/hour. Good group lessons can be found at the Carlos Coppelo school in front of Shopping Abasto. My favorite private teacher is the young prodigy Gabriel Misse, but he’s going to be more expensive than most. He trained me for the world championships and is amazing. Here is a clip of Gabriel and his partner Alejandra Martinan. It starts off slow, but watch the amazing footwork as they progress. Most amazing? It is ALL improvised on the spot.

If you want to live like a king, it’s just a few thousand miles south. Viva la Argentina!

Related and Suggested:
Tim Ferriss – 3 Tips for Would-Be Dancers: From 1st Class to World-Class in 6 Months

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