One of the busiest restaurants in Portland, Ox almost always has a wait, and General Manager Daniel Weiner, who goes by Dani for short, is the man taking names. To help you not only get in but get the best table, Eater picked Weiner's brain, which, not surprisingly, is full of insightful tips.
Weiner got his start at Minneapolis's The Barbary Fig, where the owner hired him specifically because he didn't have any experience in the hospitality industry. "Good, you haven't picked up bad habits," said the owner. Weiner went on to work in restaurants in New York (Back Forty); Eugene, Oregon; and Seattle (The 5 Spot). He became general manager of Ox in January 2015.
When's the best time to arrive at Ox to get a table on a Friday night? This is what I say to guests who call me: I tell them that Whey Bar opens at 4 o'clock, and those guests hoping to get in on a weekend at the first 5pm seating should show up at 4pm. But it's tricky. I don't take names if I'm not full, and I don't know when we'll fill up. When someone asks me "What time should I come in to get on the list for a 6:30 or 7:30 dinner?"—a question I get at least once a day—I say that I'm not sure when we'll fill up, but I recommend coming in at 6 or 6:15 and being okay with lingering.
Is there a time of week when someone can arrive and almost always get a seat? In general, the earlier the better or the later the better. Often on weeknights, you can arrive before 6:30 and get a table without much of a wait. We expanded to being open on Mondays in July, so that's a good night, too.
If you arrive after 9pm, the wait is usually on the shorter side—30 minutes, 45 minutes. Importantly, if someone is on the list, I will seat them even if the kitchen is technically closed. We are honored and humbled by our customers, and if their name is on the list, they can rest assured that they will be seated in the dining room. Once you're in my dining room, I just want to hit you over the head with hospitality.
Since starting at Ox eight months ago, have people tried to bribe you to get a table? I have been offered what I'll simply call large bills, and I've always declined. Because that wouldn't be fair to all of the loyal patrons with their names on the wait list. I tell all of the hosts to not accept those bribes, either.
Does Ox manage its wait list differently than other restaurants? The key to success here is the Whey Bar. It stays open for as long as Ox needs it. It has 10 beautiful outside tables, fantastic cocktails and wine, and a fantastic selection of oysters and snacks. The turnover at Whey Bar is regular, and it's rare that it's hard to find a table there. Never have I worked in a restaurant that offers guests a place to wait this comfortable and robust. I mean, it's an oyster bar, with charcuterie, small bites, beer, and wine. Some other places just have a sidewalk. A packed sidewalk.
What's the best table in the house? My favorite spot is bar seats 6 and 7 in front of the big window. I love it. You've got the big windows. I always say that eating at the bar or grill counter is not a compromise, and it's another way to minimize your wait. On a Friday, we might quote two hours for a table of two but five minutes for the bar.
After the interview, Weiner dropped one last nugget of wisdom that we'll pass on to you: A Hebrew name, Dani is pronounced Dah-nee. Who knows if it will get you in any faster, but it probably doesn't hurt to pronounce it right.