The Procrastinator’s Guide to DC Restaurant Week 2012

No reservations? Fear not. You can still take advantage of warm-weather dining deals with these key strategies.

Dying to try Fiola on the cheap? Try scanning the bar for a free stool. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

We’re just a week away from DC Restaurant Week’s summer run, when high-end and hyper-popular restaurants offer lunch for $20.12 and dinner for $35.12. The good news: Reservations remain. “This is a slow time of year for many restaurants, since universities are out and Congress will be out,” says Scott Jampol, the vice president for consumer marketing with online reservations company (and Restaurant Week partner) OpenTable. Still, this late in the game it doesn’t hurt to have a few strategies in your pocket for making the most out of the occasion. We offer six below—and suggest you use them in conjunction with these pro tips from seasoned Washington diners.

Don’t give up: Just because the place you’re dying to dine is booked today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. Baby sitters cancel, vacation opportunities arise, deadlines pop up. “If you have a specific restaurant in mind and it’s booked, don’t forget to check back, and check often,” Jampol advises.

Walk in: A lot of diners assume that when there are no reservations available online, a restaurant is booked up—but often the eatery has set aside a number of tables to accommodate walk-ins, says Suellen Keller, the private dining coordinator with Restaurant Week participant District Chophouse. Due to its proximity to the Verizon Center, the steak spot reserves 40 percent of its tables for walk-ins. Zero in on eateries in high-traffic areas, and you may be able to score some seats on the fly.

Do lunch: Last-minute reservations are always easier to come by outside dinner hours, says Japol. And if you ask the experts, lunch is a better time to take advantage of the deals, anyway.

Hit the bar: Jenna Parsons, general manager of the Hamilton, points out RW menus are often available at the bar—a favored perch of industry types and professional critics. They know bellying up often means getting great service from a bartender who doesn’t have to contend with a crowded dining room, and has the added advantage of offering a more nuanced look at how a restaurant is run. “I tend to be a bar diner myself,” admits Parsons.

Don’t be trendy: There are excellent restaurants around Washington that, for whatever reason, enjoy a little less buzz than the cool kids. You don’t read a lot about Bethesda restaurant Newton’s Table these days, for instance, but it still has great food. Jampol says Bastille in Alexandria and Floriana in Dupont are two more choice spots with a lot of available seating.

Think outside the Beltway: You can eat in the District any time. If you’re late to the DC Restaurant Week game, consider it an opportunity to discover a neighborhood gem. There are 12 Restaurant Week participants in Alexandria, 15 in Arlington, and 5 in Bethesda. Despite the name, “it’s not just a DC event anymore,” says Jampol.

Restaurant Week runs from August 13 through 19. Consult the website for the full list of participating places.