It was already hard enough to get a table at the Lost Kitchen. Last year, the 40-seat restaurant in Freedom, Maine, began taking reservations for the season at midnight on April 1. Within 24 hours, it had received more than 10,000 calls.
“A year ago I was having nightmares no one was going to call,” says chef-owner Erin French. “This place exploded far faster than we ever — who would have ever? — imagined.”
This year, French and her staff knew they wanted to do things differently. Plenty of restaurants take reservations via systems like OpenTable or Reserve. That seemed too impersonal for the little restaurant in a former gristmill. And so comes the big reveal of the 2018 reservation process.
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“This April the first, please sleep in and let your phone and redial finger rest,” read the instructions. Instead, get yourself a 3x5 notecard, an envelope, and a stamp. Write your name and contact information on one side. On the other side, if you feel like it, you can write a personal note. (It won’t affect your chances, although French saves and savors the notes she has received from customers over the years.) Then put the card in the envelope and send it in.
Writes one Robyn Hodgson on the restaurant’s Facebook page: “Since I work for the Mail processing center here in Maine im happy that you having people use our service :) I will let them know of the massive quantities of mail Freedom is gonna get. Along with my entry.”
Cards must be postmarked between April 1 and 10. The staff will begin selecting cards April 11. You can’t request specific dates until your card is picked and you are contacted. And don’t try to game the system by sending more than one card; the Lost Kitchen crew will be entering the information into a computer system, so they’ll catch on.
“Here at TLK we are old fashioned, we are simple, we are slow, we are Mainers. We prefer human contact over computers and pen & paper over keyboards,” the instructions continue. “Given the chance, we want to give you our full and undivided personal attention. Keeping it small and intimate is part of what makes TLK so magical and something we don’t want to stray from.”
Meanwhile, to decompress before the season starts, French traveled to France for a month, where she stayed in a little village, studied the language, hiked, and ate. It’s been a big year: Her cookbook, “The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine,” is nominated for a James Beard award. And she recently signed on to write a memoir.
Not everyone will like the change in the reservations policy, she figures. But that’s OK.
“Whatever I do, some people will get pissed off,” French says. “Everyone has a lot of opinions. But at the end of the day I’ve been thinking with my gut and heart more than my head. It’s the way I want to live my life. Sorry everyone!”
For more information on Lost Kitchen reservations, go to www.findthelostkitchen.com.Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.