•Get wired: OpenTable.com lets you book online at some of the country's best eateries. Enter your location and when you'd like to dine, and the site pulls up a list of available last-minute reservations.

•Be flexible: "On a slow night, like Monday or Tuesday, even the hottest restaurant in town is going to have seats either early [around 6 p.m.] or late [after 9 p.m.]," says Tim Zagat, CEO and cofounder of the Zagat Survey.

•Charge it: If your credit card offers a concierge service, try asking them to call for you. "Many card companies work with restaurants to get privileged seating options," say Esti Parsons and Christopher Myers, co-owners of Radius, Great Bay, and Via Matta restaurants in Boston.

•Be a barfly: A little face time at the bar usually pays off, even without a reservation, says Zagat. "Tell the maitre d', 'I'm having some drinks at the bar. If a seat opens up, I'd be happy to have it,'" he suggests. You never know!

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