Santa Can Seat You Now

Caruso debuts reservations to sit with Saint Nick at the Grove and the Americana at Brand. A new mom has mixed feelings

We expected to wait. In fact, we were counting on it. My husband and I picked the Americana at Brand for our 1-year-old’s first Santa photo shoot specifically because the Glendale super-mall also houses Din Tai Fung, the notoriously crowded dumpling house. We figured that once we made it through the line for Mr. Claus, it would be xiaolongbao time. Perfect.

We strutted up to the gal in the sexy elf outfit clutching an iPad and asked how long the wait was to see Santa. “Do you have a reservation?” she grinned.

Uh, what? No. It’s Santa.

Her smile dropped. She cringed a little and lowered her voice: “Three to four hours,” she whispered.

I scoped the handful of families already in the queue, each with a squirming toddler or two decked out in holiday garb. “What about them?” I asked.

They have reservations,” she said.

My husband and I were instructed to download the Caruso app and make a reservation for a future date. Which we tried to do—after we filled our pit of disappointment with a few dozen pork-and-shrimp shumai. I say tried because unless I take time off work or my 13-month-old is willing to stay up till 9:45 p.m., it looks like Santa is fully booked for the season.

“Is this a thing?” I asked one coworker, a father of two, on Monday morning. After all, I’m a new mom, and just like the ridiculous notion of lace-up baby boots and the importance of keeping a spare onesie on hand at all times (all times), there are aspects of parenthood of which I was previously ignorant.

“Not that I’ve ever heard of,” he replied.

I get it. Waits for Santa have always been painfully long, and the option of a reservation is easier on both parents and the impatient tykes who will soon be screaming on a stranger’s lap for the sake of a good fridge ornament.

But here’s the rub: Through the Caruso app, you can only make a reservation if you purchase a photo package ahead of time (options begin around $22). So, essentially, you either pay to see Santa, or you stand around for three hours, which anyone who has ever met a toddler knows is not an option at all.

I spend extra to get groceries delivered via Instacart and pay to have my dry cleaning picked up by Washio. But there’s something about roping Christmas into the pay-for-convenience game that has me feeling a little Scroogey. The stuff wrapped up under the tree may vary depending on one’s economic status, but the ability to write Santa a letter, to sit on his squishy lap and tell him tiny little dreams—the magic of Christmas—that’s free for all kids. Or, it should be, anyway.

Admittedly, as I write this, I’m gearing up to spend tomorrow’s lunch break back at the Americana’s Santa Workshop, where I shelled out $22 for a mid-day time slot. I mean, it’s going to be a really good picture—and I won’t even have to wait for it.