Restaurant Etiquette: Reservations

Reservations are more than a guarantee of a table during a busy Saturday night, there’s a lot to know to make the reservation system work for you.

1.Call. I’m taking a firm stance on this one, because it is something I truly believe; it is always best to call rather than book online.  Calling enables you to begin establishing a rapport with the restaurant, and if there is any additional information that needs to be delivered, the staff can alert you now. Perhaps that 8:00 reservation available online is actually a table outdoors, or perhaps there is a large party arriving at the same time as your preferred reservation time, (if you arrive before they do, your service will certainly go faster). None of these nuggets of information will be listed on Opentable or Yelp. Plus, calling gives you the chance to test drive the place ahead of your meal. If the person on the other end of the line is surly or unhelpful, it might be a message from the ghosts of Dinner Future… advising you to avoid this place.

2.Special circumstances. On the phone call when you book your reservation, advise the restaurant of any special circumstances. Birthdays, anniversaries, food allergies, wheelchair or other accessibility needs, if you have plans after dinner and need to leave at a particular time. Even dropping a comment that “this is a meal with friends that haven’t seen one another in ten years!” Is helpful. Such a party will have a lot of catching up to do, and I wouldn’t book another party on that table for at least three hours.

3.Don’t reserve if your plans are not solid. And if your plans fall through, please call ahead to cancel. It might free up a table in time for guests that would otherwise be turned away, and it is always appreciated by the restaurant.

4. Remember; the computer is watching. If you have a pattern of failing to respect your reservations (i.e. “No Showing”) most reservation systems track this. No one is going to hold a good table on a busy Friday dinner for a guest who has No-showed for several reservations. If you have a habit of no-showing, don’t be surprised if you see a related trend of tables near kitchens and bathrooms, (or, in the worst cases, consistent rebuffs that the restaurant is already fully booked at every time you request).

5. Sometimes, there is still a wait. Anticipating the time it will take a party to enjoy their meal and close their check is not a science. From time to time  guests linger, or the kitchen gets backed up, or a busser had to leave suddenly because his wife went into labor. No one enjoys making guests wait for their table. And while every effort is made to have your table ready precisely at 7:30, circumstances might be such that it is not available until 7:53. When faced with this frustrating scenario, a person might feel compelled to huff “Guess I didn’t need that reservation.” But you did! You did! Because without a reservation, you would have been turned away at the door! There would be no table for you, not even in twenty-three minutes! And while certainly the restaurant ought to acknowledge your patience in graciously waiting until your table is ready by offering a complimentary appetizer or a glass of wine, no one is lying when they say that sometimes waits were simply unavoidable.

6. The Large Party Reservation— Many restaurants have begun requiring a credit card to secure a reservation for parties larger than 6 (or 8, or 12). This policy may be a total bummer for you. But these policies have been established for a reason (see: No-Showing). Yes, just like when we were in elementary school, a few jerks misbehaving can change the rules for everyone. There is no use wheedling the host when she delivers this information on the phone. There is no use escalating the conversation into a conflict by insisting on speaking to the manager. If such a policy truly bothers you, book a reservation elsewhere. Or, if you are granted an exception, don’t abuse it. It is typically the guests that exceptions are made for that tend to reinforce why the policy was made in the first place. Don’t be that guy.

7. Another guy not to be. Don’t be the guy who, upon arriving in an empty or sparsely filled restaurant at the beginning of the evening say “We have a reservation, but looks like we didn’t need one!” More than likely the tables are empty precisely because they are being held for reservations that are arriving within the next 45 minutes. More than likely the tables are empty because the restaurant just opened.

8. It is cool to have a reservation. On a related note, it is cool to have a reservation. You have a reservation! Your arrival is anticipated! Everyone is excited to see you! And everyone is grateful that you made a reservation, because reservations are about so much more than merely assuring that there is a seat for your derrière. Reservations enable the chef to know how many steaks to stock in the walk-in for the weekend. They help the dining room manager schedule enough bartenders so you don’t wait thirty minutes for a cocktail.

Restaurant 101: Reservations about… Reservations.

In this age of instant digital gratification, the reservation is quick becoming an endangered species. “But wait,” you say, “I always use my opentable app to book a table at least 30 minutes before I show up anywhere!”
While that’s a great idea, it’s not really a reservation; that’s a call-ahead. Which is helpful, but not the same.
Reservations are something you plan on at least 24 hours beforehand.
It’s like your in-laws coming over for dinner. If they call you on Friday night saying they don’t have anything else planned and are in the car on their way over, you’re not going to say “No, don’t come,” you’ll figure something out. You’ll pull that lasagna out of the freezer and send the Gent to pick up a salad and a bottle of wine.
But if you know they’re coming over 48 hours in advance, you’ll have your mother-in-law’s favorite macarons from that French bakery downtown, you’ll make your fool-proof orange chicken, and you won’t be scrambling to refill the Brita as they walk in the door.
It’s the same in restaurants, but on a larger scale. If I know on Wednesday that we are expecting 200 guests on Friday, then I have time to call in more staff. My chef can order additional calamari or butcher more bison steaks, and my bar manager can stock up on enough booze so we don’t run out of anything that one of those guests might want.
Call aheads are good, but they don’t compare to a reservation.
Bottom line, no good places will to turn away business within their posted hours of operation. To ensure the best service possible, however, reservations made at least 24 hours in advance are most appreciated.

Restaurant 101: Table at 8:00?

It’s a continuous struggle in the running of restaurants, balancing the desire of guests to dine at 8:00pm, while maintaining standards of service.

You may see a virtually empty dining room when you walk into a given restaurant at 8:00pm some Thursday night. The host may advise that there will be a wait, but if you’d like to grab a drink at the bar, a table should come available in 20-30 minutes.
“But there are all those empty tables!” you protest to your date as you order your g&t.
Those tables may be reserved for reservations that are coming in within the next 30 minutes. Or there may be a large party in an unseen private room that is slamming the kitchen at the moment.
Contrary to arguments presented by the LA Times  & that guy from the Biggest Loser, I do not know of any restaurant that will outright refuse to give a guest a reservation if one is available at the time they request. It doesn’t make logical sense to do so; restaurants are in the business of feeding people, and if tables are empty they don’t make money. But once a time frame is full, it is just…full.
It’s not merely an equation of
x (# of chairs) –  y (# of reservations) = N (# of tables available)
The math involves everything from the number of staff you can fit behind the ‘Line’ in the kitchen, how many dishes on the menu come from the same station (the grill, the sauté, the pantry), how many bodies you have on hand to literally bring the food out from the kitchen, clear and reset the tables, make the drinks, and greet those guests. Booking more guests than you can logistically handle in one fifteen minute window will slam your kitchen and your waitstaff, slowing service for everyone that comes in after you. So it’s more like:
In the running of a restaurant, great service is the culmination of hundreds of small moments and tiny details. Ideally, their server greets every table within 2 minutes of being seated. Waters hit the table within five minutes, followed by the first round of drinks moments thereafter, the order is taken within 8 minutes, and the appetizers are well on their way out of the kitchen by the fifteen-minute mark.
In that world, spacing tables out even ten to fifteen minutes helps immeasurably to keep service running smoothly. At 8:15, the orders are all in for the servers’ tables that sat down at 8:00, and now you will have her full attention. Who wouldn’t rather have that, than silently fume that you haven’t even gotten bread yet, while the couple at the next table is cooing over their glasses of Petite Syrah?
There are many, many reasons that a restaurant will tell you that they can’t seat you at a certain time. They all, ultimately, boil down to a desire to give you the best service possible when you dine there.