Reservations or no reservations: That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous complaints from self-absorbed reviewers and pompous patrons or to take arms against a sea of cacophony by fortifying the business with reservations and end all opposing hate, doth gives us pause.
I’m sure Shakespeare would not have wanted his famed syntax from Hamlet’s speech on the pros and cons of suicide to be mangled over something as innocuous as the topic of restaurant reservations.
Still, it presented a mighty tempting template to play with, to insert the yin-yang subject so perplexing to operators that many restaurateurs dare not speak its name.
Cornell University researchers put numbers to the public’s longstanding anecdotal angst about dealing with restaurants that don’t take reservations. In a nutshell, a large percentage of both social and business diners said they look elsewhere if they can’t make a reservation to secure a table.
Historically, restaurant seating policies have been the most stressful aspect consumers confront in controlling their time when dining out, the researchers pointed out. Even in this age of sophisticated table management given reservations software and Internet sites designed to make restaurant bookings easy, frustration still boils on both sides of the hostess stand.
For every guest that shows up on time, there’s a no-show with the manners of a bear who lacks even the courtesy to pick up a phone.
For every late-show arrival who suffers the same ineptitude with modern telecommunications, there’s the hushed battle between maître d’ and server about what to do with table six now that it is vacant 30 minutes after the reserved time—and look at that handsome couple that just walked in.
For every guest who called ahead to get a table at 8 p.m., there’s a host at a busy restaurant patiently explaining why call-ahead seating does not guarantee a patron a seat just because they showed up when they said they would. Me? I’ll take a restaurant seat at a place I’m eager to dine in any way I can get it: the bar, the kitchen, that annoying seat by the swinging kitchen doors.
Just don’t lie to me.
If I’m a walk-in at 9 p.m., and I’m told there’s a 40-minute wait, I expect it to be an honest estimate. I don’t want the next thing I hear to be the bartender yelling, “Last call.” If a restaurant is so hot and stuffy that I had to make a reservation a month ago, why the hell should I be told, “They are preparing your table,” when half the dining room is empty? Stop telling me that because all of my party has not yet arrived, the members who are there cannot be seated. No one called to cancel did they? So give me my table!
In the end, restaurant seating policies are a kind of verbal agreement with an emotional clause, whose subclauses are honesty, respect of people’s time and courtesy.