Call Out the Reserves

Restaurateurs sing the blues over no-show diners Guest columnists

Some places take no reservations. They openly rely on walk-ins. You sign in, they hand you a beeper or a stuffed animal, and send you off to the bar. And there's nothing wrong with that--if you want to drink and if the wait is short, great. If it's not, you're drinking on an empty stomach.

Some restaurants have begun calling customers to confirm their reservations. We've tried it and have spent far too much time talking to our diners' phone machines. Why reconfirm a supposedly firm reservation? By using pauses, repeating the reservation time firmly but graciously, and taking the home phone number, we try to raise the commitment level--but we still get no-shows.

Some hardliners say: Hit them in the wallet. Take a credit card number and charge the no-show. But that complicates the reservations process enormously. Imagine jotting down myriad 16-digit credit-card numbers on a bustling Saturday night while the phone's ringing and diners are streaming in. It's just dinner, after all, not a bank loan.

We're considering a version of a call-ahead system. It's a variation on no reservations. The customer calls, asks how long the wait time is, and gets put on the wait list before hopping in the car and heading over. We'll soon see how that works.

Irritating as it is, the no-show phenomenon is instructive, too. It tells us something about our frantic era. Dining has become less formal, more casual and spur-of-the-moment. Sometimes, personal schedules are not easy to tame, and some of us actually are better off NOT making reservations. We wonder: Except for extremely high-end, fine-dining restaurants, are reservations becoming a thing of the past?

Again, it's just dinner. We don't make a living turning away people. We're interested in being fair. We run our restaurant ourselves, which means we have to look our customers straight in the eye and tell them there's a wait when they have reservations. We know people have been made to wait in our restaurant, and we wish we could avoid it. We've seated late-late reservations, too, and then have gone on to embrace them and treat them fully well. But we really wish they'd been on time.

So, help us out. If you make a reservation, keep it. Thanks.

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