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May 27, 2008

Why restaurants don't take reservations



I wasn't surprised that yesterday's Monday Morning Quarterbacking swerved off into a discussion of the merits of BYOB restaurants and whether a corkage fee is fair. I was surprised that there wasn't more conversation about restaurants that have a no reservations policy when Mr. Old Fart brought the subject up.

I don't think anyone can argue that from a customer's point of view, there is no advantage to a restaurant that has a no reservations policy. If I'm wrong, please correct me. But I don't even really get it from a restaurant's point of view. Wouldn't it help to know in advance how many people are going to be eating there on any given night and to space them out appropriately?

Maybe it's usually when a place is new and hot that it can afford to have a no reservations policy. Even Salt eventually decided to start taking reservations.


(Monica Lopossay/Sun photographer) 

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 3:15 PM | | Comments (24)


This way the customer won't get angry when the restaurant over books and they still have to wait for their reservation. Waiting up to 20 minutes for your reservation isn't too bad. Anything longer and the Front screwed up

to optimize local/walk-in traffic & eliminate no call/no shows & or cancellations. most no reservation restaurants are economy to mid casual.

The reason restaurants do not take reservations, in my experience, is because many reservations do not show up, or show up late. Turn enough walk-ins away (or turn down enough additional reservations) to save tables for reservations that don't show up, and a restaurant's empty on a Saturday night. Really, it's shocking how many tables don't show up for reservations, especially large parties of eight or 10.

I've been appalled on numerous occasions when seeing people post on Chowhound: "I've got reservations for Friday at A, B, and C...which one should I go to?"

I've seen it mostly with DC restaurant patrons, but I don't have any particular reason to assume that Baltimorons are any more virtuous.

I agree about the downsides for both restaurants and patrons, that's why places like The Charleston always call you 8 times to confirm. That said, there should be a way to still take reservations. Taking a credit card and threatening to charge $100 for a no show ought to do the trick. Then again if there's so much opprobrium over a $5 corkage fee I'm curious what the reaction will be to my modest proposal.

Even though Popeyes refuses to take reservations I still find myself going back. I mean where else am I going to get dirty rice.

Not to go there again, but I object to the corkage fee because they are making my life more difficult, providing next to nothing, and charging me for it. It's a matter of principle more than the $5.

The charge for a no-show reservation is fine though, although $100 might be a bit steep for a more casual place. It's a question of courtesy.

The one time when circumstances prevented me from keeping a reservation at the last minute I called to let them know, and the host seemed surprised that I bothered.

Taste used to take credit card info & said they would charge a fee for no shows.

I have no problem with this, except the slight twinge about providing the info over the phone.

I mean where else am I going to get dirty rice. Well, there is that small pile on my kitchen floor. Its looking for a new home.

I agree with KB. My sister owns a mid-casual restaurant that took reservations when it first opened. There is no way to gauge which ones won't show up or to hold the right amount of tables to account for the no-shows or the ones who make a reservation for 4, then show up with 3 or 4 additional guests. Once she stopped taking reservations, the problem stopped.

For those of us who get babysitters to go to more upscale restaurants, it's not practical to go somewhere that doesn't take reservations. When I'm paying $10 per hour for someone to watch my child, I don't want to spend my time waiting for a table. Before Salt started taking reservations, I would be there by 6 p.m. so I knew that I'd get a table without waiting. I was willing to do that because I think the food is fabulous. But I can't think of any other restaurants for which I would do that. Thank goodness they started taking reservations.

Chez Panisse in Berkerly, CA charges $25.00 for reservations not cancelled 24 hours in advance for the downstairs restaurant where reservations are required. For the upstairs Cafe' where walkins are welcome no deposit is required. I guess they figure the empty table will be filled. The Frontera Grill in Chicago doesn't accept reservations and patrons start lining up an hour or more before they open to get a seat. Another reason for not taking reservations could be bar business. At Frontera after the initial seating the bar is packed all night with diners waiting for tables.

A place like Bill's Terrace Inn is a perfect example oof why a reataurant won;t take recervations. The place literally has people lining up in the parking lot before it even opens to get in line.

With such a high demend for a table, the "1st come, 1st served" approach is the only fair way to do it. Every August, the place closes for a wek (maybe 2) so the opwner and his staff can get a vacation, and when it re-opens, the crowds are there waiting. If they took reservations, you'd have to book months in advance, and I jsut think the owner wants everyone to have equal access to his establishment.

Oh, and those 2 hour waits are well worth it once you're seated and digging in!

I can totally understand independent or family owned restaurants not taking reservations, especially if they're upscale. What I don't get is mid-range to expensive chain restaurants (like Cheesecake Factory) who don't. I mean I guess when you've been around and get as much business as they do it doesn't matter, but I'd much rather wait 20 minutes extra for my reservation than have to wait two hours because you can't even call ahead to put your name on the list. What is that about!?

twotoedsloth--love the name!

Maybe these places are trying to generate excitement? It can't be the food (but we've already exhausted the topic of the Cheesecake Factory, I think).

I'm dismayed at upscale restaurants that do not take reservations. I feel this is a sign of a lack of etiquette. If I'm paying top dollar for food and service in a similar atmosphere I want and need the politeness of manners from the restaurant's end. I'm dressing up, so is my companion, and we are coming out with the attitude of enjoying a special night at your establishment.

I can only speak from personal experience. If I am running late for a reservation I call and inform the restaurant that we are x minutes late. If it's beyond 15 minutes "hold time" (which used to be a standard and now is a rarity); I'm more understanding if they say they have no openings until a later time and will probably need to make alternatives arrangements. However I have been minutes late for a reservation and been told we thought you were not coming and gave your table away... for 5 minutes that's unthinkable.

I feel that many restaurateurs today have lost the art of manners. They feel they have the upper hand, the magic wand so to speak. If you are inconsiderate of your patronages eventually you lose them.

Politeness in business is not a sign of weakness. It's just the opposite. It is a sign of confidence and security that a business needs to hold it's clientel.

Maybe we in Baltimore should be thankful that we don't have to suffer the other extreme of restaurants that have ridiculously inflexible reservation requirements. In the DC area, for example, L'Auberge Chez François takes reservations precisely four weeks in advance of the dining date, starting at 11:00 a.m., and woe be unto those who don't have strong speed-dialing techniques. The New York Times just reviewed Momofuku Ko, which opens online reservations at 10:00 a.m. precisely 6 days before the dining date, and is fully booked (just 12 seats for each of 2 seatings) in 9 seconds -- PLUS you must show an ID that matches your reservation when you show up to dine.

hmpstd: That is probably the most pretentious thing I have ever heard - and I wish I had the disposable income to participate in that. I wonder what the food is like?

I would imagine that if you were the sort of person for whom wearing the latest fashion, shopping in the trendiest shops, and eating in the latest restaurant is important, this would be for you. Unfortunately (or luckily) I am not in that category.

I would imagine that those who are willing to call up at 10 or 11 in the morning and be quick with the dialing are not doing it themselves and woebetide the Personal Assistant who does not come through.

I think this is the policy of many chain/family oriented type restaurants for the pure and simple fact (mentioned above) that these restaurants are more likely to have no-shows. I mean, really, would anyone make a reservation at TGI Fridays? And if so, would you call back if you decided not to go? I'm thinking no.


The reason a place like Cheesecake factory doesnpt take reservations is because frankly, they don't need to.

But i like the way chains like Carrabba's and Outback handle the situation (keep in mind, those 2 are part of the same ownership group). Go into any one of them on an evening--especially towards the end of the week, and you;re talkig 90 minutes + for a table, if not longer.

Although they don't take "reservations" per se, what they do offer is "call ahead seating" which somewhat similiar. Basically, instead of physically going to the restaurant and putting your name on the wait list and wait the 90 m inutes, you simply call them up and ask how long the current wait is. Let's say they tell you it's about an an hour. You can have them put your name on the list (as if you had gone there in person), and arrive at the restaurant an hour later. By the time you get there, you may have to wait another 5-10 minutes, but everytime I've tried this, it's worked out perfectly fine.

Yes, The Cheesecake factory would do well with that type of system, but again, they really don't have to as plenty of people are still willing to wait those 2 hours, as evidenced on any given night.

That's fine, Anonymous--I just won't be among them!

We have always taken reservations at AIDA. It is a common courtesy that we give our customers, chef and wait staff. We want to know how to staff for an evening so we can provide great service. As an independent restauranteur, I encourage people to call when they're running late (or in our case if you're lost finding us), if there is a change in the number of people, if you're bringing an infant and most importantly if your plans have changed. We only ask for a heads up or adequate notice and the same common courtesy that we offered to you by taking your reservation and doing our best to always have your table ready when you arrive. It is most frustrating when we have to turn down reservations and find out later that someone was too busy to let us know that their plans changed. That means lost revenue, and that hurts. BTW, we don't make a policy of overbooking, that contradicts the purpose of honoring reservations.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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