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January 16, 2009

Can you put a time limit on a reservation?

wine marketThis might sound like something more suited for Dining@Large, but Elizabeth Large writes about drinks from time to time, so here we go.

Midnight Sunner AC-M sent me this interesting inquiry yesterday, and I'd like to get your opinion on this:

For Christmas we bought my in-laws, who hail from Harrisburg, tickets to the show at Hippodrome on Saturday at 2 p.m. and planned to take them to Fells post-show for drinks and hit Henninger’s later for dinner. 

Well, as I live in a bubble, I just learned about Obama coming to Baltimore which completely destroys any hopes of that plan going smoothly and makes crossing the city to get to Fells Point a definite NO.

We decided to hit Wine Market instead (i.e. stick to the Federal Hill side of town). When my husband called to make reservations at the Wine Market (921 E. Fort Ave.) they gave us a table reservation at 6 p.m., but we were told that our table was reserved for 8 p.m. so we had to be out by then ...

And that is the point of my email – if you are going to give me a reservation, I certainly don’t expect to hog the table all night; but I really didn’t like being told I had to be out by 8. 

This is a table of 4 we are talking about; for a large party, I would understand, but they have multiple tables available for a party of 4.  I don’t know, maybe I’m being sensitive?

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:34 AM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Stirring the pot this week, Sam!

That's pretty rude. I understand that they are booked pretty solid but seriously? How dare you rush a paying customer out the door. Are you a restaurant or a fast food joint where the seats are purposefully designed to only be comfortable for 30 minutes?

Make a reservation somewhere else.

CantonKate, ha! I've certainly been on a tear since holiday break ended, haven't I? At least people seem interested in these subjects.

I think this would work MAYBE and ONLY if presented as a "no, but"

-- do you have any reservations?
-- no, I'm sorry we're booked solid. but I could possibly seat you at 6, but I'd need the table back by 8.
-- okay, I'll take it. (or, no thanks)

better yet, brand the early seating as an "early seating," with an affordable "fixed price" menu.

but the way it was reported above -- ixnay.

I personally don't have a problem with this. Having been on the other side of the situation as the person with the 8:00 reservation and having to wait lengthy amounts of time for a table even with a reservation because earlier diners won't leave I appreciate the restaurant trying to make sure they can properly seat both parties.

Besides 2 hours is plenty of time for a nice leisurely dinner if you want one. Personally if it took me 2 hours to finish my dinner I'd be mad at the restaurant for the horrible service.

Seeing as AC-M is so fond of Tim Lumber, I eagerly await his feedback on this situation.

I think that's pretty outrageous.
They don't deserve you.

If you're there at 6, it's yours. If you wind up loving it so much that you want an extra bottle or two of wine, and extra dessert, and maybe espresso after that, and so now you're into 8:30-9, well, they're making out anyway. They should be happy they just cultivated a very happy new customer (or maybe your guests are the new ones).

I say go to the Bicycle instead, where I have never, ever been rushed and the food is amazing. It's one of the best restaurants in Baltimore.

As long as they don't ask for a credit card.

I'm not getting involed in this one.

You should call them back and tell them since they are concerned about seating their table, you'll do them a favor, and inform them you have made reservations elsewhere.

The Wine Market did something similar to me and my dinner group a few years ago. We had a group of 8 and made a reservation. We had our dinner and everything was fine. We were ordering bottles of wine and chatting and having a great time. Once we had paid our bill they basically told us we had to get up and move to the bar because they needed our tables for the next guests. We felt it was pretty rude as we would've been leaving shortly after paying anyway. We haven't been back there since.

That is strange consider I've booked tables for dinner at Wine Market plenty of times and never heard this. Why would an 8pm reservation for four reserve a specific table? maybe they have someone coming in and taking out the whole place at 8.

This is a touchy topic.
Some years ago, as part of an after work activity, we made a reservation for the dept Christmas party at a fairly local restaurant to our place of employment. They were busy that evening and we were ultimately seated over 90 minutes beyond the reservation time. We were informed during the entree that we had to finish up because they had another party waiting for table. This didn't endear the eatery in question to us and, as expected, never when there again.

They are still in business and fortunely for them most of we don't live the area they serve as we're still bad mouthing them when their name comes up or when the topic of making reservations for anything comes up.

Maybe we should of left after a half an hour of waiting, particularly if we knew there was going to be an inflexible end time on how long we were going to be allowed to "enjoy" our time and meal. The end result is we felt abused and cheated. Also as there was more than eight of us they probably charged that famous 18% "Gratuity". (I didn't actually handle paying the bill).

If I had handled paying the bill, I would loved to do what I heard done on another occassion, left one penny for each person of the party.

After working many years in the restuarant biz, that's the most insane thing I've ever heard. If someone wants to come at 6 and stay til midnight, they should be able to.

And as far as Cardwell's comment, they'd be physically removing me from the table. You NEVER tell a guest to leave or move to the bar, EVER. I've had tables sitting there an hour past closing, when they were the only table left, and we are all standing there watching them, waiting to leave, and STILL not said anything.

I'm so glad you posted this.

Saves me a lot of trouble when deciding where to go for dinner during Restaurant Week.

I can cross the Wine Market off my list PERMANENTLY.

Everybody slow down a second. The Wine Market is a small place and works very hard to give customers an exceptional experience.

It's not unreasonable to let someone know when they make a reservation that the restaurant is very busy that night and that tables need to be turned over. Two hours is plenty of time for a nice dinner. If not, they can choose to dine elsewhere that evening.

We as customers could be more understanding of a restaurateur's need to accommodate a certain number of customers to make a living.

Bill, you are really going to base your dining choices off of a converstion that someone else had? You do not know the full extent of the conversation, what was the tone of the host, what was the full extent of the conversation? You don't know. Maybe Sam Sessa also told the restaurant he was a really slow eater and did not want to be bothered because he is a critic for the Baltimore Sun?

Sam, do you feel guily for costing them revenue becasue of a blog post?

I have never eaten at Wine Market, but I would like to, and the fact that Sam Sessa was told he couldn't linger longer than 2 hours, is not going to hold me back from still trying the place. As long as the service is at good pace, and you arent still waiting for your entrees 2 hours later, why not let someone else have your table? Restaurants want to make you happy, but at the same time, they need to turn over tables to produce enough revenue TO STAY OPEN! 2 hours should be plenty of time on a busy night.

Was it a dumb move by the restaurant? Possibly, but don't base whether you will or wont eat at a restaurant by someone else's conversation.

Just my tirade, dont expect you to post it, Just had to say it.

CBPUFT, I seriously doubt that airing one person's questions about a time limit on a reservation cost the Wine Market significant business.

I think it raises an important larger issue, which is why I posted it in the first place -- just like I posted your comment.

Also, I didn't make the reservation -- Midnight Sun reader AC-M did. Be sure to read the post first before hastily commenting next time.

It's funny b/c I've never been told this at the Wine Market, but I have been told of a time limit on my reservation at the Bicycle. I've also heard it when making reservations during restaurant week, so I assumed it was to accomodate so may reservation requests.

Seems like a heated debate. Think i'll add my two cents. :-)

As someone who has worked in the restaurant industry, I can't help but be perplexed at this person's reaction.

How would they feel if they had the 8pm reservation and waited until 9 or 10 to get their table? Maybe the Wine Market doesn't overbook their dining room (unlike some restaurants here in Baltimore- you know who you are...).

You shouldn't be spending more than two hours at the table anyway, it's bad for digestion. ;-)

ok, again, worked in the business as a server for many years.

First, not everyone eats at the same pace. So not EVERY table will be taken up for two hours. Some will turn over faster, some will turn over slower.

Second, in my experience working at many different restaurants in the city and county, there are very few tables that stay longer than an hour or so. Maybe 2 or 3 a night, if that.

Third, when a table stays that long, they are usually drinking. Sometimes they even order more food. So the restaurant is making money whether a new table sat down or not.

If the Wine Market seems to be having such a problem with what we like to call "campers", then perhaps they should look into expanding their seating. This is a much better alternative to putting a time limit on a dinner, which could (and mostly likely will) offend many people. Or they could just stop taking reservations completely, which seems to be the trend these days.

I can tell you right now, I will not be told how long it's going to take me to eat. I'd have cancelled the reservation right then and there.


Interesting that you recommend going to Bicycle instead. Bicycle is the only place where I have ever been told that I would need to give up my table at a certain time. It turned out to be a non-issue in the end, but I was a bit put off by the restaurant's insistence that I give up the table at a specific time.

O.K I'm not very good with this whole interweb thing, and have no idea how to provide a "link" here, but bear with me. On the Dining @ large blog, under this topic there is a link to the Helen's Garden website that gives a description of how they make their reservations and why. It's very informative, check it out.

Ray Ray, here is the link:

Thanks Sam. I have changed my opinion so many times on this subject. There are so many variables. I can get very snippy when I don't get what I want, especially when I'm hungry, but I find that if I relax and practice a bit of patience, I'll enjoy my meal more.

Are you people for real or do you just make these rediculous comments because you have no life? I made reservations at the Wine Market and they told me the same thing. I worked in the resturant business years ago. Have any of you ever heard of the term "campers". Without a doubt I believe some of you are exactly that. Further I would say the Wine Market does not need your kind. When I go there they tend to be busy.

Unbelievable! They actually informed you that there may be other tables that need to be seated after you? Blasphemy! Do they not realize that most American diners suffer from the 'Center of The Universe' syndrome? Those of you that are so offended, get over yourselves. The host probably gave the OP too much information and should have said nothing but, the host probably felt they were being helpful. Please, everyone, keep in mind - when you are at a restaurant you are ALWAYS being timed. Most restaurants overbook and from the minute you sit down the clock starts. This allows them to be able to switch seating plans around to accommodate later reservations. Please don't think you're the only reservation at your table that night, there are other people in the world. Whew...sorry, end of rant.

First of all, those who don't understand that a restaurant is a business, please... grow up. After you get your hair cut, do you then sit in your hairdressers chair, reading a magazine, and taking up their work space, therefore costing them money? Probably not. Although your time dining out is not technically "timed", any thoughful person dining at a busy restaurant should see how RUDE it is to linger. Whatever food or wine you order to "justify" what you are doing - a bottle of wine, a late dessert - it's still nothing compared to the now and future lost revenue by the waiting (and now annoyed) table. Two hours is a completely reasonable time frame for dinner. If you wanted to spend all night with a bottle of wine, I know a perfect place - your couch.

And furthermore, as someone who's worked in the restaurant industry, I would be remiss if I did not comment on GDA's response. It pains me to see you perpetuate that "one penny per person" story. Do you think it's the server's fault that you waited for your table? Do you not realize that by tipping nothing on your check, you are essentially making the server pay for you to eat, because your server is the one who has to tip out the busser. food runner, and bartender at the end of the night. And lastly, the reason restaurants add the 18% "gratuity" onto large parties is to protect themselves against classless patrons - like you. Put blame where blame is due. Don't punish the server because the owner and/or manager overbooked. This is why it's okay to tell parties of the reservation after them - to prevent the 90 minute wait time on your reservation.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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