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May 1, 2002 04:51 PM

No reservations?

  • h

Can anyone help explain to me the rampant “no reservations” policy that is so prevalent in the Boston area? I’d love to blame it on Todd English, but it has now spread as far as Worcester!! I've lived here for 8 years now and it just keeps getting worse.

I travel a great deal for business and dine out a lot, and nowhere else in the country has so many restaurants with this dumb policy.

Fine dining means being seated when you want; not waiting for an hour at the bar.

Is there and end in sight?

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  1. o

    The answer is simple if you look at it from the restaurant owners' POV.

    If you _know_ that you are going to get 3 table turns every night (i.e. Olives), you know pretty much how much food to prep, how much to order, and how weeded the kitchen will be without taking any reservations.
    The main benefit rezzies give restaurant owners is foresight - prep this much food for tonight, order this much food for tomorrow. If you already know this number, then why take them?
    Restaurant owners get burned ALL THE TIME with no shows. If you know the table will be filled by parties willing to wait, why increase the chances of not filling the table by reserving a table for a potential no-show?

    If the dining public wouldn't no-show, then maybe more busy restaurants would take rezzies as a favor to us.
    I too hate restaurants that don't take them, and they only way I can let them know that is to not eat at them.
    And if you've ever bailed on a rezzie without calling to tell them, then you have given up your right to complain about restaurants not taking rezzies, IMHO.

    (As I re-read this, it sounds somewhat angry.
    I'm not really. I'm just saying that we, the dining public, have brought this problem upon ourselves.)

    16 Replies
    1. re: oystershucker

      I agree with you in concept, and have heard this agrument before, but it dosen't hold water for fine dining. Part of the risk of owning a place is no shows. Most owners in this country seem willing to take that risk. NO WHERE ELSE IN THIS COUNTRY have I seen the no rez policy so pervasive. Are Bostonians that much worse about being no shows?

      I am very conscientious about cancelling a rez, so I have the right to complain. I don't go to anyplace decent that won't take a rez, but thousands of Bostonians clearly don't care. Hey, Olives in Vegas and NY both take reservations. As a matter of fact, the manager of Olives in Vegas told me they couldn't stay in business unless they took reservations.

      So by all this logic, Bostonians must consider themselves third rate dinners. Or just suckers.

      1. re: hank

        Newly arrived in Boston, OK, in a motel that will take cats in Waltham, and about to look for somewhere to live.

        In Los Angeles and other places I've recently lived or visited, the issue was credit cards demanded with a nonrefundable charge in order to OBTAIN a reservation. I would never reserve and no show w/o warning. Not sure which is better--no reservation at all, or pay up front. Is the credit card thing typical here?

        1. re: Coyote

          Welcome to Boston..No, the credit card thing is not common in Boston..Someone posted about Lock Obers requiring a credit card for a res a few months ago; but that has not been my experience. I understand some places in NY are doing it. Most people find it offensive. BTW, I always cancel a res if I can't make it and I would guess that most chowhounds do.

          1. re: 9lives

            How legal would it be for a restuarant to charge your credit card for not showing up?

            Also, if it were legal -- which I highly doubt -- then they should disclose the following, at the time of taking the reservation:
            1. How much they would change your card if you did not show.
            2. How much time should pass before they consider your reservation as being forfeited.

            I'm not a lawyer, but it seem logical that a restuarant has no right to charge a credit card without at lease disclosing that they will do it and give some parameters for doing it.

            just my two cents,

            1. re: Leonard

              It IS legal to charge a credit card if there is a no-show, as long as the customer is informed as to why it is being taken and given the policy (when it will be charged, for how much, etc.)... there are two options for the customer as well: 1. Do not make the reservation or 2. Cancel the reservation with the required amount of notice. If you do either, you will not be charged.

              Hotels can charge a late cancellation fee, as can hairdressers, doctors' offices, etc. Why do you believe that restuarants would be exempt from this? They are well within their rights in taking a credit card number to hold the reservation - by giving your number you are giving consent to their charging it according to the policies outlined.

              All of this talk about reservation no-shows is frustrating. If the restaurant is holding the table in good faith for you, then you too should hold up your end of the bargain. If you fail to do that, should the restaurant have to miss out on the revenue on that table? Speaking as someone who worked for 2 years in a reservation dependent restaurant - there's nothing worse than holding a reservation for a group of people who just decides not to show up or call - especially when you've got high volumes of people who would LOVE that reservation. And when the restaurant is only asking that you give some sort of notice, that shouldn't be difficult.

              If people would not no-show as often as they do, restaurants would not have to adopt these policies. But when their livelihood is at stake, and people can't be trusted to show up for their pre-planned reservations (especially after they've been confirmed), these policies come about.

              1. re: Jaylea

                Ok, thanks for the clarification.

                Yes, I totally agree with the comment about showing up when you say you will. I think it's bad mannerism for one not to do something that one says they will. In addition, it hurts the business' bottom line...which we should be all concern about because in the end we all pick up the cost of no shows with the price of the service.

                On the subject of giving credit cards when asked, I don't have a problem with that and I have given my credit card when asked. I've never not shown up when I make a reservation, so I've never experienced being charged for no-show.

          2. re: Coyote

            actually, i think a milder version is starting to take ahold here. i've been asked for my credit card information the last 5 times i've made reservations (even places i would not necessarily expect to do so -- argana maybe? pigalle and sel de la terre: definitely). they charge if you don't cancel in advance. i've been surprised by my friends' reactions (they also find it offensive) when they learn about this practice, but i think it's a good, sensible solution.

            1. re: Coyote

              About two years ago, I made a reservation at Radius and I had to give my credit card. I was told to follow up with a phone call the morning of my dinner to reconfirm, which I did.

              I was seated 45 minutes later than my reservation time, with no real reason given ("We're really busy tonight"). Needless to say, I haven't been back.

          3. re: oystershucker

            Sorry, I don't agree. Olives has never taken reservations..this policy was not a result of too many no shows. Radius, Clio, Biba, 9 Park, and every other top restaurant accepts reservations and are able to manage the no show problem.

            I agree with you that we are the continuing to patronize the restaurant(s) that won't accept reservations..but not because of no shows.

            1. re: 9lives

              I simply refuse to patronize restaurants that have no capacity and refuse to accept reservations. I have zero interest in them; the idea of waiting 45 minutes to get a table erases any enjoyment from a meal. And I have numerous friends who concur and do likewise.

              And woe unto the restaurant that has not seated us within 15 minutes of the stated time and does not offer a good explanation, etc. (likewise, woe unto any dinner companion who shows up later than that, too; it works both ways)

              1. re: 9lives

                I've been kept waiting for 20-30 min for a table at 9 Park and other very good restaurants in Boston even if I've had a reservation, which made me wonder why I made one in the first place. This very prevalent practice toes the line between a reservation and just showing up and waiting, IMHO. Why take the reservation, then make me wait? What was the point of my making the rez in the 1st place?
                Makes me think of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry makes a reservation for his rental car, but there's no car when he arrives. They're very good at taking the reservation, but not good at honoring it.

                I also agree with the other posts that chowhounds would probably no-show less often than the general dining public. That's a good thing for everyone - restaurants and diners.

                1. re: oystershucker

                  IMHO it is wrong for a restaurant to take a reservation and keep someone waiting for more than 20 mins or so..a 20 min grace period seems appropriate..longer than that and the hostess should come over, apologize, maybe offer a free drink.

                  as to car rentals, I'm not sure how they function...there must be a huge # of no shows. How many people reserve a car and don't show..and not cancel? About 10 years ago, I took a trip to Costa Rica..I was going for 6 days. When I reserved a car, there was a 7 day minimum, credit card require to hold the was pre paid. When I got there, no car. We had a heated discussion in 2 languages, . I pointed out that if I hadn't shown up, I would have still been charged for a car and they were obligated to provide one. They agreed..the mgr even offering to lend us his personal car.and finally hiring a car and driver..until my rental was available.

                  It should be the same way with a restaurant are supposed to show up on time..the restaurant is supposed to seat you on time.

                  1. re: 9lives

                    I agree, restuarants should not take a reservation and make that party wait any longer then 10 minutes.

                    In my profession, I frequently take out customers for lunch or dinner. Imagine if we had to wait for our table...that would be totally embarassing for have picked a place that made us wait. Fortunately, I guess I'm lucky, I have not encountered it in recent memory...but then entertainment is typically out of town and not in the Boston area :)

              2. re: oystershucker

                You hit the nail on the head, a reserved table sits empty for a half hour before the rez multiply that by fifty tables and you get the picture, also that being said not taking rezzies is a way to keep prices down for some of the more casual restaurants

                1. re: oystershucker

                  Queuing policies are a logical and necessary defense against no-shows. Doctors, dentists, restaurants all have them.

                  The assumptions are:

                  There will be a certain number of lates and no-shows.
                  Table utilization must be kept high.
                  Patrons expect and will accept a reasonable wait.

                  Therefore if a party doesn't show for, say, 15 minutes past the reservation time, it is safe to seat the next party. If the late party shows, then they are queued. If they don't, then shorter waits for all after that.

                  This strategy assumes lates and no-shows and requires overbooking. A night when all parties show or occupy the table past the expected cycle time is called "busy", and the whole schedule is delayed. If you are seated right away, then the restaurant (or dentist) is operating well below the optimal efficiency.

                  For the diner, two strategies, as above:

                  Relax, understand that it's not incompetent or personal, and have a drink and chat. Anger as a response to visible but unavailable food is an atavistic emotion, inappropriate for a chowhound.

                  Just don't go to those places.

                  PS. Pre dinner drinks are a high profit item.

                  1. re: john p

                    Just to play devil's advocate, I'll point out that the logic cuts both ways. People who expect to be kept waiting are less likely to show up on the dot. I know my doctor's office always runs at least 1/2 an hour behind, so I time my arrival accordingly. Of course, if a significant number of people figure this out, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

                    What annoys me is the "hypocrisy" of being promised at table at 8:30 on a Friday night when the bookers know that they can't schedule with that degree of precision. If customers are really okay with a reasonable wait, then ideally the management should be up front about how long they're really likely to wait during peak hours.

                    I'm not going to blame proprietors of otherwise well-run restaurants, scheduling puzzles are inherent managing any operation where the demand fluctuates more than the capacity. That includes everything from public transportation to dental care and fine dining. The effects of any policy are reflexive, so whatever you do, people are going to adjust their behavior accordingly and possibly thwart whatever you were trying to accomplish by setting up the schedule that way.

                2. Other than Olives, what other fine dining restaurant in Boston doesn't take reservations?

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: 9lives

                    "Fine dining means being seated when you want".

                    I've been trying to think of another one besides Olives also, but I can't either. There are other ones in Boston, but the ones that come to mind are all casual:

                    East Coast Grill
                    various North End restaurants (Giacomo's, Daily Catch, etc.)

                    Now I'm curious....

                    1. re: Rubee

                      I think Oleana doesn't usually take reservations. I did have to make a reservation there for NYE this year, but that's more of a special occasion thing.

                      1. re: horrible
                        Seth Ditchik

                        I'm pretty sure that Oleana takes reservations...

                    2. re: 9lives

                      Perhaps I overstated the case in the use of "fine" dining.

                      My tirade applies more to mid-price restaurants, and many located in the burbs.

                      Waltham has many offenders in this league. Tuscan Grill and Carambola are just two places with good reputations whose doorways I shall never darken.

                      As for being kept waiting for a reservation, I have found that to be pretty pervasive anywhere outside of NY and LA. It is inexcusable, but again, we are the enemy for putting up with it.

                      I once went to Léspinasse in NY and was seated at 8:02 for an 8:00 reservation. I got a sincere apology from the captain. THAT is a true understanding of what a reservation means.