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May 13, 2005 11:27 AM

Impersonal or exasperated reservation takers at restaurants

  • f

On the Manhattan board a poster writes that when making a reservation the woman taking the reservation was "robotically impersonal and theatrically exasperated." He then wanted to know if the restaurant service was obnoxious and if hounds had other recommendations in the area.

If you hadn't been to a restaurant before and got a "power" type obnoxious reservationist, would that turn you off the restaurant or would you go anyway? Would you tell the person taking the reservation how you feel? I'd be interested how other people react because it's happened to me so often in the past.

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  1. A restaurant has to earn my business, not the other way around. If it bothered me enough, I simply wouldn't patronize the place; there's plenty of other fish out there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karl S.

      I'm with Karl. If they don't want my business, I'm not going to beg. I'm going to look elsewhere.

      Two recent good experiences with reservationists:
      Ciudad in downtown LA
      Caffe Angeli on Melrose in LA

    2. Funny, I once left a doctor because I so hated his office staff.

      Since I'd probably really want to try the restaurant to begin with (as I don't usually make reservations), I'd go, but if it was really bad, I'd mention the annoying telephone person to someone else at the restaurant, e.g. the manager.

      I do make a point of complimenting telephone people for their courtesy, though. (I think the Gramercy Tavern people are great.)

      2 Replies
      1. re: Fida

        P.S. Because the squeaky Chowhound usually gets the gravy, right?

      2. I had an obnoxious guy on the phone at Branzino in Philadelphia when I called inquiring about making a reservation for 10 people, 1 with special needs, well in advance. His curtness--and their mandatory set-menu policy for large parties, which he delivered to me, well, curtly--definitely lost that restaurant my business.

        6 Replies
        1. re: KB

          Though there is no excuse for his curtness, the mandatory set menu for a large party may help the restaurant keep other business. If the restaurant, and more specifically its kitchen, is small, a large party--even as few as ten people--can wreak havok on the evening. Some city kitchens are so small there simply isn't room to prepare or to plate ten different dishes and perhaps side dishes. The amount of time and manoeuvering it can take can set the rest of the dining room back so that the deuce in the corner doesn't understand why its soup or salad took so long and doesn't want to come back. Meanwhile, the pantry guy is helping the hot line guys get the ten-top out, the hot guys can't spare a burner to heat up the soup or even space to put a bowl down to ladle soup out of a bain.

          My point is that though he certainly should have been gracious about your reservation and explaining the policy, it might not be that the restaurant is trying to be difficult or unaccomodating, but that they understand their limitations and want to ensure that a big party doesn't ruin the dining experience for smaller tables.

          1. re: nc213

            I know, you're right; I've worked at small restaurants before. It just really annoyed me when I called during off-hours to ask my two questions, and then after hearing about how one member of our party cannot eat SALT he starts rattling off the set menu to me. Um, hello, this member of our party is not going to be able to eat the soup you're going to force us all to have, and who knows what two entree choices you'll decide to give us, etc. etc.

            If it hadn't been for the dietary restriction, the rattling off of the set-menu policy wouldn't have seemed quite so rude.

            1. re: KB

              Ahh bullcrap , you're being too nice . If a place can't accommodate your request , a simple " I'm terribly sorry , but we can't help you , may I suggest bla bla bla " is in order . Indeed , perhaps a smaller kitchen can't handle complex requests from a large party that may detract from the dining experience of the rest of their guests , that is precisely why the greet staff HAS to be open and friendly and accommodating as possible , so that , maybe in the future , you might come back . Otherwise , why should you ?

          2. re: KB

            We had the same thing happen at Border Grill, in Santa Monica, CA. We were disappointed enough in their refusal to take a party of ten, though it's understandable that the layout in the space is sometimes responsible for that. The dismissive 'attitude' was quite unnecessary. And we used to love Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger when they were on the Food Network. Deserving or not, they lost us as customers.

            That initial contact point is critical in any business. As a corporate executive I was always very much aware of the 'first impression' impact of every part of the business. I took a lot of flack for resisting the use of telephone answering systems in the business until we found one that gave the caller an easily accessible 'live' personal contact option. And don't even ask about how I felt about people who let their phones ring and ring and ring.

            1. re: KB
              quiz wrangler

              I few years back I phoned Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica when planning a dinner for a notoriously friend, so much so that we wanted to see the menu in advance. I asked the phone-answering person if it would be possible to fax a menu to us. He responded in exactly the tone taken by the waitress in Five Easy Pieces, except instead of "We don't HAVE side orders of toast," it was, "We DON'T FAX menus" as if my request was ridiculously out of line and he exasperated beyond belief. (I called at 3:00 BTW, not during peak hours.) I replied that in that case I would look into other venues for our party, which seemed not to bother him in the least. Shoulda called the manager, but didn't.

              1. re: quiz wrangler

                That restaurant is notorious for the attitude. It's ridiculous.

            2. I have no tolerance for such rudeness. It rankles me enough to taint any anticipated dining experience.

              I typically email the manager. I do not hear back from the majority of restaurants but several have apologized and offered free drinks or some such gift. One even sent me a gift card.

              1. t
                the other Grace

                Having worked the "reservations" line at both Daniel and Alain Ducasse (ADNY) I tried as hard as I could to be polite to the guests. At both restaurants, I could "pass on" difficult guests to the managers. Although Bruno at Daniel would not speak to the guest, the reservations manager, would take the calls.

                I was aghast at how some other reservationists would handle calls. It was as if we were an exclusive club. Imagine the guy at the front door with the guest list. If you were not a VIP you had no chance at getting in.

                Some of the reservationists were from Russia and they were perceived over the phone as being cold.

                Even today, I physically walked to several restaurants to make a reservation for tomorrow evening. People were rude to me in person. Which was fine. If they do not want my business, I have no intention of giving them my money, and more importantly, my TIME!

                Reservationists are the first PR face of the restaurant. No matter how hard Georgette Farkas (PR chick) may think she is working to promote Daniel, I believe I had more influence on how the restaurant was perceived by the general public.

                All of this being said, with all of the calls coming in, at some times it is hard to be patient. I remember a guest calling one month out to make a reservation at Daniel for 8 people for 8 p.m. Well, sorry honey, but 8 p.m. reservations are all held by Bruno the slimy maitre d` (who is no longer there). No matter if the customer played by the rules, they were not going to get in. And this poor guest was calling long distance from Sweden!

                If the reservationist is rude, ask them for their name, call back, ask to speak with a manager, and let them know who you just spoke with. Poor phone service should not be tolerated.