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no seating until entire party arrives..

How does this policy of not seating a partial party make sense when
one has arrived to eat and drink and generally spend a serious
amount of money. Perhaps the 4th diner is slightly delayed - the
four have a reservation and are grown ups. (I'm not talking about
a young crowd at a crowded place where seating is first come basis.)
I believe it's disrespectful. (Happened at Otto at 6pm on a weekend
at a time when less than 10% of tables were filled.)

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  1. It can be difficult finding parking spots in Baltimore or D.C. so usually we all arrive at the restaurant in one car, but the driver may have to circle for some time to find a spot. So not to be late for a reservation the other members of the party usually get dropped off at the restaurant. I might accept a restaurant that offers valet parking not seating the partial party, but I think a restaurant that does not should understand the delays that arise when trying to park a car and seat the partial party.

    1. Restaurants usually institute policies like that in response to abuse. People reserve a table for four, two show up and get seated, other two never arrive, restaurant's lost two prime-time covers.

      1. Seats and servers are assigned based on the number of people who actually show up. Reservations are made for a specific time. Basic courtesy is for everyone to show up punctually (7pm means 7pm, not 7:15pm); if that basic courtesy is not shown to the restaurant, the restaurant can hardly be considered rude for instituting a policy in response. The restaurant would be within its rights to cancel the reservation; but it's showing flexibility by simply waiting to seat until everyone arrives. That also ensures much better flow in the kitchen which is basic courtesy to all the other customers.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Karl S

          I agree with Karl S. Parking problems are one thing, but I can't get over these people who stroll in for their 7pm reservation whenever they feel like it (or think that a 7pm res'v means drinks at the bar at 7, sit whenever you feel like it.) Also, as Robert said above, it's usually in response to some kind of abuse of the system.

          1. re: Kbee

            I agree about not hitting the bar for drinks when your dinner reservation was at 7. However, not too long ago, we took my parents out to dinner to a nice restaurant. We arrived, togehter, about 5 mins prior to our reservation. We were informed that they weren't quiet ready for us, would we like to wait in the bar? To us that indicated, "have a drink, have a seat, we'll let you know when we're ready." No time frame was given. About 5 after 7 the hostess came to tell us they were ready for us. We were about 1/2 done with our drinks and the bar was comfy, we were all seated and wanted to finish our drinks. We asked if we could finish our drinks and then proceed to the table? We were given some serious attitude that includes rolling of the eyes and a mumbles "whatever". Was I wrong to assume since we'd made an allowance for them, that they should give us a little leeway? Or, did the hostess really mean WAIT in the bar, not wait in the bar and have a drink?

            1. re: geg5150

              Wow. That was just plain rude. Personally I would have finished my drink. Thanked her for buying it and walked out. If she gave me any lip, I would demand to see a manager.

              1. re: bryan

                Unfortunatley, that wasn't an option. It was a busy Saturday night and a very nice place for my parents' anniversary and that's the place they had chosen. Fortunatley, I think I was the only one who noticed anything, so it didn't effect anyone else's evening. You know those times when you just don't have the energy? That was one of them and I totally should have.

                However, the rest of that meal and the service what some of the best service I've ever received. Just simple, little things that they did that really added to the evening. It really made up for the hostess' attitude.

        2. I agree with Karl that this is a function of abuse, and I am the punctual person of the year. I notice this tradition of all or none in major cities, destination restaurants and high end vacation places. In the burbs I have seen a little more relaxed attitude.

          But there can be abuse by the restaurant as well. How many times have you appeared with the whole party and told the table is not quite ready, please wait at the bar. Normally you hear, "the party at your table has the check and it should only be a few minutes." Then 15-30 at the bar and the table is ready. Isn't 7PM the same for the patrons and the restaurant?

          I once had a reservation at a very high end restaurant in NYC and we waited over 1 hour before leaving for another spot. Haven't returned and have influenced many not to go there either.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jfood

            The attitude from the restaurant was rude; when they are not ready on time, the burden shifts to them.

          2. Basic flaw in your premise:
            > the four have a reservation and are grown ups.

            It's been my experience from both ends (professional and personal) that while many might be physically grown up, there is often still a great distance for their maturity levels to travel before they are considered grown-ups.

            Restaurants implement no-seating policies in response to historic problems. That 'the fourth in the party is slightly delayed' is not the issue. Four bodies (or the full-party) present means that you are honoring your reservations. It would be best for all if you honored them fully by being on time and ready to be seated.

            Next time try being a little early. I've always found that works best for all concerned.

            5 Replies
            1. re: The Ranger

              You seem to have a very particular perspective on this issue. But you're argument makes me think about visiting the Dr.'s office. Recently I had made an error entering the time of a Dr. appt in my digital calendar and was under the impression that it was scheduled for 11:45 when it was scheduled for 11:30. When I arrived, book in hand, at 11:40 prepared to wait for 45 minutes to an hour I was really embarassed to learn that I was late.

              The receptionist was extremely rude and made me wait while she checked to see if I would be permitted to keep my appointment. Eventually I was told that they would make an exception for me. I read until 12:30 when I was finally called back to the examining room.

              Just as I've never visited a physician without waiting, I've never been seated at a restaurant at the time of my reservation. At a restaurant with a bar, that is fine. One expects to sit for 30-40 minutes waiting for the table. As diners, we just sort of live with this kind of thing and even though we're repeatedly burned, we forge ahead rather than issuing punitive policies!

              1. re: Kater

                A doctor is often dealing with the unexpected. Restaurants are organized about wringing the unexpected out of the production. Tables should be served courses in specified timeframes so that the kitchen can produce a turnover that both satisfies patrons and maximizes revenue. Et cet.

                I have usually been seated at restaurants at the time of reservation; I would consider anything more than a 20 minute way a serious failure on the restaurant's part and leave; most of my dining companions share this approach. A restaurant that overbooks on a regular basis so that most patrons must wait 30-40 minutes to have their reservations honored is not worthy of anyone's patience.

                1. re: Kater

                  If you can't -- or won't -- hold to your reservation then you should not bother making those reservations in the first place.

                  Ditto that with appointments, especially since every doctor and dentist I've ever had has someone on their staff calling patients one to two days in advance of the appointment to minimize situations like you experienced.

                  I am willing to wait for a doctor to see me because there is a point to it. The appointment usually has something to do with my continued well-being.

                  A dinner reservation, no matter which restaurant I might choose, does not hold the same importance to me. If they overbook reservations, they are already putting me in a defensive position. If I am late, or someone in my party is late, we put them in a bad position. I only have one person I will not dine out with because he cannot arrive to anything on time. I no longer even bother asking him to join us. Yes, his "feelings" were hurt when he wasn't asked but (shrug) if you don't want to act like a grown-up, then you don't get to join the grown-ups when we do fun things... And dining out at places that request you to make reservations can be very fun.

                  1. re: The Ranger

                    You seem to presume that diners are late for their reservations. I am extremely punctual. If the restaurant has found that other diners can't keep reservation they need to stop taking reservations rather than accepting reservation with no intention of having the table available to patrons who arrive on time.

                    1. re: Kater

                      Experiences and articles about why reservation systems have difficulty meeting customers' requirements lead me to believe this is the case. The unwillingness of the customers of those restaurants to be held to the same standards they hold their customers to (specific appointments) creates this view.

              2. Haven't found this policy too common here in L.A., at least in the restaurants I go to. Then again, a plus/minus of twenty minutes due to traffic and parking is always in the offing. Personally, I aim to show up on time (not early), with the expectation that, there is a pretty wide margin as to when I will actually arrive (even for relatively short distances). This seems to be the norm here, and I've found restaurants pretty understanding.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BabyLitigator


                  I, too, have noticed a drop-off in the number of restaurants who pull this nonsense, but I have a different theory. When I go out with a bunch of younger (just barely out of college) friends, we get this business quite often.

                  When I go out with co-workers, or friends nearer my own age (30s), we very rarely get this.

                  It may be that restaurants in L.A. think (perhaps rightly) that younger people will be more casual about punctuality.

                  ("HEY YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!")

                2. Unfortunately, the party who is supposed to be leaving may just be camping out. I hate to keep anyone waiting past their reservation time but it is often beyond my control. Short of actually pulling their chairs out from under them there isn't much I can do aside from drop some subtle (or not so subtle) hints. I would love to say "Hey! There is another party waiting for this table! Go home!" We both know that's not happening. What I have done is suggest that they may want to take their drinks to the bar and relax there. My bar is non-smoking so they can't complain about that. Sometimes they don't get the hint even then.

                  So...what do I do for you? Well, I will offer you a drink or dessert and do my utmost to seat you as soon as a table opens.

                  I will also silently wish a minor case of hemmoroids on the person or persons responsible for making you wait.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: kimmer1850

                    It depends on the time the table the first group sat down. If they were an early table, say 6 o'clock, they know full well the table turns at 8 or 830. If they have an 8 o'clock reservation they may assume that they are the second seating and have the "right" to lounge after dinner. We have a great restaurant in town that actually tells you when you make the reservation that there is another party who has reserved the table for 830. Sets the standard for the meal and it normally is 2-2.5 hours for the turn.

                    The manager is in an incredible win-lose or lose-win position. The loungers will get upset if asked to leave or the waiting group gets angrier by the minute. Trying to walk this tightrope is an art. I have received the following from a manager when we lost track of time, "If I could ask a favor. No rush at all, but we are very crowded this evening and if possible could I ask if we could give us an idea how long you might like the table for, we need to manage others who have reservations that have already been waiting some time." It's not perfect but it does plant the seed in most considerate people's heads.

                  2. I don't go to restaurants that have this policy. But, if I must, and it's a special event, I'll arrange to have the table for the evening, and then people can come and go as they see fit. I have found that it is almost impossible to get everyone's schedule together. People live all over town and there are those who will be there one the dot (and who leave early), and those who are ALWAYS late (or arrive later). This obviates that need so I don't have to worry about it. Oh, and I've also had parking issues as well (as I'm frequently the driver).

                    Bottom line is, so long as the restaurants know that they WILL be making money, they don't have a problem.


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: TexasToast

                      Just curious, TT, how does "having the table for the evening" work in terms of service? As a server, I get the chills just thinking about it. When do I take the food order if people are coming and going? Likewise, if people are arriving, leaving and otherwise moving about, do you find that when the food comes out, the servers don't know where it goes? Do you know why? Because the position numbers of the guests have changed. Nothing irks me more than being made to look inept by guests that are screwing with our system.

                      1. re: Kbee

                        I've never encountered a problem, but then I only do this at places where I have a good relationship. It's not like people are dropping in and ordering food every 15 minutes. Example: Table for 10, with six present, two delayed, and two joining later for dessert. That way, no-one has to wait, no moving tables mid-meal, and everyone can gather and then move on to wherever the party is going.


                    2. A restaurant is a business. Customers should be valued and made to feel welcome. Sometimes delay is unavoidable and if the other guests are seated the business of selling wine/alcohol usually starts right away. In NYC I am certain that more diners have been kept waiting for their reserved tables than restaurants kept waiting for those with reservations. In the case stated above, Otto was empty, those tables were not producing revenue. This policy is not gracious.

                      1. I have come across this problem in the past and can understand the restaurant's issue with seating a partial party. I have a couple of lolly gagging friends who are always arriving late, so when making the reservation (or if it is first come first served with a waiting list) I always inquire ahead of time as to whether the whole party needs to be there or not in order to be seated and then plan accordingly.

                        I think one of the reasons there are policies like that is because people who arrive late might throw a wrench in the whole ordering and food serving sequence.

                        1. I recently had a situation where I arrived for a reservation for four about 15 min early. I had been waiting in the bar area and when my first friend arrived (promptly on time), we asked if we could just be seated, thinking that we would order an app and some drinks and be joined shortly by the others. We were told we would have to wait until they arrived. After some eyerolling on my part, they "allowed" us to sit down. The resto was pretty empty and there were plenty of four-tops open. I just can't believe that they were worried about us only taking up two of the four seats - they didn't even really have two-tops. This was a kind of trendy pizza place in here in Atlanta, not a high end place. I thought it was just plain rude to tell us we couldn't sit down. In fact, it was really irritating - like they were doing us a special favor by granting us a table. Whatever.

                          1. As in the rest of life, policies are set for the abusers and then everyone else has to suffer because of 1) the idiots that did the original abusing and 2) employees/managers that are too welded to the rules and can't brook a little flexibility.

                            Scenarios vary wildly. Three people who say "the fourth is parking the car" is one thing; my insane friends who make a reservation for 8 at 7 pm on a Saturday night and show up anytime from 6:30 to 7:45 are another. Yes, we are the type of idiots that these policies are made for.

                            1. Re abuse:

                              Our place seats until 10pm on weekdays. Couple shows up at 9:30pm - has res for four. We are not crowded so they ask to be seated immediately even though their friends have not arrived. No problem. We wait....and wait.... and wait .... 10pm comes and goes - no friends... 10:15pm ... 10:30pm... 10:35 the friends finally appear... My staff has been waiting for 35 minutes for the no shows. We cannot leave, cannot clean and now they will linger over their meals until 12pm....That night we instituted the whole party or no seats rule....

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: SDM

                                Sounds like killing an ant with a mallet. Why did you not walk over to the table at 1015'ish and politely mention that the kitchen was closing shortly and if they were interested in ordering now might be the last chance.

                              2. I was meeting my father for brunch - 11 a.m. on a sunday. Big restaurant - completely empty, and they made him stand and wait the 5 minutes while i parked the car. That was the first faux paus for a long uncomfortable meal. i will never go back.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: chefinthecity

                                  I have several questions but two are: There was no seating in the area around the host(ess) station? (Or he chose to stand for that 5 minutes while you parked the car?)

                                  It sounds like the entire experience was awful but that this was the first warning shot... (BTDT)