HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
What's your latest food quest? Share your adventure
TELL US

Seating preferred or favorite customers before others on the list

e
emilief Sep 30, 2006 06:01 PM

We were in a very small Italian restaurant last night where they do not take reservations. I called first- they said absolutely no reservations and you cannot call and put your name on a waiting list.
GOt there at 7. AT 8 we were the next table on the list. Two groups came in and they got a wild reception from the manager who kissed an hugged them-Hi how are you, high fives etc. He spoke to them in a whispe and then I went up to the manager and said"we are next right?" he said not those people are ahead of you. I sai =no they just came in and you are seating them ahead of us because you know them right?? he said- they called a long time ago and put their name on the list. when i told him I tried to do the same and could not he just shrugged his shoulder. He seated both parties ahead of us.
What do you think of this??

  1. e
    embee Oct 2, 2006 04:20 PM

    I can't take issue with regulars getting preferred service. However, though a few celebrated places in big cities cultivate hostility to non-celebrity newcomers, most don't have the luxury. (Read Ruth Reichl's wonderful article about her two dinners at LeCirque). The incident described, repeated often, would yield a place without regulars, since few people would be masochistic enough to go back.

    However much you want to make your regulars love you, the situation described crossed a line. The folks who had been waiting...and waiting...and waiting deserved to be seated and served. The regulars deserved, perhaps, a bottle of wine during their wait.

    1. j
      Janet from Richmond Oct 2, 2006 12:19 PM

      Mr. Janet and I dine out about 4x/week on average. There are 1/2 dozen or so local restaurants where we are regulars and treated accordingly. I have no issue with that. We are the people who are there on Monday nights or Sunday nights when no one else is. We are the ones who bring friends and recommend others to go there. And most importantly, we are the ones who are there consistently, treat the staff well and often go there because it's a place of welcome and comfort. For us, it's not just about having dinner and they know that.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Janet from Richmond
        MMRuth Oct 3, 2006 08:09 PM

        I agree heartily. We are regulars at a number of places, and while I never expect to go ahead of the line, and often eat at off peak hours, I appreciate getting squeezed in at Gari when I call half an hour ahead, etc.

      2. jfood Oct 2, 2006 11:56 AM

        Yes it stinks but let's all remember that a restaurant is a public-private establishment, with owners that will do things for regulars and frends just like any other business. It's not a democracy but an autocracy.

        Do people not go to retail stores that have just completed "private" sales for their regulars. How many times have we all paid $500 for a coach ticket and the gate attendent's brother's mother-in-law, who paid $15 for the seat gets upgraded.

        In the case in point let's assume you were seated at 8:00 and the two "in the know" tables were seated at 8:15. If these guys were regulars and leave hefty tips each time can you imagine the service differential between you and them. You mentioned they were immediately given a bottle of wine. Can you imagine how long it would be for your service and wine.

        Over the course of the next 90-120 minutes you will be treated like second class citizens and, dollars to donuts, their table would get over-serviced, overtalked over comped over the top to the point that what you would tell the manager upon departure is significantly more heated than what you would have said if you just left at the beginning.

        As chowdies when that situation occurs, we have to size up the situation, sense that the evening just went to hell in a handbasket, no matter who gets seated first and decide. Do I want to leave now and stand outside and do the "Now where do we go tango?" and have potential for a reasonable meal or do I want to stick it out and get pissed all night, get lousy service, spend good money and then froth the next day.

        Decision is 1) tell the manager that you are very disappointed and see if you can be treated as the others on the next trip (HIGHLY UNLIKELY as you have already been classified as a, well, not a regular; 2) tell the manager to stick it (feels great) go to another place (yuck it up about what you told the manager), have a good meal, wake up the next morning and begin the process of blogging and discussing the bad treatment.

        Sounds like an easy decision.

        1. p
          phoebek Oct 1, 2006 06:50 PM

          I wouldn't go back either. Something similar happened to us this summer, but at least we were comped a round of drinks and appetizers.

          1. e
            emilief Oct 1, 2006 05:58 PM

            When we arrived at 7 we were told it would be 45 minute wait. Just before the special peoplse walked in we asked the manager and he told us we were at the top of the list. WE looked at the list- our name was on top.Then, at the one hour mark,the wonderful people walked in. when I saw the kisses etc. I asked the manager- "are you planning to seat the people who just came in before us because you know them." he said, they called a long time ago. I said, we called and were told no, you can;t leave your name. I told him that, he shrugged his shoulders. They got the next two tables- within 15 minutes and we waited 1.2 hour. BTW- no bar to sit at. Also funny that some mentioned a comp- when the wonderful people sat down (next to where I was standing) I heard the waited tell them that the owner was sending THEM a bottle of wine and would they prefer white or red. They got comped but we didn't. We will not be going back to this place. A shame because the food was good.

            1 Reply
            1. re: emilief
              j
              Jesdamala Oct 2, 2006 04:02 AM

              I said I would not post again, but hey, one more. Please, write a letter to the owner. Hopefully, manager will not intercept. Write your local newspaper food writers, and get the word out on food blogs. Sounds vindictive, and it very well may be, but hey, the internet has it's good and it's bad possibilities. I once had some shabby service on a delivery order of a very nice Italian restaurant that we went to AT LEAST twice a week. Order came wrong. Called, was told it was our fault (of course, by phone, they didn't see the faces to make a connection), wrote a letter, no response, and guess what? They lost regulars, at least two times a week with a family and more than often friends. We were new to the 'hood, learned to branch out. Wrote a letter saying good bye. As I have said, I live in a place (three actually) where good, and even grand, food is easy to come by. I would never willingly wait an hour and a half for any meal. 45 minutes perhaps, if sensational experience was waiting for us.

            2. t
              trp67 Oct 1, 2006 08:46 AM

              Sorry to dig into details but two questions must be asked:
              What quote were you given at 7pm initially?
              -Also-
              Did someone tell you that you were at the top of the list or did you gather that from peering onto the list?

              1. Karl S Oct 1, 2006 02:31 AM

                A restaurant that does this is welcome to keep its old customers instead of keeping new ones. Simple as that. Shake the dust off your shoes as you leave. Do not cooperate in rewarding this dynamic.

                1. Velma Oct 1, 2006 12:46 AM

                  If I'm a new customer and I've been waiting an hour for a seat only to get bumped by a "regular", I will never become a regular then because I won't be back. No wonder so many restaurants go out of business when they play games like this.

                  1. m
                    ML8000 Sep 30, 2006 11:50 PM

                    There's little doubt they could have handled things better yet I can't blame them if they are regulars because that would be shooting yourself in the foot to do otherwise. The idea of comped wine was an excellent example of making things good and hooking a regular. Also shows that a smooth and organized front person is important.

                    Any ways, any business that ignores regulars is asking for trouble. Lawyers, sales reps, you name it, handle their regulars promptly because they survive on that business and referrals. Is it fair, no but it is understandable.

                    That said, I really appreciate places that have a democratic and/or fair reservation policy and treats everyone the same. It's also good business practice.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: ML8000
                      DanaB Oct 2, 2006 03:55 AM

                      Any "regular" to a very busy restaurant that doesn't take reservations who expects to walk in and be seated in front of people who have been waiting for an hour is the kind of person I'm not sure I'd want to know. The "regulars" and the restaurant deserve each other. Everyone else should stop patronizing the place.

                      1. re: DanaB
                        m
                        ML8000 Oct 2, 2006 04:41 AM

                        You're absolutely right. If it happened to me I'd never go back and haven't in many cases. I was just explaining the logic, they just obviously handled things badly.

                      2. re: ML8000
                        Covert Ops Oct 2, 2006 07:27 PM

                        I'm a regular at a few restaurants -- but if I show up in the middle of a busy Friday night, I expect to wait just like everyone else. Granted, I don't live in New York, but where I come from, if a place doesn't take reservations, you expect to wait, period. I'm taken care of as a regular by free drinks, free apps/dessert, etc. I do not expect other diners to be slighted in favor of me -- each of them is a potential regular, too.

                      3. j
                        Jesdamala Sep 30, 2006 11:34 PM

                        OK, last post on this. They arrived, name was put on a list at the station upon check in, perhaps, or perhaps not, they were told it could be a hour. So, they sit, they wait, perhaps they have a drink (was not mentioned), maybe they stood, whatever. Coming on a hour, checking the position of their name on the list, seeing they were first up for a table, and then two parties waltz in and pass them and are seated? I think a contingency plan is just fine if one is told there is a wait of an hour or even two or whatever, and one chooses not to wait. But after waiting, waiting, waiting...and then to have others seated? I think it is the height of rudeness, the restaurant could not fall back on the 'sorry, that table or those tables have been reserved', the manager lied about a wait list for call ins.

                        I would go out of my way to let anybody and everybody I know, writing letters, posting on food blogs, to let potential customers know about this insult. But, I live between three cities, where fabulous food is in abundance, dining experiences of all kinds exist, and I don't need to tolerate such this behavior. There isn't a restaurant on the planet who treated me like that that would get another cent from me. But I would not go silently. I would most definitely let the owner know, at the very least. Over and out on this one.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jesdamala
                          yayadave Sep 30, 2006 11:58 PM

                          Of course, a party's willingness to wait may be effected if they are told that their wait will be about an hour unless some friends/regulars/family come in and the wait will be longer in that case.

                        2. Infomaniac Sep 30, 2006 11:13 PM

                          This doesn't surprise me for a small Italian restaurant, or any small place that has regular customers. Thats why they are regular customers. It certainly doesn't make the party on the losing end fell good. Always good to have a contingency plan when going to a place that doesn't take reservations, so you can tell the owner/manager to forgetaboutit!!!

                          1. jfood Sep 30, 2006 10:59 PM

                            This is definitely one of those which side of the coin you are on.

                            From the OP's perspective, it is the worst feeling in the world and I hate it. Happens a lot in the Hamptons in the summer. Jfood not on the "A list."

                            There are three good resto in my town. I leave mucho dolars there in the course of a year. I expect to be treated, and usually am, as part of the family.

                            A new one opened in my toen and my DW and I were there three times a week for the first three months after opening. Then they get reviewed by the NY Times and I am shmoozing with the owner and tell him he has to remember the people who were loyal to him as he was developing his name. He said "absolutely." The following weekend we went in for a table and the hostess tells me that there was nothing available. I looked at the owner/manager and he did not even have the courtesy of coming over to apologize. I have not been back since and neither has anyone in my circle of chow-dies.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: jfood
                              TexasToast Oct 2, 2006 02:11 PM

                              Oh jfood, stick with me and I'll make you a star! I guess eating out as much as I do, you cultivate relationships with owners and managers and even the hostesses. It pays to be nice to everyone. I can't tell you the times I've walked into my (packed) favorite restaurant at 7pm on a Friday, been instantly recognized, and not had to wait. I suppose it would piss off those waiting in line, but then, they'll go back to wherever they came from and I'll be back on Tuesday! That's the way it works.

                              TT

                              1. re: TexasToast
                                j
                                Janet from Richmond Oct 2, 2006 02:17 PM

                                Exactly. And I make no apologies for it.

                                1. re: Janet from Richmond
                                  m
                                  ML8000 Oct 2, 2006 09:13 PM

                                  A little humility is always a nice quality. It's nice to be recognized but I perfer the low key and cool approach. I think restaurateurs and front people appreciate it. I believe that if you make their job easy, return their generousity (if they're giving any) and they remember you. Well it works for me even if I go somewhere 3x a year. Yes, the "public kiss" and recognition is part of the game...but has a sense of pretense I don't care for.

                                  What can I say, I have have personal contacts with more then a few chef/owners (some very hard to get into) and I can call ahead and forego even talking to a front person but I call regular reservations any way, unless I need to, but that's just me.

                                2. re: TexasToast
                                  jfood Oct 2, 2006 09:21 PM

                                  Between you and me my DW loves the resto and I think it STINKS. I ordered risotto four times, all went back. I made my DW risotto at home and she now asks me to cook it regularly.

                                  Duck came raw and I am a carnivour, gazpacho was basically some V-8 with a sprig of celery sticking out of it. Broken glass was embedded in my DW leg for five days after a waiter knocked over the dirty dish tray. They could not even make a good Caesar salad.

                                  I love the three restos around the corner (table always available for M&M Jfood) much better and now I have an excuse not to go back to the STINKER.

                                  1. re: TexasToast
                                    Velma Oct 2, 2006 10:50 PM

                                    Well, who knows. Maybe I might have been the customer who would have come back on Tuesday as well except that I got angry when after waiting an hour, a regular got in ahead of me. At that point, by rewarding you, the restaurant has lost my current business and potential future business as well. Also, I'm going to tell everybody I know to not bother with that restaurant. Make one customer happy and irritate three or four. That sounds like a great business model. Considering the high turnover in the restaurant biz, I guess it works well.

                                    1. re: Velma
                                      jfood Oct 2, 2006 11:00 PM

                                      So the resto traded a regular customer who has absolutely positively been there over and over (def of regular) for a "maybe i might have" and "potential future business". Bird in the hand analysis. I'll take the sure thing everytime.

                                      1. re: jfood
                                        yayadave Oct 3, 2006 12:14 AM

                                        Nahhh. Usually I agree with your posts, jfood, but not on this one. I think I finally figured it out. It was the "business model" crack. Sooner or later your "business model" has to include just doing the right thing - integrity. If you are seen to operate in this shoddy manner in the front of the house, where you ARE being seen, what are you up to in the back of the house?

                                        1. re: yayadave
                                          jfood Oct 3, 2006 11:28 AM

                                          Thanks Yaya. Re-reading thread and your reply (integrity hit home) there are two issues. First is the priority seating and second how the host handles the customer. I think the resto needs to have its regulars and treat them as such, with priority. It also needs to be open and honest with new customer. If the Host had told/apologized to the new customer the exact situation and asked them to please hold tight for a few more minutes and he will make the meal and service memorable for them such that they will want to become regulars as well this would have gone a long way.

                                          As I tell everyone in my life, once you start lying you are heading down a slippery slope that you will not recover from. But at the end of the day, the new customer may leave even with complete and truthful info, what can you do, you have to go with the rugulars.

                                3. j
                                  Jesdamala Sep 30, 2006 09:37 PM

                                  Well, then the restaurant seemingly can live with the fall out when mere mortal customers realize that after standing (or even sitting) for an hour, expecting to have the next or second available table, they will not be honored for their time. The food and experience better be beyond sensational for me to tolerate that treatment. BTW, families and friends of people who own such a restaurant would recognize this is not right. Maybe they would come upon opening...not their Friday or Saturday nite disruptive experience that will turn off others. It seems I am in a minority here that does not think this restaurant manager is not doing a good job 'managing'. I would dearly love to know how much his palm received that nite besides a high five.

                                  1. Davwud Sep 30, 2006 09:25 PM

                                    Personally, if they're regulars, friends or family I wouldn't have much of a problem with it. The explanation of them being on a list that you were told did not exist would be enough for me to leave.
                                    I don't like being bumped for a regular however I've received such treatment without even a thought. So I can totally understand.

                                    DT

                                    1. j
                                      Jesdamala Sep 30, 2006 09:18 PM

                                      IF a restaurant has a reservation policy, I can see holding a table (leaving that table open for a period of time) for a regular. I don't like what happened to you, whatsoever. How much longer did you have to wait (after these two parties were seated) to get your table? Doesn't matter, after a hour I would have stayed, but steamed. I would seriously consider writing a 'honey' of a letter to the owner, expressing your disappointment. I am sure this 'manager' got tipped for his 'services'. Unfair. Get the word out, your hour wait in line may not be respected. How much you want to bet that these parties called the manager and asked just when they should show up? Having a 'list' of those who do call in seems very fair. BTW, we go regularly to a restaurant that does not have a reservation policy, except for parties of five plus.
                                      IF we are not in such a party to reserve, then we go early. We do not expect to be rewarded a table. And honestly, nor should we.

                                      1. e
                                        emilief Sep 30, 2006 07:56 PM

                                        MC Slim- this was not the situation. There were no empty tables saved for preferred cutomers. The place was full - no empty tables the entire time. It would be impossible there to leave open tables given the wait line and the fact that the place is very small. There were several groups in front of us and when the specials walked in we were at the top of the list because we had been checking.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: emilief
                                          MC Slim JB Sep 30, 2006 09:06 PM

                                          Oof, that's a bit uglier. In that case, I might have walked. But that's also tough to do on a Friday night at prime time, though, as your chances of getting seated sooner elsewhere at someplace you'd really like to dine are slim. I guess this scenario is one of the reasons I shun North End places that don't take reservations. I hate waiting in line. Any chance you can identify the offending restaurant, as a public service?

                                          1. re: MC Slim JB
                                            limster Sep 30, 2006 09:10 PM

                                            It's Delfinos: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                        2. yayadave Sep 30, 2006 07:50 PM

                                          Seems short sighted and just inept on their part. Once they were busted being shifty, a comped bottle of wine would have been an ept move.

                                          There's probably too much here you just don't know. Do some/any/one of those people have money in the place? or the next one? Are they family? Are there other obligations that could not be ignored? If they absolutly had to be "taken care of," you could have been "taken care of" in some way, also. It's not mutually exclusive.

                                          1. MC Slim JB Sep 30, 2006 07:41 PM

                                            As a former maitre'd, I can tell you that most restaurants save a table or two for regulars who haven't made reservations and other special drop-in guests.

                                            As a diner, a few restaurants that I patronize regularly do give me special consideration, privileges that grew gradually over time as I cemented my "regular" status. I try not to abuse this, but it is nice to occasionally get one of those tables on short notice, the odd complimentary plate or glass of wine, etc.

                                            It doesn't hurt that I tip like a former waiter, bartender, and host, and abide by good-patron-behavior maxims like those outlined in this recent post: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                            That said, it's bad hosting practice to wildly mismanage wait times. There's always some unpredictability -- patrons linger endlessly over coffee, etc. -- but an extra hour is a bit much. One of my local favorites, Boston's Franklin Cafe, is always, always packed, yet their hosts manage to quote accurate wait times within about 15 minutes very consistently. It takes skill; they always do a quick scan of the room to see how far through their meals the currently-seated parties are. It probably helps that they don't serve dessert.

                                            1. j
                                              Jesdamala Sep 30, 2006 06:26 PM

                                              Wondering if the manager is also the owner. I would try to find out and write a letter. To wait an hour, and to have two parties seated ahead of me would make me very angry. Some restaurants that are small and do not take reservations, sometimes do for larger parties. Were these larger parties that could only be accommodated by specific tables? I would try to discover exactly what the rules are, and if this manager does not abide by them, I would consider writing a letter to any local food columnist or critic. You may be doing this restaurant a service, because while restaurants do make money on repeat customers, they sure do make some on first or second timers...who just may become regulars. Right now, I am guessing you aren't considering giving any more money to this establishment. I would not write a threatening type letter, but a letter that expresses disappointment. There are very few restaurants, if any, I would wait an hour to dine at. Just my thoughts.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Jesdamala
                                                e
                                                emilief Sep 30, 2006 06:50 PM

                                                Well I know that the owner is Italian and the manager is African American. So, unless he is both he probably is not the owner. No, the groups they took ahead of us were the same # of people as our group. As to preferring regular customers, how does one become a regular if you need to wait 1 1/2 each time. I also recently injured myself and have a cane and I wouldn't have minded so much under usual circumstances.

                                              2. Candy Sep 30, 2006 06:23 PM

                                                Sounds like that restaurant does not care for your patronage. Dine elsewhere.

                                                1. c
                                                  chow_gal Sep 30, 2006 06:05 PM

                                                  Yeah, it stinks, but a restaurant makes its money on repeat visitors. Good customers are good customers and should be treated well. Democracy is a nice thing, but capitalism is at play.

                                                  Show Hidden Posts