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Not sitting a party of two in a half empty restaurant

Maybe half empty is a bit of a stretch, but we went out for sushi last night, and when we were arrived there were 3 or 4 empty 4-tops in the restaurant. It was about 8:45 p.m., which on a Thursday night in this city means that the evening rush is pretty much over. The hostess said that they didn't have any tables available. When we asked about the empty tables right in front of us, she told us that they do not seat parties of 2 at 4-tops. This really rubbed me the wrong way. Is it a reasonable position from them to take when it's getting near the end of the night and they have multiple 4-tops open?

We ended up waiting in the bar for 20 minutes for a table for 2 to clear, and had a perfectly decent meal. The empty 4-tops remained empty through out our meal.

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  1. I think their refusing to seat you immediately would have been reasonable, had there only been one 4-top available. But with 3 or 4 empty, and the time almost 9 pm, I think they were wrong to make you wait. In my opinion, you should discuss your displeasure over this to the manager.

    2 Replies
    1. re: breadbox

      I've had this happen to me in the past and I just turn around and go somewhere else, never to return. It's totally unreasonable.

      1. re: breadbox

        as an individual who spent her college days supporting herself while working at a busy southern california gourmet restaurant, i totally understand why they did what they did... (in fact i made some industry people kinda mad... to my defense i didn't know who they were... hahaha but whatever) that being said however, i do not agree that they should have kept you waiting for that long. i agree with breadbox in stating that when there are 3-4 tables, close to 9 pm, you really shouldn't have waited.

        when i was in that predictament as an employee, i would politely, and more in passing, tell the guests that we saved the 4 tops for 3 or more. i would tell them this so that they knew our policy, more of a fyi kinda thing. but then, i would tell them, that since the restaurant wasn't busy at that time and it was close to time to close, we would be accomodating. but also i would tell them that if it was super packed in the future, there may be a slight wait. of course every guest deserves proper common courtesy, and from my experience, the more information people have about the place they are eatign at, the more they enjoy their experience.

        as a patron now, i am more aware of the balance between "profits" and customer service, and i find that as long as you are polite and explain your situation and reasons for making a certain preference, most establishments will accomodate. however, since you asked about that even pointed out the tables, i probably would not have stayed longer than 5 minutes.

        i'm really sorry that this happened to you!!!! good luck next time =)

      2. Totally unreasonable. While restaurants do need general seating policies, there should be some flexibility, and this sounds like a situation when that flexibility should have come into play. I'd have asked to talk to the manager when I was quoted a 20 minute wait time with empty tables in front of me. Or, at about 10 minutes, if no wait time was quoted.

        And really, unless I was dead set on the food at that specific restaurant, I probably would have gone elsewhere.

        6 Replies
        1. re: AnnaEA

          I would've spoken with the manager, and had this inflexibility continued, I'd have voted with my feet and wallet.

          1. re: Leonardo

            Had a similar experience a while back at Osteria di Tramonto, Rick Tramonto's new restaurant in Wheeling, IL. In our case, the restaurant was virtually empty and it was 4:30 in the afternoon. A very smug host smirked while telling us he could seat us at 9:30pm.

            We turned around and walked and would never go back. After a hot start, we've heard they've taken a definitely downturn. Hmmm....

            1. re: LAWoman

              Maybe this is more common in restaurants than I thought. We once entered a local restaurant in the afternoon between the lunch and dinner rush. The place was maybe one third full if even that but they refused to seat us saying that they didn't have the wait staff to handle the current number of seated tables. The hostess wanted us to sit in the bar I guess until one of the currently occupied tables emptied out. We left and the place went out of business about six months later.

              1. re: Velma

                That strikes me as *good* service, not bad. If they weren't staffed to properly handle the people they had seated, adding more patrons would have made the situation worse, and then everyone would have gotten poor service. Better to ask you to wait, or go elsewhere than to deliver sub-par service to everyone.

                1. re: Jacquilynne

                  I fully agree with this. Its hard for a lot of people to understand the philosphy behind it though.

                  1. re: Jacquilynne

                    Well, we left. Not a problem for us.

          2. A restaurant would rather risk the couple leaving in the hopes that a mad rush of quads enter just before closing?

            1. sounds like the hostess was probably young and inexperienced. she was probably following a rule her manager told her. that's a big problem in the industry- hostesses lack the experience and common sense needed to follow rules yet be aware of the times to make exceptions. in this case- "don't seat 2s at 4-tops, EXCEPT when only four tops are available."

              you are WAY more patient than i would have been in that situation. i probably would have "bargained" with the hostess..."how about if you go ahead and seat us and if 4 tables of 4 walk in we'll promise to move."

              3 Replies
              1. re: excuse me miss

                That's exactly what I was thinking when I read this. The hostess was given an instruction and that was that. It reminds me of when my brother was teaching me to shoot a basketball. He'd tell me something to correct and I'd do nothing but what he just said to the exlcusion of everything else. It took a long time to integrate all of the various instructions and get comfortable figuring out how to apply each possible way to go in a different situation.

                1. re: excuse me miss

                  That was my impression too. This place staffs a lot of young and attractive girls trying to set a hip vibe, and they often seem quite inexperienced (this is a general peeve I have with Denver restaurants). We usually sit at the sushi bar, and have a fun time dealing with the sushi chefs, so we don't deal with the wait staff a lot of the time.

                  The main reason we waited was that we felt like sushi and there weren't other decent sushi places nearby. We would have ended up back in the car to another place, and would have eaten even later. It's honestly not my favorite place, but it's close to our house with decent sushi. When in the mood for sushi, we tend to go out of inertia, if for no other reason.

                  1. re: Megiac

                    fair enough- but if that ever happens again please- for the sake of the industry- don't just wait. ask to speak to the manager and- politely of course- insist on being seated. otherwise the hostess wil never learn, and the manager will never know to train other new hostesses properly.

                    even if there was only one table left in the whole place they should have given it to you. it's just common sense in any business- you cater to the customer who is in the store now- not to the hypothetical one who "might" walk in the door.

                2. sometimes hosts don't understand that seating policies aren't iron-clad. in other words, don't use a 4-top for a deuce at 6:00, or even 8:00, but be flexible at non-peak times. not everybody brings their thinking caps to work, unfortunately.

                  i would have eaten at the bar, or left. i would not have waited.

                  1. "let your fingers do the walking through the yellow pages"

                    What a great theme song from the 70's. Likewise 20-minutes staring at empty tables is waaaaay behind the acceptable level. Gotta believe, like others have stated, that the hostess was new and inexperienced. Jfood would have asked for the manager, and if no help there, see introduction and use the paws to boogie.

                    1. I’m surprised you waited.

                      I had a somewhat similar experience at Dallas BBQ on New Yorks' West side. The place was practically empty. The hostess insisted on seating us at a two top that was literally right against the wall and beside the bus station. So one person was staring at dirty dishes while the other was in danger of hitting them. My girlfriend asked for another table and was told that despite the huge number of empty tables there was nothing else. We promptly left.

                      Out of curiosity I returned to the same place five years later. The place was again empty and I was given that same table. When I asked for a different one I was 'upgraded' to the one closest to the restrooms. I again promptly left.

                      1. Megiac, We went to "Stars" restaurant when it opened in Seattle. There were 50 empty tables. (I counted.) We were told we could be seated at the bar. Shortly thereafter they closed. When a restaurant develops an attitude they are better than their clientle, they're doomed.

                        1. Sometimes it goes the other way. For a couple of years I manged a restaurant in central Virginia that had a rooftop deck. Nothing special about the deck and the view was OK on one side of the building but was overlooking 2 different parking lots and a street on the other three sides. It was, though, unique in town and was always jam-packed on Thurs., Fri. and Sat. nights. We also had a front patio area that was always full on weekends. The inside of the restaurant, some 85 seats, was usually virtually empty. I had many occasions on which a party of 3 or 4 would show up and ask to sit upstairs, i'd tell them that the wait was likely to run toward 2 hours (not making that up, if they came at the wrong time and I'd just sat several tables, it took a while as people liked to linger upstairs). Or, obviously, they could sit immediately inside. The number of times that people would sit at the bar, inside, and wait the 2 hours to then sit upstairs astonished me. Never can tell. :)

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: ccbweb

                            Would that, perchance, be Northern Exposure?

                            1. re: mojoeater

                              Indeed. Back in the day of the forrest of broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes with everything. Good times.

                              1. re: ccbweb

                                Those giant broccoli trees were impressive. Now the building just sits there. Too bad.

                          2. It's never happened to me and like most people, the only thing they'd get from me is a view of my back.