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Aug 31, 2007 09:38 PM

Won't take a reservation for two?

We thought we'd try a local Italian place this evening. We've been there before with friends, with reservations, but never by ourselves. We know it gets pretty busy so thought we'd make a reservation. It's not a fancy place or upscale....just a popular little italian restaurant.

So I call around one picks up the phone so I leave a message requesting a table for two at 6:30 and asking for a call back to confirm if this can be accomodated.

Around 4:30 I call back as I haven't heard back and figure by now someone will be picking up the phones. I get the owner...she says there's no reservation for us on the book. I explain I'd left a message earlier in the day and was calling to confirm"Oh well, a message I see" I'm still not sure if they ever picked my message up!

Anyway, she asks how many and what time. When I answer she tells me they wont' make a reservation for less than 4. I was surprised! I've never run across this. I've heard of reservations only for large parties(ie we're in Phoenix and the now famous Pizzeria Bianco requires 8 for reservations) but refusing to reserve for a two top and having a minimum of four?

we decide to go ahead and try to walk in since the food was good the time we'd been before and figured we might be ahead of the evening rush...we got there and were told a 25 minute wait. We weren't in any hurry and thought we'd sit at the bar and wait and started to pull out a couple chairs(the bar is right next to the door) and were told that they were taken by people "who were going to be sitting there" Apparently they weren't there yet though?

There was nowhere comfortable to wait(it's a small place with the bar on top of the door as well as a few tables) so we left and went somewhere else...had a fine dinner and enjoyed our evening in the end.

Just wondering if this is a fairly normal practice? we've never come across it anywhere - upscale or midscale. No reservations yes, but no reservations for small tables only?

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  1. I don't know if it's common but like you said, there are places that would only take reservations for large parties.

    1. About the only thing I can think is that all of their tables are four-top tables and they figure they'll make more money from a party of four than if you were to go there, love it, and come back with more people.

      11 Replies
      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

        I was understanding of them until you tried to sit at the bar. I could see it if there were people already there but to deny you a place to sit while you wait is ludicrous. I wouldn't go back. Frankly, DH and I usually spend more than the average party of 4 by the time we get through ordering wine, etc.

        1. re: Linda VH

          the bartender may have gotten a call from regulars who sit there every friday night. folks who know him, and help pay his mortgage. not unheard of by any means.

          the place sounds very small and i agree with the above poster that they likely prefer to book to capacity (4-tops on 4-tops, sixes on 6-tops), rather than booking smaller groups.

          i don't think a wait of 25 minutes is outrageous as a walk-in; the op didn't either. i understand the frustration of not having a comfortable place to wait though, so no harm, no foul, the op ate elsewhere and was happy.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            the bartender may have gotten a call from regulars who sit there every friday night. folks who know him, and help pay his mortgage. not unheard of by any means.

            Sorry, but I'm calling bull nuggets.

            If the resto takes reservations for two at the bar, they should have offered to seat the OP at the bar at the time the OP called. If they don't, the bartender has no right to reserve seats for ANYONE under ANY circumstances without MGT's prior approval.

            Bartender's job is to serve ALL the resto's patrons, not just those who grease his palm at the expense of other patrons.

            If the bartender WAS making reservations at the bar without management's knowledge or approval, management should can his azz.

            1. re: mclaugh

              all i did was offer a possibility. for goodness' sake--maybe it was the owner's mom on her way in to eat at the bar, and the owner instructed the bartender to reserve 2 seats. the owners and management seat at their discretion. not every decision made should be taken as a personal affront, ya know?

              1. re: mclaugh

                I'm going to call you on this. No, the bartender certainly has a right to do this as often times the bartender can be part of management (I can think of at least 5 mid to high end restaurants where the bartender clearly has this power). It's not about greasing palms neccesarily, but when a regular of your place who comes on the monday, tuesday, and wednesday nights suddently wants to bring a friend on a friday night, you make room for them. They aren't just greasing the palm of the bartender, but they up the till of the restaurant on the nights when they most need it.

                1. re: mclaugh

                  why the harsh toen? just a possibility of a reason.

                  And unfortunately the resto is NOT a democracy. It is an establishment that can set absically whatever rules it wishes so long as it does discriminate under the law.

                  Savig a two-seat at the bar for regulars, not goo di your not a regular but that's life.
                  Want that primo table in the corner at 730 on a friday night and your a newbie, may not happen?
                  And if you truly believe that everyone is treated equally at all resto, jfood has some bad news, they're not. Jfood treated differently at places he is a regular in a positive sense and when he is a newbie he is treated as such. It's just the game of life.

                  Don;t like it, no one does but that's the way of the world. The only place where you have the option of treating yourself equally is in your own house. Other than that the rules are for others to decide and you can decide to play or let your feet do the talking.

                  1. re: jfood

                    Jfood, I'm disappointed in you (and not just because of your spelling)-I saw that you had posted and thought you'd be the voice of reason. Of course, a restaurant has the right to do whatever they please-it doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. How is one supposed to become a "regular" if they can't be served? How is it in the interest of a business to provide lousy customer service? For whatever reason, the employees of this place decided the OP was persona-non-grata, and chose not to accept their custom; why even offer the option of waiting is there was no where they were welcome to wait? Kudos to the OP for leaving and taking their money and loyalty elsewhere.

                    1. re: SusanSDG

                      I don't think the resto gave lousy service. They have a reservation policy for whatever reasons. The barstools were reserved. The wait for a table was 25 minutes, which isn't very long. The OP didn't want to wait. No harm no foul on either party.

                      1. re: SusanSDG

                        apologize for the spelling, ouch that was bad, could barely read it.

                        but jfood did not say it was right for the resto to do it, or wrong for the resto to do it, just stating facts of life.

                        they did not give lousy service, in fact they told the OP there would be a 25 minute wait. The bartender/owner probably told someone else, who was coming in a few minutes, that he would hold a couple of bar seats so they could wait (sorta like calling ahead at a resto that takes no reso to put their name "on the list"). The OP had the option of standing at the bar, and everyone has done that in their lives. You become a regular by starting at the bottom and working your way up, and the OP decided to leave and that was their choice.

                        If you treat your regulars badly then you rely on newbies to survive, not a great business model so you need to treat them a little better and sometimes newbies take the brunt. Once again, jfood not stating right or wrong (depending on which side of the coin you are on) but again, it's a fact of life. Likewise jfood would love tickets on the 50 yard line for the super bowl, not gonna happen.

                        They voted with their feet and jfood placed that as an option. Ifthey would have stayed, had a drink, shmooozed with the tender, maybe the next time they would get seats, just a thought.

                        1. re: jfood

                          We would have done this but again...the bar is literally on top of the door and only 6 seats. To stand at the bar you have to stand in the doorway of the establishment. The 25 minutes didn't put me off, the standing in the doorway while others came and went did. I find that an uncomfortable way to start a relaxing dinner. This is why we decided in the end to leave.

                          There is a popular Vietnamese restaurant by our house that is similar...very small, no bar, and again tables on top of the door. Here also we don't wait as I don't like standing on top of the door. Fortunately it's walking distance from our house and we frequent it often during off hours so this isn't an issue for us. And you are correct that since we do frequent during less busy hours we are known and are regulars and do benefit from that relationship. For this Italian place which is farther from our home(so we're less likely to be able to get there before the busy dinner rush) we'll be passing rather than risk the wait with nowhere to wait. As mentioned by others no harm no foul to us or them. They are popular and the loss of us won't hurt them.

                          The one thing that did really put me issues is that no one ever returned my call to tell me that they wouldn't accept my reservation. I feel this is poor business. they can make their policies but they should have called to let me know they couldn't accomodate rather than my having to try and call to confirm.

                          I also think it's tacky that the owner has his real estate slogans painted on the windows and walks around in real estate badge but that's an entirely separate issue now isn't it? ;)

                          In the end I will say the one time we have been there for dinner the food was quite good. So at least in the end, as a restaurant they are providing quality product for those that do choose to eat there. And if we're in a group of four who want to think about going we wont' object for that reason. With a reservation it's a perfectly fine place to dine (if you ignore the name badge! LOL)

                          1. re: ziggylu

                            Jfood commends you for trying and speaking with your feet. It does sound like a popular place, small with good food and a difficult place to wait.

                            Wrt the return call, there is NO excuse in any business. That should have been the first sign that the place truly relies on regulars and newbies are definitely a first-come maybe-served. Not what everryone wants but as jfood said, it's just the way it is and you acted appropriately by leaving. Likewise you understand the regular gig as well with theother resto.

                            To the original question of does this happen elsewhere, one word - Rao's.

            2. i can understand the understandableness of the situation. restaurants make their reservation policies for whatever reasons and we have to respect their right to do that.

              what i would be bothered by, and probably ask the manager a few questions about is:
              1) that they were only given reasons why the restaurant couldn't accomodate them- no offer of what they could do. doesn't sound very appreciative of their business.
              2) how come the OP couldn't reserve a table for 2, but the two seats they tried to sit at at the bar were "reserved"?

              when i worked in a place that didn't take reservations at all i would tell people "we are usually full by 630, so come before then if you don't want to wait. otherwise it's usually up to a 45 minute wait...etc"

              1. Thanks for the feedback.

                A couple things to answers points that have been made:

                The restaurant is owned by a husband and wife. I spoke with the wife on the phone. The husband was the one we talked to at the door. He was the also the one that prevented us from sitting at the bar and told us that people would be sitting there(again they weren't there yet..I do realize it is not unusual for seats to be held for patrons that have stepped out for a smoke as we are now a smoke free state but that was not the case in this situation).

                There are no two top tables in the restaurant. Just square four tops which can be pushed together for larger parties when needed(we didn't notice this the first time we went).

                Restaurant is very small with bar and tables on top of the door...nowhere to wait comfortably, especially during the summer when outside just in a strip mall parking lot just isn't comfortable in Phoenix.

                I understand restaurants can make whatever policies they want. Not welcoming two tops seems like a strange business policy to me(yes, more revenue on a four top I get that but couples eating just aren't that uncommon). Seems like it would be better to just have a no reservation policy if that were the case.

                No big deal to us. We have other Italian places we like and now we know this one isn't a good option when we're by ourselves - especially on a busy friday or saturday evening(I don't mind waiting a bit as a walk-in if there is somewhere I can be comfortable but the fact there isn't here takes this off our list). They do a good business and won't miss us anyhow! :-)

                I was just curious if anyone else had ever heard of a policy like this. The owners are originally from it more common there?

                4 Replies
                1. re: ziggylu

                  OKay, for my money, they did not want you as a customer, they would not reserve for you two..but apparently did reserve bar seat for two *other* unseen, not there folks? Oh Please, that would be as good as a slap in the face to me.

                  1. re: Quine

                    Perhaps they had already promised the seats to some friends or family members of theirs, or regulars. The owners have the right to do what they want in their own restaurant. It's more of a slap in the face to be promised that a couple of seats would be held for you and to arrive and find them given away.

                  2. re: ziggylu

                    That NYC connection may have some merit. I know that when I visit Manhattan and go out with just one friend, to take a 4-top when there are just two of us is a BIG faux pas (here in Houston, no one cares). I can understand why restaurants want to optimize the $ of every seat, but I think you were treated shabbily.

                    1. re: Cheflambo

                      Having dined in NYC often with my ex BF (who lived there) over the last year, 2 paying customers are seated over an empty 4 top. :) Nope that shabby treatment is not norm, NYC or elsewhere.

                  3. It probably is not common but a local restaurant we fancy will not take reservations for fewer than 5 persons. Always thought that odd but it is a fact and we (a party of 4 at that time) didn't qualify. It is a casual but very good spot and our solution is to arrive early (our usual preference anyway) and request our "favorite" location which is usually honored. To their credit they never hesitate to seat us at a 4 top even when we are only a couple and they are gracious at all times. There is just this one peculiar reservation thing.