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Dec 3, 2007 06:55 AM

Reservation nightmare at The Helmand

A group of us went to the Helmand friday night and were seated 45 minutes after our reservation time. Has anyone else had this issue? Is this typical (as in next time make the reservation at least 30 minutes before we want to eat)? Food was amazing though. Had the baby pumpkin, lamb, and ice cream. I could eat that every week!

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  1. Since the Army-Navy game was in town on Saturday night, chances are that The Helmand and many other area restaurants were swamped because of it. Then diners tend to linger longer than the anticipated time and on a normally busy Friday night, this can easily and quickly throw things off and hence your longer wait.

    Personally speaking, I HATE eating out on Friday or Saturday nights because it's when the general public likes to go out and eat. Was invited to a birthday party at Fogo de Chao on Saturday night at 8:30 and the place was jammed packed.

    I, for one, do not go out on Friday or Saturday nights (especially at the height of dinner rush) and expect things to go as I want them to.

    16 Replies
    1. re: onocoffee

      I just don't understand what the point of a reservation is, if you don't get seated until 45 minutes afterwards. Our reservation was for 8:30, and we got seated at 9:45. We even arrived early. Maybe I am naive, but 8:30 should not be the height of the dinner rush. We were not the only ones not getting seated either. They have been in business a long time, they should know how to book their tables a little better. We don't mind waiting, but 45 minutes at 8:30pm is a little crazy.

      Hopefully this is not the norm, because we really enjoyed the food and ambiance. We all talked about next time making a reservation for 5, right when they open, to avoid this again.

      Have you had this issue there? Or no because you only eat on weekdays?

      1. re: enginerd

        45 minutes is certainly a long time to wait past a reservation. Did they tell you they were running behind? Sometimes people will linger and hold up tables even if the restaurant has things well planned.

        1. re: Annapolis07

          Yes, we went up and talked to them 3 times. All they did was say sorry, our table would be ready soon. Apperently one of the times we had a table, but something happened and the host didn't know why someone else was sitting at the table. It just seemed chaotic and unorganized. Our group is not full of huge complainers, because most of us have worked in resturaunts before and know how things can get. So we were polite and recognized that there wasn't much at the time they could do. It was unfortunate that they over booked themselves. There were probably groups lingering, but there were SO many people waiting for tables.

          Sometimes you just have to chalk it up to bad luck I guess?

          1. re: enginerd

            It seems like an off night on an exceptional weekend, but keep in mind that if your reservation was off schedule but at least you were able to sit. All the walkins must have been turned away

            1. re: enginerd

              I've had weekend reservations there several times and always been promptly seated.. Hopefully, your experience was an aberration.

              1. re: enginerd

                Actually from the sounds of this there was a slip up at the front if by one time we had a table the OP means that the host said "I have a table for you" and then said "now I don't." Another host may have sat that table not knowing that host 1 needed it. In any case, a 45 minute wait at my restaurant would entail free apps, free prosecco etc as it is not the norm but a bad booking decision on our part, or a table staying way past the norm which is not our waiting guests fault. But given the insane rate of no shows, showing up lates, showing up with more or less than reserved for, showing up partials, we do our best but sometimes screw up.

            2. re: enginerd

              That is an hour and 15 mins not 45 mins.

              1. re: Tugboat

                You are right. I mean 9:15. Ooops!

              2. re: enginerd

                Again, because I don't know how to be much clearer: this past weekend was the Army-Navy game at Ravens Stadium. Because of this, restaurants were packed. Even I noticed the additional crowds. And since you've stated that people in your party have worked in the restaurant business, one would think that your group could appreciate most the difficulty of a tremendously busy weekend that's compounded by people who linger past their expected table stay.

                Personally speaking, I have not had any issues at The Helmand. Most certainly because I choose to avoid weekends because I don't want to deal with the hassles of being in crowds like we saw this past weekend.

                As a corollary, I spoke with one of the servers at Fogo de Chao who told me that their 300 seat restaurant would serve 1200 that Saturday. Normal numbers for Saturday night would be about 800-900. It was a busier than normal Saturday.

                1. re: onocoffee

                  Just as a side note, even restaurants that didn't have a single Army or Navy fan present could have been affected by the "domino effect" of those fans filling Restaurant A, so customers turned away go to Restaurant B, which then fills up, and...

                  Whether that was the cause of the O.P.'s particular difficulties at The Helmand, I can't say, but I agree with others that I've neither experienced nor heard reports of this sort of problem at The Helmand.

                  Whatever the cause, I think you just had the bad luck to hit a rare mishap at a typically well-run establishment.

                  1. re: Warthog

                    Thanks to everyone who provided information that they have no had trouble being seated on time. :) Now I feel better knowing this was a bad night and it is not the norm.

                    onocoffee - I understood what you said the first time, and your reasoning made sense for why this resturaunt and probably so many others were swamped. However, I just really wanted to hear someone say that they have been to the Helmand before and not had a problem. Even though the increased activity in the city make things harder, that doesn't mean that this problem doesn't exist in some form at all times. I had been to a few places in DC were it didn't matter what time my reservation was, because they always overbooked. I just wanted to know if this was one of those restaurants.

                    Anyway, thanks again for the info everyone. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know about your experience there :).

                    1. re: enginerd

                      I think the issue with overbooking spills into a deeper conversation around how restaurants cope with the high numbers in reservation no shows.

                    2. re: Warthog

                      I know most on this board love the Helmand... I do too, but let's not make excuses for them. They overbooked. enginerd was seated late and not offered some sort of comp. free drinks, a bottle of wine, dessert, half off dinner etc.

                      1. re: frites

                        Well, technically, any more than one reservation per night per table is "overbooking", unless the restaurant is willing to enforce a "You're done, now GET OUT!" policy. Not having been there, I don't think we have enough info to say whether this was a case of true overbooking (knowingly taking more reservations than there are places, counting on no-shows to make it work), the "diners who won't leave" problem, or some other mishap.

                        I will agree that the management would have been wise to have offered some form of comp, or at very least abject apologies.

                        1. re: frites

                          If you apply that rule to yourself and you are late to a reservation, should you pay the restaurant extra for the inconvenience?

                          1. re: cleveland park

                            In my opinion, if someone is more than 10-15 minutes late for a reservation and doesn't call, the "penalty" is that they should be moved to the bottom of any list that exists. Having a reservation doesn't mean one can show up any time after the reservation?

                            I do think restaurants have an obligation to provide something when they are more than 30 minutes behind in seating for a reservation. The goodwill goes a long way to avoiding bad word-of-mouth.

                2. I can report that I had reservations for The Helmand this past Monday for 7 people at 6pm and we were seated very promptly. The restaurant was relatively empty when we arrived, but was super packed by the time we left. Not exactly a comparable situation, but at least a vote for confidence that it might have been the situation and not typical :)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: pigtowner

                    I was there Thursday evening and seated pormptly. We showed up about 10 minutes before our reservation and were seated then. I guess you jsut hit an off night.

                    ps -- try the vegetarian aushak!