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reservation subterfuge?

I just had a somewhat unsettling experience. I called a new, much-touted restaurant to get reservations for my husband and me this Sunday at 11:30. The woman taking reservations hmmmed and asked if we could come in at 10:30 instead. I assumed they were booked as it’s close to Valentine’s Day. I normally would have taken the earlier reservation, but as it happens I am volunteering at a blood drive that day and have limited time off. I told her we couldn’t but that I understood and we’d try them another time. She immediately said, “Oh, no – we can do 11:30,” and proceeded to take my information.

Now I am left feeling a bit disconcerted. I realize that I was asking for a prime time, and from a business perspective I suppose it would make sense to attempt to fill less desirable slots first, but I understood restaurant reservations to be, essentially, first-come, first-served. Is this a common practice?

The funny thing is, if they are going to do that, I think just a little more subterfuge is called for. I thought afterward that if she had just said, “Let me see if we can rearrange some things to squeeze you in at that time,” and then had me hold or called me back, I would have actually been quite happy!

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  1. You got the reservation you requested. I fail to see why you aren't quite happy except for the fact you choose not to be. It may have been easier for them for a variety of reasons that you are unaware of that have nothing to do with them not wanting you there at 11:30.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      I guess I am just surprised - I asked for 11:30 and she obviously knew that they had room at 11:30. There wasn't even a moment's pause when she told me I could have a table at 11:30, once I told her we would try them another time. So why even ask if we could come in at 10:30? If I called my doctor for an appointment on Friday and he had room available, I wouldn't expect them to first ask if I could come in next Monday instead.

      Are you saying is that this is typical restaurant behavior, and we shouldn't expect reservations to be not first-come, first-served? That's what I was asking. It's the first time I've ever encountered such a thing (that I am aware of.)

      1. re: meg944

        meg944, was the reservation for a brunch? Was the reservation for A.M. or P.M.?

        1. re: dolores

          lunch - so AM. I'm a late-night person but not that much!

          1. re: meg944

            Interesting. Curious that you were asked to come in at 10:30am for lunch, then.

            I too would have been taken aback.

            1. re: meg944

              I thought it might be brunch... either way, 10:30 am would be waaaay too early for me. But I am a night owl.

              Maybe they did have some large party showing up, as JfR suggested. I guess you'll find out Sunday, at your desired time slot.

              1. re: linguafood

                I think that is why it didn’t completely sit well w/ me. Who wants to eat lunch at 10:30 on a Sunday? (Honestly, even 11:30 would normally seem far too early to me, but I have to be up at 5:30 for the blood drive, so I am sure I'll be eager to eat by then.)

                The thing is, I am never one of those people who try to change their table or press for a reservation if told none are available. I just assume the restaurant staff is doing the best they can to accommodate me. And perhaps that is completely true, but the realization that, under normal circumstances, my husband and I would have wound up having our Valentine’s meal out at 10:30 AM on Sunday was a bit disconcerting.

                I will have an eye out on Sunday to see if there's anything out of the ordinary.

          2. re: meg944

            Every business has "behind the scenes" dealings that the customer is unaware of. For instance, they may have had a large party or something at 12 and by you coming in at 10:30, it would be easier on the kitchen. They may have had staff issues and the time change may have been more convenient. They gave you what you asked for. I don't understand why you feel compelled to read into it more than is most likely there.

            1. re: Janet from Richmond

              Then why not explain that when requesting the person accept a reservation other than the requested time? In business, perception is usually more important than reality. In this case, the perception is there was room at 11:30, thus leaving the meg944 "a bit disconcerted". Personally, if a business, restaurant or other, offers me alternatives without an explanation (and are due to "behind the screens" reasons), that alone is enough for me not to trust them. If I don't trust'em, I don't do business with'em.

              1. re: BatMan

                And that is your choice. I choose not to major in the minors and choose not to look for ways to mistrust when I see no evidence of such. Not everything is cloak and dagger and businesses trying to pull a fast one.

                1. re: BatMan

                  Sure, but if the resto had explained the "behind the scenes" reason, we'd get an OP complaining "I called to make a reservation and the host asked me if I could come earlier, and then she explained about staff issues and time change and said it's more convenient if I take the earlier reservation and why should I have to change my reservation time just to make it easier on the restaurant, because I am, after all, the customer, and how dare they think I'd be interested in what's more convenient for them!"

                  You can't win.

                  1. re: Kagey

                    I don't think it's up to the restaurant to explain what the behind the scenes issues are (as with any other business). I think there has to be some trust in the relationship for it to work. If you (general) think a business is out to get you, you don't need to do business with them.

          3. Happens all the time. Some reservations people are told to try to balance the load, try to give away the "non-prime" times, they just need to have a full and consistent flow. Just two weeks ago jfood called for a reso pre-theater at 600, how about 530?, jfood declined and thanked her. Not 30 seconds later jfood's cell phone rings. "Hi, i just called the number on the caller id. yes we do have what you wanted." There are certain tables that hostesses know are hard to give away, i.e. near the wait station and the bathroom. At one dinner several years ago, the hostess tried on 11 consecutive occasions to seat people at this table. Everyone turned her down. On the way out I asked her and she told me she was instructed to try because noone like the table.

            It is upsetting, but it's a business that has razor thin margins and a vacant time or table cannot be made up. So they need to try to fill every time and every table. Fact of the restaurant economics.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              That's a valid point about the thin margins. Of course I will just continue to be accomodating if I don't care, but I think I will use a polite but simple, "Oh, so your reservations for 11:30 are all booked?" for example, before just agreeing to changes in the future.

              The table thing seems wrong to me. Why not assign tables in the order of when the people arrive, or make their reservations? A person who makes a last-minute reservation or shows up at a nearly full restaurant could hardly complain about what table they have – they should be happy enough just to have one!

              I don’t particularly care about booths vs. tables or locations, so as far as I can remember I’ve never asked to have my table moved. Well, actually that isn’t 100% true – there have been a couple of time when we’ve been seated somewhere way too cold. But even then I’ve only asked if it’s a casual bar/lounge place and a dead night, so I can see they have plenty of free tables. I wouldn’t feel right asking in a fine dining restaurant, as if they do accommodate me I assume they will have to redo the whole seating chart and put someone else out.

              1. re: meg944

                Hi,Meg

                In a perfect world a host will try to assign tables ahead of time but things happen.
                "Gee, I don't like that table. Can I move to the one over there?"
                Or
                The table where the party was supposed to go is still being used so the host has to use another table.
                Trust me, if all table could be plotted ahead of time they would be.

            2. Could have been a lot of reasons but she was obviously able to juggle the seating arrangements to make it work.

              I would imagine they had a lot of 11:30 reservations already so she was trying to spread some things out.

              1. A little update – Janet’s posts got me wondering if there was some kind of a problem that might make it difficult to accommodate us at 11:30. Normally I wouldn’t be terribly concerned, but I am only going to have about 90 minutes for lunch on Sunday, so if they are short-staffed, accommodating a large party, etc. perhaps it would be better to come back another time. I called the restaurant back and spoke w/ the woman who answered the phone, asking if there was any possible concern w/ the 11:30 time. She said she didn’t know what had happened and would have her manager call me back. The manager called, and said there's no problem at all, everything is just fine, and they'll see us on Sunday.

                Soo... I don't know what to think. I couldn't bring myself to ask bluntly why they had initially suggested the 10:30 time but I did tell her the entire situation, including the 10:30 suggestion, and she specifically said that 11:30 was absolutely no problem for them at all. I don't want to be unfair, but if they were making an effort to be accomodating despite certain factors, why not tell me that?

                I'm going to try to just let it go somewhat and hopefully enjoy lunch on Sunday. This place is right down the street from the blood drive. There’s no other good restaurant I can think of that is both open for lunch and reasonably close. And I have heard such good things about the food there!

                1 Reply
                1. re: meg944

                  It may just be the 8PM weekend dinner situation in manhattan. Restaurants would rather you came in earlier or later. 8PM means no one is going to sit at that table before you unless they come in at 5:30, and unless they plan on sitting down at 10PM, they're not going to turn it over either. So they'd rather you said 7 or 9. When a place is still ultra-popular, an 8PM rez is next to impossible to get. Maybe the reservationist was playing that angle?

                2. Well....what happened meg? Now I'm curious...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: diablo

                    We had a nice lunch - not as amazing as I might have hoped, given the cost and the advance word, but certainly fine. The place looks gorgeous and the food was, overall, quite good. They also had us out in time for me to get back without causing trouble for the woman who was filling in for me.

                    Jack did note that while the place was fairly full when we came in, it cleared out and then started to fill again before we left, so it may be that we were costing them a seating. On the other hand, while the place was fairly full, there were a noticeable number (5 of perhaps 40 or 50 total) of empty tables in what I would think of as the less-appealing areas of the restaurant. I'm just amazed that so many people would eat so early - we left at about 12:45 and they were well into their 2nd "shift." I bet they turned at least some of those tables three times over the course of one lunch.

                    Ultimately, I am still unsure of what happened and realize I will likely never know. It may well have just been confusion on the part of the hostess. (Normally I would assume that right off - it's just that her tone was so extremely odd.) It might also be less-than-completely trained staff. Certainly we were surprised by our server - for a fine dining restaurant, especially one with such a buzz, he seemed a bit inexperienced. (We had to ask for refills on water each time, he left me without flatware until we asked for it, he took my drink order and then forgot about it - nothing horrendous but a number of small things.)

                    I don't want to write a review of this place yet as it's so new and it seemed unfair to judge until it's had some time to settle in. Although the experience wasn't so positive that we're eager to return (and the restaurant is not terribly close to where we live) I am sure we'll wind up visiting w/ area friends again sometime and I can better judge then.

                    1. re: meg944

                      Thanks, meg. You are a gentle and forgiving diner. Please post a review next time you go. I always love to read about other people's meals :)

                  2. I have to admit I have been asked to come a little earlier for dinner once - it did not work out the way they wanted though since we ended up taking 3 hours for dinner - they were obviously trying to turn over our table faster - I have never returned to that restaurant.