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Feb 25, 2002 01:47 PM

Josie: What are you thinkin'?

  • m

The Grubber considers Josie to be the finest dining experience extant in LA. Compelled by persuasive Grub gushing, friends called Josie to arrange a "special event" dinner for 6. To accommodate any party greater than 4, Josie requires a signed faxed contract stating that, if fewer people than confirmed show up for the dinner or the number of people is reduced with less than 24 hours notice, the credit card of the party signing the contract will be charged $20 per person. This for a reservation approximately 4 wks out ("earliest available").

Needless to say, rationality trumped sensuality & the friends took a pass. This may be the very result Josie intends. Part of the Josie dining experience is the lack of self-indulgent, loud large parties. If Josie's intention is to keep the small-restaurant ambiance serene &, dare I say, romantic, God bless you. I may in fact romance the lovely Grubette there even more frequently as a result. The friends, however, bittered (to say the least) by what they perceive as arrogance, won't ever eat at the restaurant & are undoubtedly sharing their pique with all who will listen.

My suggestion to Josie is this: if you don't want large parties, say so. I'm certain my friends would have received, "I'm sorry, our small restaurant simply can't accommodate parties larger than 4." much better than, "Well, if you insist, but lemme warn ya. If ya don't show up we'll seek out your first-born & cut its heart out."

As a final aside, my dining experience is that a round of 6 does not get rowdy. Once you get a round of 8 or an oblong of any more than 6, the shouting begins.

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  1. Mr. Grub,
    I think you misunderstood the intentions of the good folks at Josies. It seems that although you are someone who is well versed in the restaurant scene as a client, you may never have owned or operated a small, upscale & high-demand establishment. Consider this scenario.......You are trying to get a reservation for two at Josies but unfortunately their reservationist cannot accomodate you because they have some large parties booked the evening in question. Come 7:30, the hostess greets the first few members of a party of seems the others are late. Politely these folks ask, "can we take our seat, have a drink & wait for our friends"? In an accomodating fashion, the hostess seats these people.....once seated & half way into their martini's their cell phone rings & they are informed that their friends can't make it. At this point, it's too late to accomodate anyone else. Josie looses & you loose (remember you couldn't get a reservation). As someone who worked in restaurants for half of my life, I assure you this kind of policy is not intended to turn away large parties but to ensure their arrival....every last one of them. You may not be aware but even in fine dining establishments, it is common for 10-25% of clients to either cancel at the last minute (ie calling at 7:35 to cancel a 7:30 reservation)to arrive with fewer guests than the reservation is for or to "no show/no call". In a restaurant as small as Josie every seat counts...and if we want her amazing establishment to remain for years to come we will conceed & honor our reservations.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Dolly

      Points well taken, Dolly. The restaurant biz is indeed fraught with risk, which is why so few last the first 2 yrs. Thoughtless customers who do not take reservations seriously are one of those risks with which restauranteurs struggle mightily.

      In this case, my reporting of my friends' reaction FWIW is meant to be instructional. Quite sophisticated diners, they perceived the restaurant's handling of their request for a reservation to be punitive rather than accommodating -- far from friendly. They then, perhaps correctly from their narrow perception, concluded that that same attitude could be present throughout their entire visit. We may know that to be untrue, but for mes amis, the damage has been done.

      1. re: Mr Grub

        Obviously, I don't know the nature of your friendship with these people, and so what I'm about to say may be completely inappropriate, but... Since we do so love the food at Josie's, and the ambiance is delightful, and Josie herself (from what I've read here -- I've never met her) seems to be such a thoughtful and hospitable chef, have you considered printing out the messages posted about this subject and showing them to your friends? Maybe if they understood the reasoning behind the policy, they might feel less insulted or irritated (regardless of whether or not they want to give the place a try). Or maybe not. Just a thought.

        1. re: Sheryl
          wow i'm a dog

          This is an informative string and because I was curious, I checked out Josie's site. Interestingly enough, they offer reservations through OpenTable and just to see if I could, I was able to make (not confirm, mind you) a resie for six, no problem. No cc required.

          Obviously, this partnership with OpenTable is at odds with deploying their policy, which I found sort of ironic. If I hadn't read this string and didn't know their policy, I would have been very disppaointed to learn that I needed to fax a cc number over to confirm.

          Josie should check this out with OpenTable or face some unhappy potential diners who think making their reservation was a breeze.

          It looks like a solid menu; I guess I'll just have to try it with a pal, not five of them...


          1. re: wow i'm a dog

            If you completed that reservation via Opentable for a party of 6, you probably would have gotten a call from them telling about about the faxed confirmation policy.

            That's what they did on Valentines Day with the deposit and faxed confirmation when we made the reservation via Opentable.

      2. re: Dolly

        I appreciate the well-stated defense of this required faxed contract but, I am sorry, it is absurd. Someone is forgetting that fine dining is about hospitality, and that a certain amount of risk is built into the equation. Even in the example that is given, the diners are not malicious, nor intentionally inflating the size of their table. And, I have a hard time believing that such a popular restaurant does not receive numerous last-minute phone calls or drop-ins looking for a small table, and that significant empty seats from large table no-shows would rarely go empty. Does the "faxed contract" have a provision that the punitive charge will not be imposed if, for example, it is possible to split off a duece and fill it? I doubt it. I'm having trouble reconciling these repeated anecdotes about this restaurant's arrogant practices with the reputed good-heartedness of Josie.

        1. re: Tom M.

          I agree...fine dining is about hospitality...not about blind trust in another's good word.
          I'll write as I did in another string. THIS IS BUSINESS. It is not about good-heartedness. It is about offering a good product for a fair price and expecting each party to hold up one's end of an agreement --- and yes, a reservation (in any business) is an agreement.

        2. re: Dolly

          While I am sympathetic to the rigors of the restaurant business, and the need for said businesses to remain solvent, the policy originally stated is asinine! A restaurant, at it's core is a SERVICE business. While I do realize that no show/no call or low show issues can and do negatively impact the bottom line, and a business must take appropriate measures to reduce that negative impact, the method in which these people were treated is wholly inappropriate.

          I'm sure there are two sides to this story and also that Josie's has had LOTS of supporters on this board so I doubt that it is the intent of management to create a punitive situation, but that is obviously how these customers felt, and it is also very possible that other 'lurkers' also felt badly about this. Also, I've dined at many very high end, smaller restaurants with parties of 6 or 8 and have never had to sign a contract or even give a credit card number up front, unless it was for a high volume/special occasion day such as Valentines, Mothers Day, etc... We also always strive to be very generous and accomodating clients to any restaurant that we do patronize (20%+ tips, flexible with staff, not bringing too much, if any, of our own wines, if so, then ALWAYS buying something off the list as well), so I do appreciate that the dining customer does have certain obligations, and that there are many customers who do not appreciate that, but this policy is still way beyond acceptable.

          This arrogant attitude displayed at some restaurants of "just be happy we let you eat here" is unfortunately becoming more and more prevalent, and is absolutely unacceptable. Again restaurants are a service business, but lately it seems that the more business some restaurants get, the less service they offer.

          1. re: woo!

            The arrogance displayed a few years ago by a so called trendy restaurant on Beverly Blvd. took the form of an audible laugh when I called for reservations three days in advance for a weekend night; the person at the other end of the telephone repeated my request to someone obviously standing close and laughed - do you really think WE have anything available for this Saturday? By the next year the restaurant had closed down so we never did get to go there.

            1. re: Zoe
              Leslie Brenner

              Without weighing in Josie's policy per se, I'd add that Zoe's point is well-taken. All hot restaurants would do well to face the idea that one day (and that day may be sooner rather than later) they'll no longer be hot. Restaurants with longevity are the ones that cultivate their relationships with customers--not just regulars, but anyone calling or crossing the threshold. I'd say that it's not so much the restaurant's policy that's necessarily at issue, but rather how it is conveyed to the customer.

            2. re: woo!

              Wow! I'm just working my way through the string of comments...
              Asinine? Arrogant? Punitive!?
              What planet are you from? It's only a fax for goodness sake! How many folks that are eating out a nice restaurant don't have ready access to a fax machine? Or have to put down a CC number for any number of reservations at ANY type of service oriented business? Examples: Catalina Express, ANY hotel in any town, train tickets, airline tickets, the non-refundable deposit on any special-order item ordered from ANY business in ANY city, the list goes on and on. THIS IS BUSINESS! The idea is to make sure that you're there so you CAN be served.
              The food, ambience and overall experience at Josie and other restaurants like hers are worth the extra 3-5 minutes of "inconvenience" it takes to fax in a confirmation and show one's good faith by offering the almighty dollar as insurance against flakiness.
              It's poor business manners and naive not to expect some type of monetary earnesty from a "stranger" whom has given nothing but his/her word (and no, that's not good enough nowadays) that he/she will fulfill his/her part of the bargain.

              1. re: Jason

                Wow... somebody needs to chill, good thing you're "done" posting about this subject. Nothing like looking at it from the customer's perspective don't you think?

            3. re: Dolly

              Bravo! Couldn't have said it better. I still want to put in my few cents worth.
              It is extremely important that a large reservation be at the place and time reserved. ANY professional in ANY service industry (doctor, attorney, etc...) charges a fee for a no show --- as they should. It is a waste of time for the person that was there on time, and waiting -- and a loss of possible other revenue.
              In the modern resaurant business the profit margins are too narrow for a restaurant to be profitable when large parties don't show (and yes, cancelling with less than 24 hours notice is the same as a no-show). And when large parties don't does one pay for the food that was ordered, the staff that was scheduled (both kitchen AND service) etc..? The answer is...THEY DON'T, unless the seats can be filled at the last moment.
              Often this can't be done profitably. So, please don't be offended (as I am not and never will be) when asked to pay a reasonable amount of cash when for any reason, your party can't make it to your reserved place at the reserved time.

            4. Either avoid the issue by booking three deuces and rotating dining companions for the different courses, or go ahead and book the table for six, but amend the contract to impose $20 per person penalties if the table is not ready on time, service is slow, etc.

              1. Wow, has this subject stirred up some emotion! I'm dissapointed to see that so few on this board are sympathetic to this issue. Although Mr.Grub's friends felt the person they spoke with at Josie's was arrogant, I highly doubt that was the case. I have been to Josie many times and from beginning to end I experienced nothing but hospitality and courtesy. I've looked back to other threads re:josie and found nothing but raves reviews from other hounds who also spoke of the courtesy & professionalism of the staff, not to mention the terrific food. Instead I think these people misinterpreted the policy, politely communicated, as arrogance......change is difficult for us all. I just don't understand why asking for a commitment from a client is interpreted as "bad service".

                As someone who worked as a server for years, it's very frustrating for me to read some of the suggestions made by hounds regarding this situation. There is a "floor plan" designed at the beginning of the evening which is something like a puzzle......each piece represents who will sit where, for approximately how long & who will occupy the table at the next seating & maybe even a 3rd seating. Therefore, the suggestion to remove a section of the table where people have not arrived to accomodate a two top assumes so assumes there's room to scoot a little table next to the original, it assumes it's not two tables of four put together for a party of 7 or 8 people, and it assumes that yes some brave soul will take the chance to "walk- in" prime time on saturday night hoping some rude folks didn't show! I have never been a hostess....however I appreciate that it is one of those jobs that looks much easier than it is......they are not just there to look pretty.

                Also, it is very costly to open a restaurant, especially in Santa Monica where- many of you may know-a liquor licence is extremely hard to come by and expensive & rent is out of control. The remodeling of that space alone must have cost a fortune (remember 2424?) and then there is the gorgeous understated decor that couldn't have been cheap. Of course what we all love about Josie is the food. It is not inexpensive but because she uses the "best of" everything I believe it's a very fair deal. As mentioned by other hounds, the wine list is reasonable which says to me that they don't mark it up all that much. Would it be better if she reduced her portion sizes & marked up her wine list & did away with her policy for large parties???
                Although I'm sure many hounds strive to be curteous while dining as mentioned before, I don't believe we really represent the average diner. Routinely people arrive to dinner with fewer/more people than expected. They come late or not at all. Certainly these are some of the risks of being in the restaurant biz. Some restaurants politely ask to be informed if your plans change & hope you hear them & follow through. All ask for a phone number now and call to confirm the day of your reservation.
                Let me pose this question then.....hounds, what do you feel Josie & other restaurants struggling with this issue should do about this problem???

                5 Replies
                1. re: Dolly

                  I agree with you, and I'm also interested what other chowhounds would recommend as an alternate solution to this problem. But I think your question is buried at the end of your post. How about starting a new thread so people will read and hopefully respond? (I'd have started one, but I didn't want to "steal" your excellent question).

                  1. re: Dolly

                    It's really a simple issue of a business trying to balance risk mitigation vs. customer satisfaction... something all businesses go through in one form or another, not just restaurants.

                    Like anything else, if a business goes to one extreme or the other in either having policies which does everything to reduce risk or to having a policy which is solely focused on giving a customer whatever they want, they will soon go out of business. The art here is in the balance... it's not uncommon for a business to try various things to see if they work for a particular problem, and if it flies, great, if not, and their customer base dwindles because of it, then they need to change.

                    In this case, while we could probably give Josie the benefit of the doubt that they weren't arrogant in the communication of this policy, I don't think that is an assumption I'd really make. I think even in the best run businesses, you could have people who give negative customer experiences, and I prefer to err on the side of the customer in this case, the point is, we don't know. Also this could mean that perhaps the policy would have been OK if it was communicated in a better way, we will probably never know as we weren't on the actual phone conversation.

                    To me, I think it is clear that the major consensus is that this policy is a bad one, but at the same time I don't think anybody disagrees with the principle that a restaurant needs to mitigate it's risk and stay viable as a business. Perhaps a better policy would be to only seat parties of 6 or larger after all have arrived or after at least 5 have arrived, and if it is a "short show" they lose the table to walk in traffic, and optionally (the restaurant could have or not have this second part of the policy) if the party wants to "keep" the table, they have to meet a minimum revenue number for the 6 top... that too could be fraught with customer issues, but probably easier to communicate than a demand for a fax contract. In fact it would probably be a good idea to communicate the seating policy while taking the resv, and on the confirm call as well.

                    I think we all realize that this IS a problem and risk for a restaurant, BUT the manner in which a business addresses this risk needs to bear in mind the fact that restaurants are a hospitality business and have a highly transient customer base, that can be (usually is) very fickle, so it's a tough balance.

                    Historically service based businesses have carried higher profit margins because of the fact that the balance of the two factors usually leans much more in favor of the customer satisfaction angle than traditional "hard goods" businesses... the question is, in a restaurant like Josie's is the margin high enough to cover the expected service/happiness level of the customer, and if not, what adjustments to the business model need to be made, and how will that adjustment affect the ongoing happiness of the diner? I'm sure the Josie and her partners struggle with this question all the time, and it is probably a moving target so while I am (justifiably, I think) apalled at this particular policy, I'm certain that it is just part of the balancing act that the business is going through, and if it works, good for them, but if doesn't, I'm sure they will adjust.

                    I guess the customer side of the equation is... how much value does the business give me (great food, ambience, etc...) vs. how much do I have to give up to them to get it (prices, parking, resv policies, etc...), ultimately that is a question each customer decides for themselves, but does give some interesting food for thought.

                    Sorry about the rambling on and on, I really didn't mean to. But this is a really interesting and thought provoking topic.

                    1. re: woo!

                      A few thoughts...

                      When I went to New York in December, I had to secure reservations with a credit card (not to mention having to call exactly one month in advance, but that's a different issue.) In fact, one even charged my credit card in advance -- I think it was $50/person -- which they credited directly on the check. That's draconian. So, it's not a "Josie made it up" policy.

                      Also, I don't know if they still do this because I haven't been in a while, but the Buffalo Club used to take a credit card with the reservation and threaten to charge $25/person for no shows or cancellations within a certain amount of time (few hours or a day). This was for parties of any size.

                      Thinking about it, perhaps just charging no-shows/no-calls would be enough for a popular restaurant. Afterall, this would encourage people to call in advance before flaking on a table thus giving the restaurant a chance to fill (and reconfigure) the table (maybe even from a waiting list,) while still providing customers flexibility in case of an unavoidable change in plans (emergencies, fights, being stood up, etc...)

                      Of course, not being in the biz, I don't know if there really is a bigger problem (and revenue impact) with larger parties coming in short than with no-shows in general. If that's the case, maybe apply the same call-in-advance policy for changes -- $25/pp that didn't show or call.

                    2. re: Dolly

                      I think they should (as Josie's does) keep a record of your name and history of reservations. If you have skipped out on a reservation (or two) then I think they would have cause to request some kind of insurance. Of course people could use pseudonyms (or have friends reserve the table) but then you can never legislate morality; however, you can create an atmosphere of responsibility yet people should not be burdened until having shown reason to be suspected. This is a what my father would call a "good problem": people are securing tables at Josie because the place is a hit and though they shoulsn't be punished for that fact, nor should they create a punishing policy as protection. A skipped table is not going to run them out of business. That said, of course it's their right to have whatever policy they want -- diners can vote with their pocketbooks and palettes.

                      1. re: Dolly

                        It was suggested that I (re)post this question as it was buried at the end of my rant.....

                        Hounds, what do you feel Josie & other restaurants struggling with the issue of no shows should do???

                      2. i'm sorry but if your party of six was going to be self-indulgent and loud then i'm so relieved that your embittered friends cancelled, will never eat there and telling all their friends as well.

                        what is it with l.a.? though i think i know the answer to that question. i don't believe there's any other city in the world where it's normal to have so many no-shows and where such bad manners are acceptable.

                        please grow up.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: louisa

                          No more flaming, please - its not even half way thru the week.

                          1. re: Zoe

                            i truly am sorry. i did not mean to flame and sorry that it came across as so.

                        2. j
                          Jon Leventhal

                          This policy is a mild inconvience. Who wants to get a fax, fill it out and sign it, then fax it back just for a restaurant reservation - at Josie's, of all places. It's not like we're talking about Le Grand Vefour or Bouley. Josie's a nice, local restaurant, not a "destination" restaurant.

                          I'm not offended if a restaurant makes me give a CC. It just makes me think long and hard about whether I really want to eat there. The answer is usually no.

                          Also, many times I change my mind at the last minute/hour. (yes, I call and cancel) Maybe you are working late, are tired, not hungry, don't want Italian, whatever. I dislike having to book ahead because generally I don't know what time or what type of food I want to eat weeks in advance.

                          I'm surprised at all the extremely negative reactions - after all, hotels make you give them a CC #, and they are in the hospitality/service business as well.