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What does a reservation mean? [moved from Manhattan board]

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Looking for some intelligent opinions on this topic. When you make a reservation, whether by phone or online, what do you expect?

- should your table be ready and waiting for you as long as you show up on time?
- do you expect to be asked to wait at the bar while your table is set?
- how long would you wait for your table? 5, 10, 15?
- if you are asked to wait, what do you look for the house to make your wait more pleasurable?

I'm curious as I've been finding certain neighborhoods in the city to have differing views on how to treat guests.

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  1. In an ideal world, I would expect the table to be ready and waiting. In the real world it becomes more subjective. If I make reservations for dinner at 7:30pm on a Saturday night, I expect there is a good chance I will have to wait a few minutes (5-10?) as the table they expected to give me isn't ready to be turned, probably because previous customers overstayed the time the restaurant expected. The more expensive the restaurant, the less waiting time I expect to encounter.

    1. - should your table be ready and waiting for you as long as you show up on time?

      Yes. I made a contract with a restaurant, I expect them to uphold their end of the bargain.

      - do you expect to be asked to wait at the bar while your table is set?

      Depends on how busy they are. If it's a 'madhouse', then I will wait.

      - how long would you wait for your table? 5, 10, 15?

      Again, it depends on how busy they are and how anxious I am to eat at the place. Given that, and my mood, I have been known to wait 30 minutes.

      - if you are asked to wait, what do you look for the house to make your wait more pleasurable?

      Since I can't remember having waited at more than one place for that 30 minutes and not having gotten a thing, I don't expect anything from any restaurant anymore. Maybe in the old days, restaurants were more generous, but nothing surprises me now.

      Oh, and IF I have to wait, I don't expect there to be any 20 minutes lapses between each course.

      8 Replies
      1. re: dolores

        "Yes. I made a contract with a restaurant, I expect them to uphold their end of the bargain."
        Absolutely. If you paid a deposit, you have a contract and can expect a table to be ready and waiting. Otherwise, eg. when you just phone and leave your name and number, you don't actually have a contract since you didn't pay any consideration, so whatever you get is what you get, immediate seating, 15 min wait, etc.

        1. re: hsk

          deposit? OK, I guess I'm further removed from civilization than I thought. Except for large parties where food has been pre-ordered, I am unfamiliar with the concept of putting down a deposit for a dinner reservation. Would someone please enlighten me.

          1. re: hsk

            Not in my world, hsk. If I'm treated in a manner that violates any of my deal breakers, I'm outta there.

            Lots of restaurants in NY, I don't need disrespect.

            1. re: dolores

              I think the point hsk was trying to make is that no contract has been made with the restaurant, as Dolores implied. Technically, there must be an exchange of 'consideration' in order to enter into a contract.

              For example, if you order something, you have agreed to pay the menu price, and the restaurant agress to provide you with said item.

              In a reservation scenario, nothing of value has been exchanged.

              Take a golf tee time for example. If you were booked to tee off at 10:00 but they were backed up due to slow play ahead or other delays, they are under no obligation to compensate you, nor have they breached any contract. Or your hotel room not being ready right at the 4:00 check-in time.

              Now airline tickets, thats different. You have actually paid the money for the seat, so if an airline overbooks and you get bumped, to me that is wrong. Technically, in the airlines "Terms of Sale" the airline reserves the right to overbook, by buying the ticket you agree to that term, so they avoid being sued for breach. I think overbooking should be illegal, but that's another topic for another board.

              All that being said, I would expect the restaurant to do something to make up for their error.

              1. re: newJJD

                Yeah, I was just trying to make a small legal point. I actually agree with dolores - if my table weren't ready when I'd arrived for a reservation I would probably just leave and go somewhere else. Unless I'd paid a deposit. Then I'd demand my money back (but hasn't ever happened).

                1. re: hsk

                  re: consideration, maybe you should mail them a peppercorn.
                  http://tinyurl.com/5qds3l

                  My personal view, driven by a sense of reciprocity ...
                  If you expect the resto to honor a reservation if you get there
                  up to 15min late, I think you owe them a little bit of leeway
                  as well. You have traffic and parking issue w.r.t. cars. The
                  have traffic and parking issues w.r.t. to customers.

                  Beyond some amount of lateness ... say 10min ...
                  you owe them a cell phone call. Beyond some magnitude,
                  they owe you an apology/explanation/glass of wine/alternate
                  offer [sit at bar] etc.

                  If you are running late, it is reasonable to expect you to call ...
                  in the cell phone era, that is costless.
                  If the resto is running late I dont expect them to call everybody
                  affected. But given the out of pocket cost of offering you a glass
                  of wine can be pretty low, I think that's pretty reasonable.

                  If you get there excessively late, I dont think they should
                  accomodate you on the backs of timely patrons. If you at least
                  called, I think you have a higher priority than walkins.

                  If you are on time and the resto is leem, a sincere apology
                  goes a long way ... I am sure restaurant scheduling is very
                  hard, so I'm sympathetic here. If I get the sense something
                  funny is going on [you got bumped because somebody's
                  friend walked in, no apology etc], then I think you are entirely
                  entitled to do you best to see vague comments about "restaurant
                  X disrespects customers" get into the google cache.

                  I agree with food below that the "any minute now" scenario is
                  extremely annoying when you are strung along for 45min.
                  However, I kinda assume that is due to "sincere incompetence"
                  since I'd think in the situations where this has occurred I'd almost
                  be doing the resto a favor by leaving and there is no calculated
                  reason to string me along ... at most, it might be conflict avoidance
                  deferral. And not to get all Bayesian on you, but it's likely somebody
                  who has mis-scheduled in the first place is not good at predicting
                  wait times. Math Joke: I wonder if seafood restaurants are better at
                  predicting customer arrivals ...
                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisson_...

                  ok tnx.

                  1. re: hsk

                    I'm not sure what I was responding to is still there.

                    At any rate, if my needs aren't met, and my deal breakers are broken, I'm outta there if possible, or I'm not tipping or I'm complaining for the rest of my life.

                    KaimukiMan, there are those who give up their credit card number on a reservation. Folly, imo.

                    Then there are those who book a place for a party and a deposit is usually required.

                    As I said, I'm not sure the original post is there, since if we're just talking about reservations, and I chose NOT to wait, I would just walk.

                    Simple, really.

                    1. re: hsk

                      I'm not sure the original post is still there that I was responding to.

                      A reservation with a credit card -- folly, imo.

                      A deposit on a large party -- usually required.

                      A delay on a reservation that I don't want to endure -- I walk.

                      If my needs are not met by a restaurant, if my deal breakers are broken, I walk, I don't tip, or I complain for the rest of my llife.

                      Lots of restaurants out there, there is no room for disrespect by a restaurant.

            2. I think we all need to be flexible, and take into account many variables. None of this is set in stone, and will depend on the time, day, and many other special circumstances.

              For example, I have very different expectations for a 6:15 reservation where I have specified that my twosome needs to make a show after dinner than an 8:00 on a Friday night. For the 6:15 prior to the show, it is most likely the first table of the evening and with my having alerted the restaurant to my time restraints I'd hope that the table would be ready and waiting. But mid-service on a weekend with parties before I would certainly understand that a previous party might be going long, so I wouldn't be irked if we were sidetracked at the bar or a side-table while we waited. But consequently, the comfort level and service while we were waiting would be important, and please don't rush us through dinner and try to push us out to make up the delay and try to accomplish an extra turn on the other end.

              A five-minute wait standing in a group next to a busy host station with people pushing past is worse than a 15-minute wait having been informed and comfortably seated in a bar or other appropriate area. I don't expect or require free drinks or comps, but some attention so I don't feel forgotten and some updates as to our status helps immensely.

              Of course, all bets are off if this is a hot new place just reviewed in the Times.

              1. A reservation is not a contract where a breach by either party has financial recoupment. It is silly to think otherwise. It is at best a little "c" commitment by both the restaurant AND the customer to act in a socially acceptable manner, thereby creating a "social contract."

                For the first seating jfood usually finds the table waiting and set and if that is a requirement of the customer then reserving the 530-730 tables is probably a good idea. Last night the jfoods had a 7 and it was ready when they arrived. Tonight is an 8 and dollars to donuts, 815-830 is butts at the table time. And it's Boca Raton so this may be hopeful optimism.

                Not sure where else jfood would like to wait other than the bar, if avaliable. Outside maybe if the weather is nice, but the last place he wants to wait is hovering ath the hostess station (and the hostess does not want this either).

                Up to 15 minutes is reasonable. 30 minutes is really pushing it. At 30 the MOD should really approach the encroachers at the table and mention something to the people who have over-extended the time.

                What does jfood want. One thing is paramount - HONESTY. If the table is not going to be ready for 45 minutes, do something about it, do not tell jfood the table "is just finishing up" if you are referring to the appetizers. Do not say they have the bill if the entrees were just delivered. Treat jfood with some common decency. If it is going to be an hour because of an unforeseen event tell him, apologize and let jfood decide if he wants to stay. If you tell him 15 and it turns out to be 45, it will be a very difficult experience all around.

                1. I'm in the UK and, perhaps, we do things differently here. If I have a reservation for, say 8pm, I expect the table to be ready as it is almost certain I am going to be that table's first customer that evening. And, invariably, it is. It is also most unlikely that the restaurant is going to hassle me to finish as it will not have another customer for that table during the evening.

                  However, on occasions, I find a place will not accept my 8pm bid and can only take me a little earlier, say 7.30 (I wouldnt eat earlier than this). Again, I will still be the first customer but it's a good bet that they intend to sell the table again and are likely to have told me that I have the table until a particular time. It is their job to undertake service that gets me out of the way by, say, 9.30.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Harters

                    I am a Brit living in the USA and agree with Harters that 7.30 to 8pm is usually the first table of the evening unless you are in theatreland where they have earlier sittings, usually then a gap and then the after theatre crowd. However, Americans eat much much earlier than Europeans so an 8pm reservation is usually second sitting. I have to say that at busier restaurants in South Fl and during season, it is usual to wait at least 15 mins for an 8pm table. I am not sure it is a contract per se, but agree with Jfood, don't insult my intelligence and tell me it's just a few minutes when it's going to be over half an hour.

                  2. Ideally, the table should be ready but some people do linger or had issues with their meals (if something needed to be fixed, the time it takes to get fixed adds to their stay) that meant their slot got extended beyond what was expected.

                    That said, I have the customary 20 minute window in which I expect both to honor reservations and have them honored in turn. (The same as the handy 20 minute rule for meeting with people - if both parties don't show up within 20 minutes of the assigned time, it should be assumed to be rescheduled or cancelled. A lot of people use 20 minutes for this kind of thing.)

                    The only time I wait longer than that is when the occasion is in honor of someone else who wants to wait longer. Otherwise, I don't think it's worth it. No matter how good the restaurant is.

                    1. As having managed a few restaurants in NYC, this is what I think:

                      -- Your restaurant should be ready when you get there. However, if it is a second or third (or fourth) seating, you may have to wait a few minutes.
                      -- If the wait is longer than 15 minutes, I have offered a glass of wine and an acknowledgment that the party has waited longer than expected. Most people do not expect this and therefore, this is a pleasant suprise.
                      -- If the wait is particularily long (say, 30 minutes), a shared appetizer of some sorts (this depends on the type of restaurant, of course), is placed at the table within a couple of minutes of them sitting. I usually will not have the server do this, as it is not the server's fault for a late table, so I take the responsibility (even if it is the previous party's fault). I train servers to not even mention the wait once their tables are served; people do not need to be reminded over and over again that they have waited -- what is important is that once they are seated, they will thoroughly enjoy their meal.

                      In laying out tables for the evening, I generally went by these parameters:

                      -- 2 tops: one hour (usually a date and will go on to other things)
                      -- 4 tops: 90 minutes
                      -- 6 tops: 2 hours
                      -- Large parties: 3 hours

                      From my experiences as a diner, the above time frames are about right and as a manager, they worked most of the time and unfortunately, there is no magic formula that will work all the time. I have had tables who have had requested the check and still linger over that last bit of wine, or are just talking.

                      As for differing views on restaurants, I've found that super trendy restaurants -- like those in the Meat Packing district -- could care less if you wait. Owner-managed, neighborhood restaurants are much better on the customer service.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Vshu

                        Thanks for your interesting comments [and enlightened and fair approach].