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May 26, 2010 12:54 AM

Haute cuisine manners

Places like Melisse, Providence, Patina, etc. have a unique position in a city like Los Angeles which is largely known for it's casual cooking. They provide a unique and special experience. And in these recessionary times - are likely to see their sales slack because they charge higher prices than those casual places. The prices are high, yes, but there is an awful lot of expense, a lot of preparation, and legwork to run such a restaurant. Ask someone in that side of the business who knows - they'll tell you. You might think these places are making money hand over fist - and unless they're packed every night - they aren't.

Unfortunately some diners think that since they're spending big money, they can act like Caligula. I've heard stories.

I know some diners will make multiple reservations for one evening, and then cancel hours before (if they cancel at all) and then go the place their group has voted on. It's nice to have a choice, I understand that but....when you have a party of six or more - the restaurant plans ahead for this by hiring extra people to serve that table. And when you cancel last minute - they not only lose the profits from the meal they don't serve, but they have to pay for that service.

So to those Chowhounders, the good ones who would never think of doing such a thing, kudos for being stand-up gourmands.

But to you others - this is a heads up to notify you that you could be hurting the ones (the restaurants) you love. We want to keep this places in business.

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    1. re: J.L.


      And as for making reservations at multiple restaurants and canceling late or not at all, this is why a credit card is often required when making reservations now - there WILL be a surcharge for not showing up or canceling if that happens.

    2. "some diners will make multiple reservations for one evening, and then cancel hours before (if they cancel at all) and then go the place their group has voted on"

      Such is never acceptable, IMO.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        Behavior such as this is why more and more restaurants take credit card information in advance and enforce cancellation fees. So now people who have legitimate reason for cancellations, illness etc, have to literary pay the price for bad actors.

        1. re: bookhound

          Indeed. I was recently chatting with the chef/patron at a nearby Michelin starred place. He does exactly that now, having previously lost several grand a year in complete "no shows".

      2. I don't quite understand part of the OP. A restaurant - particularly high end - has a certain number of seats and a limited number of seatings. Given that, why would they hire extra people? Whether there's 3 parties of 4 for a seating, two parties of 6, or one party of 12, the same number of places are occupied and presumably the same number of servers (and cooks, bussers, washers, etc.) would be needed.

        Certainly they would lose more if the party of 12 simply didn't show, but why would they have hired extra help?

        5 Replies
        1. re: Striver

          I could be wrong, but my experience is that the flow of things is thrown out of whack when you have a large group. All orders, from the initial drink orders to the mains, must be served at once, which would place a greater demand on the kitchen and the bar.

          Also, with a larger group, there tends to be a chain reaction when it comes to ordering subsequent drinks, or making special requests. A server can be kept quite busy by a table of a large size, and having extra wait staff would ensure that the *other* diners in the restaurant aren't shunted to the side (which I've seen happen).

          1. re: onceadaylily

            I concur with onceadaylily.

            A casual-dining restaurant can get away with having diners wait a moment or two while others receive their orders. However, at a top-notch, haute-cuisine destination it literally takes one server for each two diners (two hands per server) to provide the consistency and quality of experience that diners expect.

            1. re: shaogo

              Ignore this one - I was responding prior to reading the posts below.

              Incidentally, I always cancel in advance if my plans change, and think there should be a national blacklist for repeat offenders who don't. Opentable will kick you off if you do this a couple of times, and IMO, that information should definitely be shared.

              1. re: Striver

                In that case, Opentable do right.

                Due to family illness, we had to cancel a short break, which was going to include two Michelin starred dinners and a third at a casual place. I emailed all three to cancel. Got a response from the two Michelin places - "Sorry to hear. Hope better soon and can revisit. Thanks for letting us know." Zilch from the casual, which may or may not mean anything.

                1. re: Harters

                  I think it does mean something. This thread started with a conversation I had with a highly-regarded Michelin-starred restauranteur about last minute cancellations. The higher end restaurants are simply more service oriented,which means more dependence on employees.

        2. I don't really get why this should just be a problem for high end restos, what about middle end or even low end. If you make a reservation at ANY restaurant (or doctor or dentist for that matter) have the courtesy to call and cancel if you cannot make it. I cannot tell you the number of patients who we have to call to find out where they are and they nonchalantly tell us that something came up, they just woke up or some other bland excuse.
          If a restaurant thinks it's going to be full due to reservations and turns away a table or more to later find a party can't be bothered to show they lose out. It matters not if prices are $12 an entree or $50, overheads are overheads.

          2 Replies
          1. re: smartie

            Yep - the same courtesy and decency applies to all restaurants, regardless of price range.

            1. re: smartie

              Dead on, absolutely correct. Haute cuisine is a red herring here.

            2. Good manners and proper etiquette apply regardless.

              The type of cuisine should have nothing to do with it.

              10 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Well yes. It's just that service is a priority at a restaurant like that. And if they're fully booked, they book the amount of people they need for a full service. But if it's, say, 75% full, then they'll cut back (there's a fairly narrow profit margin and having only the right amount of people working, no more, no less, just right - is a sign of highly competent management. But restaurants which have two seatings are not always full all the time. With a thin profit margin - if you have two parties cancel on you on one night that could be the difference from being in the red or the black that evening.

                1. re: foodiemahoodie

                  OP I don't get this, you have to staff a restaurant whether you are booked solid or not, no server is going to want to work in a place that may or may not have you tonight. Yes servers are cut as the evening thins out but you don't call your servers at 6pm or even 4pm to say don't bother working tonight.
                  Reservations are not tables. Until customers actually sit down and order they are just potential numbers. What does a resto do if suddenly at 6pm a whole bunch of people call to make a reservation for that evening and you only booked 2 servers based on 5 tables? What about walk ins?

                  1. re: smartie

                    First - what does OP mean?

                    Yes, you have to staff a restaurant whether it is booked solid or not - there is a base staff. And server and staff have on days and off days - and they can vary depending.

                    "...but you don't call your servers at 6pm or even 4pm to say don't bother working tonight."

                    Exactly, you have reservations that may have been made weeks ahead of time. So they'll know what kind of demands they'll have for a particular evening. So say they need "X" amount of people to cover a Thursday - including a party of 6 or more. And that party cancels? Then you have an extra server, and probably an extra waiter.

                    "What does a resto do if suddenly at 6pm a whole bunch of people call to make a reservation for that evening and you only booked 2 servers based on 5 tables?"

                    If you've got two Michelin stars and you know you won't be handle them? You either hustle and bust their ass, or turn them away if it's too many people (It happens) . Or they'll start calling up people. (unlikely but if the situation calls for it). There is some buffer, some extras they can handle. Things can vary every night.

                    When you make reservations for 8:00 and the say they have 8:15 or 7:45? You might think that's the same, but it isn't. They have to spread it out over the evening so they're not crunched with everyone coming in at the same time.

                    1. re: smartie

                      RE: "you don't call your servers at 6pm or even 4pm to say don't bother working tonight."

                      Actually, many high-end places have servers on-call, who must call in the afternoon to see if they're needed, based on the night's reservations.

                  2. re: ipsedixit

                    "Good manners and proper etiquette apply regardless.

                    The type of cuisine should have nothing to do with it."

                    Absolutely. But no restaurant is getting a credit card number from me in advance.

                    "Shooting inconsiderate diners? Could be a vote-winner."

                    I vote for this. Start with those who've never seen a sunset at X20 in Yonkers.

                    1. re: anonymouse1935

                      "Start with those who've never seen a sunset at X20 in Yonkers"

                      Damn. I may have put myself first in the queue. I don't even know what X20 is. Or Yonkers.

                      1. re: Harters

                        It's a very, very good restaurant in Westchester, NY. Apparently, though, some of their diners have never seen a sunset and epitomize the classless, underdressed, mannerless Caligulan diners about which the OP has heard, but hopefully never met.

                        Consider yourself fortunate not to have undergone the horror. You can read about it here:


                        1. re: anonymouse1935

                          That was a funny post anon. It reminded me of the time my then-fiance took me to WotW soon after we got engaged (because he got so much crap from friends and family for proposing to me in a dump on the UES). I had my first full throttle panic attack. He ordered a round of drinks and kept saying, "Take a sip. Take a drink. Calm down." I could not lift the glass to my lips and felt like I was going to die. As we got up to leave after I finally got myself somewhat settled down, an old man with a cane making a pretty quick run for the window with a huge camera almost took me out. I think my fiance would have said something to him if he wasn't so old and I wasn't losing my sh*t. We finally got to the ground floor and I was so relieved and so hungry that I insisted we get pizza at Sbarro on the Concourse! Now I work on the 30th floor of a pretty tall building and know to stay as far away from the windows as possible.

                          1. re: anonymouse1935

                            Great story! And a tip for next time you want to do a link like that: if you go to your prior post and click on Permalink at the bottom of it, it creates a URL at the top of the page that will link not just to the string, but to the specific post you want someone to view. Just copy & paste it into your new post.

                            Like this:

                        2. re: anonymouse1935

                          I'm not sure I understand your reasoning. I routinely provide hotels with a credit card number when making a reservation, with the understanding that a no-show or a late cancel (and the cancellation time window is perfectly reasonable) will result in a charge to that card.

                          I'd have no objection to doing the same, particularly for an established high-end restaurant with limited seating where no-shows can be particularly costly. What's the basis for your objection? Do you provide your cc number to hotels when reserving (most require it these days to hold a res)?