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Should restaurants seat incomplete parties? [moved from Boston board]

"At a fine-dining restaurant, nobody should expect to be seated with an incomplete party, ever." [Boston portion: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/774561

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On this point I most heartily disagree. The finest and fanciest restaurant at which I have ever eaten is Gordon Ramsay's Royal Hospital Road in London. Back then it had three Michelin stars, if my memory is correct. I came there at the proper time to meet a foodie friend for lunch. He called the restaurant to give me the message that he was delayed in London traffic. At that point the maitre de asked me if I prefer to continue sitting in the lounge or would like to be seated at our table.

That should be what all restaurants, plain or fancy, do. I reject the practice of delaying the sitting until all have arrived.

Now at GR's RHR waiting for a table was hardly an inconvenience. The lounge had comfortable seats and I could have ordered a drink while waiting. At most restos the holding area is not as comfortable, which makes the wait all the more annoying. It strikes me as the most elementary principle of service in the so-called hospitality industry that you do not keep someone standing in an uncomfortable area if you have a seat in which to put them. There may be some rationale for delaying taking the order until all have arrived, but there is no reason not to seat one's guests as promptly as possible.

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  1. I definitely second this. I've been to quite a few fine-dining restaurants in which one or more people in my party were delayed, and there was never an issue with seating those who'd already arrived. The concept of leaving an incomplete party waiting in the foyer, their table ready and available, is bizarre to me, and something I've only encountered once or twice in Boston.

    1. The rationale is that the restaurant doesn't want *your* problem or inconvenience of a late comer or no show- to become *their* problem or inconvenience. I understand that for the most part.

      It can feel rude when you know *for sure* that the other parties are just a little late because they called and confirmed. It feels like you are not being "believed" or something...but most restaurants that are expensive or busy enough to care about this and enforce this policy- also are nice enough to have a comfy lounge or waiting area. It has not been my experience to be left standing by the door waiting.

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. I think it's totally fair not to seat incomplete tables at any place with high turnaround per lunch or dinner session, but not at a high end restaurant which only has one seating per night, or at any place which is not full and not likely to be full (say out of season for example)

          2 Replies
          1. re: smartie

            I have an Out to Lunch group in which I make reservations at different restuarants every month. Sometimes we have as many as 20 in our party. The table is already set up since I call the day before to make the reservations, yet there are several times where we are not seated til the entire party is there. Sometimes one or two may be late and occasionally one won't show up at all without notifying me. How long are we expected to stand in the lobby? I don't like this idea especially since the tables are ALWAYS set up and ready for just our party.

            Can anyone tell me why this is done?

            1. re: The Drama Queen

              Probably because it's their "policy." I eat out with groups all the time, and rarely encounter this. The restaurant will usually seat us when the party is largely complete, and often even when it's nowhere close to complete (probably to get us out the way when the bar and entry areas are small). Very few restaurants here will make a BFD out of a single straggler. And I very much appreciate that ... I consider the seating process, how we're treated in the bar, all part of the dining experience.

              I wonder if this is a regional thing ...

          2. The "reason" incomplete parties are not seated is to avoid tying up tables. If people are seated and waiting for others to arrive, the table is being occupied longer than if everyone arrived and ordered at once. It is a practice mostly in restaurants that are either looking for high table turnover, or are frequently crowded with waiting lists at peak times. Some defend the practice even from a customer service point of view because in theory at least, it reduces the wait times of customers who come in with complete parties.

            Personally, I think it it is dreadful. twenty years ago very few restaurants in my city would have dreamed of telling people, or worse yet putting up a little sign in the lobby that they "do not seat incomplete parties". To me, it is part of the decay of good manners and good customer service. Sometimes I feel if I see one more restaurant with over priced, glorified diner food, staff with multiple facial piercings and tats and bad attitudes, and an 'incomplete parties" policy, I will swear off restaurants and cook at home every night. I would probably save a bundle, too!

            15 Replies
            1. re: Lenorek

              "Personally, I think it it is dreadful. twenty years ago very few restaurants in my city would have dreamed of telling people, or worse yet putting up a little sign in the lobby that they "do not seat incomplete parties". To me, it is part of the decay of good manners and good customer service.

              I'm a little over 50 and I remember this practice being in use all my adult life. It is one reason most restaurants have a lounge/bar area; to accommodate the overflow of those waiting for a table, whether they have reservations or not. I really do not think it is a recent practice.

              1. re: Lenorek

                I think people not showing up on time is a bigger sign of poor manners.

                1. re: donovt

                  And in today's age, where everyone has access to instant communication, there is no excuse for someone who can't make it to call and tell the others so.

                      1. re: Lenorek

                        I don't like overpriced bad food either (does anyone?) but this policy evolved for a reason. Too often that late couple doesn't show, so now the table of 6 is 4. Or three people are late, so now the table is 30 minutes behind (oops., sorry next party who has a reservation! You will just have to suck it up). Or people arrive at different times but all want to order food, throwing off the pace.

                        Good manners goes both ways.

                        1. re: LeoLioness

                          The OP noted that in that situation, there were only 2 people, so they would only be occupying a 2-top. To seat one person at that table to wait for the other to arrive is not a problem. Where the problem arises is when the reservation is for 8 and only 6 show up; the incomplete party is seated anyway, and the latecomers never show. Two seats sit vacant for the entire meal, instead of the restaurant being able to seat another walk-in couple there.

                          My dining club had this happen once in a BYOB restaurant we all wanted to try. 10 said they were coming; 2 singles and a couple just decided not to show, with no notice to our organizer. We apologized to the (gracious) server for holding what amounted to a 4-top "hostage" for the 2 hours we were there (it was early evening, and the place was really bustling by the time we left). We also left him a much larger gratuity that we would have owed on our check. Since so many in our group are "in the industry" it seemed only fair, and spawned the SECOND hard-and-fast rule of the group -- ALWAYS call and cancel before the reservation time, to allow us to add others, or advise the retaurant. (The FIRST rule is ABC = Always Bring Cash).

                        2. re: Lenorek

                          "staff with multiple facial piercings and tats" how does that affect the food or service?

                          Seating an incomplete party is the same thing as camping at a table after dessert and bill paid, it's bad manners. One you are camped before you start, the other is after. Same consequences, more people have to wait longer because of campers and it's rude to them. And some of these people have made reservations, and arrived as a complete party, on time. I know some people like to feel like they are "The Lord of the Manor" by doing this, however, it doesn't make it a reality.

                          I'll be 60 this year and grew up in the restaurant business, and trust me, things haven't really changed that much. But I do feel that in the last decade or so, more customers are arriving and feeling "entitled" . I've seen customers act in such outrageous, drama queen, bullying ways, so much more often these last 20 or so years.

                          1. re: Quine

                            I have a tat myself but the multiple piercing and tats thing seems to be common among a type of young server who feels to good to treat customers well which in general seems to be an epidemic in the current 20 something crowd. You perspective semms like a very restaurant industry one which is fine. If you think you are seeing more customer drama though maybe it is because customers are suck of being treated badly. I have seen much change in the customer service attitude in general change in 20 years and none of it is good.

                            1. re: Lenorek

                              " multiple piercing and tats thing seems to be common among a type of young server who feels to good to treat customers well which in general seems to be an epidemic in the current 20 something crowd. "
                              So you judge people by the way they look? You see a piercing and start to feel automatically that your service will be bad? Interesting.

                              While I grew up in the business and did for a time, work in other industry places, my main body of work has been in the customer service field. Gotten quite a few awards and acknowledgments, through all these years. Which sorta messes up your "assumption" about my perspective.

                              1. re: Lenorek

                                Older people complaining about "the younger generation" and how they dress/look/act is pretty much epidemic as well (and always has been. Didn't those guys from Liverpool have really long hair?)

                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                  "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they allow disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children now are tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

                                  attributed to Socrates by Plato

                                  1. re: Quine

                                    Furthermore, the good old days really werent that good!

                            2. re: Lenorek

                              I understand that choice, but then if I AM seated, I will usually place an order for a £300 Montrachet, to have that ready, when my guests do make their appearance. If I end up drinking that bottle, then a second will be ordered. It is not like a table is sitting empty.

                              Hunt