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May 2, 2011 11:07 AM

Bar-Seating and Reservation Etiquette

When dining out last week (at the Spice Table in DTLA, for you LA Hounds), two questions of etiquette came up on which I would be interested to hear others' opinions. The set-up: I had made a reservation for 7 PM on Thursday evening for myself and two friends. I arrived at the restaurant right on time, but both of my friends were running late.

Question #1 - I checked in with the hostess and explained that my friends were late. I said that I'd be happy to be seated at our table or to wait at the bar, whichever worked better for them. She asked me to wait at the bar - it was full, but she pointed out a party that was just wrapping up, and said that I could take one of their seats as soon as they left. When they did, a few minutes later, I took a seat and ordered a drink. After I received my drink, a different hostess (or manager, I'm not sure) came up to me and said that another party had been waiting for the seats, and basically, would I please leave. I politely told her that the other hostess had told me to sit there. She consulted with the first hostess, who came over to me, somewhat embarrassed, and told me that the other party had come in after me but that they were ordering food, so they took precedence. I don't like to make a scene, and I felt a bit at fault since it was my friends who were late in the first place, so I gave up the seat - but it seemed odd to me.

Question #2 - At 7:15, my friends still had not arrived, and the hostess or manager explained that they couldn't hold reservations past 15 minutes. I knew my friends were only a few minutes away, so I asked her if she could tell us when she needed our table for the next group. She said 8:45, so I asked if she would hold our table for a few more minutes if we promised to be out of there by 8:45. She agreed and seemed very grateful for the offer. When my friends arrived, I explained the situation - and they thought it was very rude of the restaurant! Personally, I thought it was perfectly fair since we were the ones (collectively) who were late - but I would have thought it was rude if we had been on time.


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  1. 1. Sounds like a miscommunication between the hosts and you got the short end of the stick. I think that considering you were already sitting, drink in hand, they should have just let it go and apologized to the couple for the mixup.

    2. Your friends are 100% on the wrong (and you handled it well). What do they think a reservation is for, exactly? To assure them a table whenever they want to eat, regardless of how that affects anyone else?

    1. Question #2 is easy. Your friends are wrong. They were late, and they deserved to be rushed. In fact, they were lucky to be seated at all.

      Question #1 is a little trickier. If your seat usurpers arrived after you did, it's hard to see how they could have been waiting longer than you. It seems like there was a (completely understandable) lack of communication between the hostessess. Unfortunately, you came out on the losing end, but I can see why a restaurant would want a party of eaters at the bar, rather than a solo short-term drinker. I would've thrown you a free drink to make nice.

      1 Reply
      1. re: small h

        Agree on this one - if they ask courteously, knowing that you may only be there a few minutes, and you have a drink (which you could drink standing up), I can accept their request... probably would have comp'd you a drink, though like small h states.

        I will say I consider bar seating at most places sort of a free-for-all, with the host/hostess being able to make limited short term holds to accomodate parties if its during the prime of dinner service..

        As for #2, if the place is crowded, you are lucky they held it. They had alllowed for your party 1:45 for dinner, maybe up to 2 hrs assuming the follow on party could be held for a bit. They gave you a 15 min cushion, which is very reasonable. You are already a 3 person party, likely sitting at a 4-top, so a seat is being lost.. Your friends delay may have meant they'd lose that next cover entirely. That's a big thing for a restaurant..

        If you had been on time, the restaurant would have timed service so that you had a comfortable meal and your check came out to 3 satisfied diners before 8:45, so you'd not even notice the subtle pressure. If you sat there at the end trying to nurse coffees for another 45 min, they'd have probably said something.

      2. I think you handled it fine and graciously. The mistake in the initial seating was the restaurant's fault and you were nice to go with the flow but your friends seem a feel entitled. To be late, and not incredibly apologetic but be offended by the problem they created is self-centered, at best. If your friends had arrived on time, as you said, all the the preceding events happened, then you would be justified in being offended.

        1. If you were early and were waiting at the bar and your friends would have been on time I would not have moved. The other people can wait.

          But your friends were late and you needed a favor from the restaurant for them holding the reservations, so smartness says to stand. And nice thinking on your feet with the I will leave offer. and smart of the restaurant for accepting.

          BTW - your friends were wrong for thinking the restaurant were rude. More self entitlement.

          1. Thanks for the replies - glad to know I'm not crazy! These friends are not particularly self-entitled people in general at all, but they both are often late. I am rarely late, so I wondered if I was overreacting as we anally punctual people sometimes do. =)

            44 Replies
            1. re: aching

              I don't see any reason to call yourself "anally punctual" as if being on time is a bad thing. Most of the people I know who are always late find they have better things to do until the last minute and expect everyone else to indulge them. I now tell those kind of people an hour earlier, and they still barely make it for the "real" time.

              1. re: escondido123

                I don't think it's a bad thing, but I think the habitually tardy do! =) As I get older I try more and more not to let my own values/quirks/peeves cause me to get annoyed with other people and miss out on what could otherwise be enjoyable interactions. This dinner is a perfect example - we had a lovely evening, despite the rocky start.

                1. re: aching

                  I was always a very punctual kid, then my high school band director drilled into my head "If you're early you're on time. If you're on time, you're late." as we had to be in our spots on the football field ready to play at 7 am.
                  Peoples' lateness irks me so much since I think it's a form of rudeness. It's amazing how many have no concept of time. I guess I'm the one that needs to chill and just go with it.

                  1. re: Lixer

                    I invited a friend to dinner last night..she will be one of five and has NEVER been on time in the dozen times we've been in the same group, different hosts. I accepted and I told her half an hour earlier than everyone else, who are all punctual. She said,"Well I'm planning to get a massage, how would it be if I came late? Before I could stop myself I said "Typical." I no longer get mad about it, but I don't act like it is nothing. It is just plain rude to host and other guests.

                    1. re: escondido123

                      My brother and sister in law were always late for holiday meals at my mother's home. Dinner at 1 and at 1:20 the phone would ring and they said they were another 25 minutes driving time. My mother tolerated this twice. The third holiday, silver, china and crystal were cleared after each course and when the late couple arrived only main course and dessert was served to them. My SIL attempted to walk in the kitchen to get soup and was told to sit down, if she wanted a full meal, arrive on time. By the 5th holiday, my mother cleared the entire place setting at 1:15 and had my uncle remove the chairs from the table. When the ever tardy couple arrived, my father announced: "Your reservation has been cancelled, maybe you can get a table at the diner."

                      They were on time for holiday meals after that.

                      The OP's friends sound just plain inconsiderate. The restaurant had no obligation to hold the reservation, but also had no business asking OP to move positions in the bar after seating the OP. Personally, if I was the OP, I would be losing the friends and the restaurant.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        wow. just wow. if that's how one treats family, i wonder how they deal with the rest of the world. (and no, i am NOT speaking of the late couple)

                        1. re: thew

                          It is sad that my brother and his wife treated my mother with such disrespect as to always arrive late.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            I agree with you and applaud what your mother did. For years my aunt and her family would do this to my family. Show up late or not show up at all (my cousin was notorious for doing this). It got to the point where it was just easier/ less stressful for my family to just spend the holidays just us or with the various in laws.

                            1. re: viperlush

                              you all have the right to feel that way obviously. we tend to be a bit looser than that in my family. if someone is late - it has not ruined anyones time. they get just as much food and love as if they were early.

                              1. re: viperlush

                                My Ex-husband's daughter and her SO are ALWAYS late for dinners. Always.

                                One year we held off serving dinner until they arrived, which also screwed up everyone else's day as they had other places to be. Since then I have only invited them for dessert, coffee, gifts.

                              2. re: bagelman01

                                Exactly, the issue is those who assume everyone will wait on them. I don't know how I'd address the issue myself, but I can assure Thew, that when it comes to the "rest of the world" it means those who had meetings with me will need to reschedule, those submitting work may or may not have it accepted (depending on previously agreed deadline penalties), and those meeting me at the cinema will find me seated inside so that I don't have to miss the start of the film (if that was our plan).
                                Thew, if this had been a one-time thing in which there were extenuating circumstances, fine. Then the "no soup for you" response might have been a bit much. But this was a matter of setting boundaries and rules and no longer tolerating entitlement.
                                As for those above (like aching) being apologetic for being punctual, I am reminded of a friend who was always very late (so much so that I would refuse to meet on street corners, knowing that would mean standing outside for 45 min) but who once told me "I know you have a thing about being on time, so I make an effort to accommodate you." I told someone else about this. She laughed, and wondered if my friend offered up statements like "I know how you have a thing about people not stealing from you, so I make an effort not to go through your wallet".
                                I know being on time can be difficult. I struggle with it myself. But thinking about others and being respectful of their time is an effort we're supposed to make and not just when it's convenient or easy. This entitlement that establishes that all wait on them and they wait on no one is not on.

                                1. re: Lizard

                                  i dont think a family celebration and a business meeting need have the same rules and expectations

                                  1. re: thew

                                    same rules and expectations, no.
                                    I can choose not to do business with you if you are not timely. Your being part of the family is decided by birth, adoption, marriage or divorce (not my decision).

                                    That said, the host gets to set the rules and if punctuality is important to the host, be on time or suffer the consequences, Why should my mother have had her meal interrupted to serve courses more than once, just because certain family members are habitually late?

                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                      she's free to do as she pleases. i'm just speaking for myself - i would rather my habitually late brother feel welcome in my home, and feel loved, than spare my self the incredibly (again to me) slight inconvenience of having to get a bowl of soup out of order for him

                                      1. re: thew

                                        At a restaurant, it's not that simple. You lose your reservation and you lose your time over someone else's thoughtlessness. My sister can feel loved all she wants to but when she was 20 minutes late to her informal bridal shower in a restaurant and we lost our reservations while a friend had flown in across the country from NYC, it's not just a minor inconvenience of getting out another bowl. That's typical and not a one time thing. I won't even get into how she was almost late for my wedding and forgot the rings. I love her and she knows it but there are times when her actions aren't lovable.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          at a restaurant is different.

                                          1. re: thew

                                            Lateness is most people carries over to all aspects of life, restaurants, dinners, appointments, etc. I served purple gray chicken (a dish similar to coq au vin) at a dinner party when the person the party was for was an hour late. It was barely edible. Probably my fault because I should have known she is always late, just not usually an hour.

                                        2. re: thew

                                          And your habitually late brother probably knows that it's no big deal to you. It would be pretty rude though if he persisted, knowing that it was bothering other people.

                                          My sister is habitually late - it does irk me when we have reservations but if we're just at home and it's a casual affair, I just factor that in and totally expect her to be late. That way she never disappoints me :)

                                          1. re: thew

                                            Mr Thew

                                            I think they are separate questions. My children are always welcome in my home, feel loved and all that stuff. But I am still their parent and if they do something wrong I make the tough call and tell them that their behavior is not acceptable. Dinner at a certain time, they consistently show up late, I tell them to respect other people's time. Whether it is a restaurant or my family respect extends to all. You disrespect a committed time, well then you go without that homemade chicken soup. Now the kids do not want to do that a second time.

                                            1. re: nobadfoodplz

                                              i understand your point. i prefer to teach unconditional love.

                                              1. re: thew

                                                Mr Thew

                                                Respect and unconditional love are not mutually exclusive.

                                                1. re: nobadfoodplz

                                                  nope. but the focus is different

                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    nope, each take 100% focus and acceptance.

                                                    i am done with this inane discussion

                                                    1. re: nobadfoodplz

                                                      people having different viewpoints does not make them inane. not their differing viewpoints.

                                                      1. re: thew

                                                        Not that I have even a part of this conversation, but, Thew:

                                                        * Nobadfoodplz called the conversation inane, not the people involved.

                                                        * I would argue that the conversation was a nonstarter given the false premise you established: that any effort to address behaviours and inculcating respect for others is somehow counter to love.Or "unconditional love." Allowing people to think that any form of correction or lesson that actions have consequences is a withdrawal of love or support strikes me as something of a snowflake machine.

                                                        We can dispute the methods, of course, but the frame you placed on the debate wasn't helpful for debate over the question over how we understand tardiness, particularly in regards to restaurant reservations and meeting with friends.

                                                        1. re: Lizard

                                                          this subthread was not about restaurants, but family coming over for holiday dinners. a very different situation

                                                          1. re: thew

                                                            Thew, you may wish to reread my post. I think the point stands. And frankly, treating one's parent (or anyone else for that matter) like a short order cook is not kind or respectful-- nor is a parent letting the child know that a matter of not loving, or loving with conditions.

                                                            I'm not saying you can't disagree with how the family handles this issue-- or about anything else for that matter. But presuming that this has anything to do with how much people within a family love one another, or reading this as the application of conditions for love seems very much misguided.

                                                            1. re: Lizard

                                                              to me - love is first and foremost about acceptance.

                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                ? Nothing to do with what's being said here. One thing to unconditionally accept and love a person. Another to unconditionally accept and love a behaviour. You seem to be conflating the two.

                                                                1. re: Lizard

                                                                  not at all. as i said - speaking only for myself, with the caveat that my family has never been much into formal meals anyway, i prefer my brother and his family there, and welcome them with open arms, early or late, and the food will flow as freely if they are the first or the last to show up.

                                    2. re: bagelman01

                                      Totally agree with what your parents did, good for them. Being a parent actually means being a parent and it does not stop when the adult child acts like the child. You have to make the tough calls and call a spade a spade.

                                    3. re: thew

                                      Why should everyone that has been considerate enough to arrive in time for the scheduled meal time have to eat a cold meal, or one that is overcooked from being held, to accomodate people who are consistently late?

                                      They were right to begin the meal.

                                      1. re: CanadaGirl

                                        they don't. of course they were right to begin the meal

                                        people can eat as they eat. then when the late comers come, they eat. my problem was not allowing them to have the soup or whatever appetizer because they were late

                                        it's a family holiday, not dinner with queen of the may.

                                    4. re: bagelman01

                                      That is incredibly rude and I respect your mother's direct way of handling it. I think it is Dr. Phil who says we teach people how to treat us. Drawing a line in the sand and saying "no more" is a very clear way to teach someone what is okay. After all, they are guests and someone has gone to much work to present a lovely holiday meal with all the trimmings (china, crystal, multiple courses, etc.). That's a lot more effort than takeout on paper plates and deserves consideration, though really, one should always be considerate of how their choices impact others.

                                      My husband and I work together on most holiday meals or dinner parties. He has absolutely zero tolerance for tardiness. I am a little more laid back and am happy to use the second oven to keep things warm. He works hard to time the meal components to be ready together at a specified time.If he says "Dinner at 7:00," he means dinner is at 7:00. Not "show up at 7:00" or later. He makes that clear when we invite someone new over.

                                      We used to have a couple join us on many holidays (family out of town) that could not ever seem to get it together to be on time. So we would sit down promptly at the appointed hour and begin eating without them and when they showed up mid-way through the meal, none of us stopped what we were doing. The first time, I was mortified and thought my husband was rude. The next time, I thought they were incredibly rude--couldn't believe they didn't get it after the previous holiday. As a result, we began inviting them less often, say maybe once out of every three or four times that we otherwise would have.

                                      Ultimately the lovely couple divorced and the husband is now blissfully punctual to everything, as is his new fiance. Apparently his former wife had the tardiness problem but he never wanted to rat her out.

                                      People are very interesting. I am always amazed at when and how the entitlement attitude shows up.

                                      1. re: jlhinwa

                                        I truly think it is about the person wanting attention! I have had friends like that, that are no longer friends. I also have DDIL's parents that are like that, DDIL too, and I have done exactly what your husband did. They love the attention, plus they are such important people!! LOL!

                            2. re: aching

                              if they are often late then why tell them 7pm. Tell them 6.30 and you be on time at 7.

                              1. re: smartie

                                I actually thought of that, but lying to my friends about the time of the reservation seemed manipulative. Next time I probably will suggest that we meet half an hour early for a drink (and then we can skip the drink if they're late).

                                1. re: aching

                                  I don't think it's any more wrong than them expecting you to tolerate their tardiness. I do this all the time - one too many times I've made the reservations then been stuck fending for the table waiting for everyone else to arrive. I tell the group, we're on for 6:30, and make the reservation for 6:45 or 7:00 (30 mins if it's a bigger group & I know we won't be seated with an incomplete party).

                              2. re: aching

                                >but they both are often late.
                                are they "only" late for dinner rsvps or do they also late for for movies, theater/opera, and international flights too?

                                1. re: psb

                                  Well, for anyone who's interested in the specific foibles of my friends - I think they do both tend to cut it really close for other time-sensitive events like the ones you mention and sometimes do end up a few minutes late, but at least for the ones that I've met them for it really has only been a matter of minutes. And I'm certainly not claiming perfection myself - I've misjudged traffic, gotten stuck on conference calls, or simply lost track of time before too. My husband is much better about punctuality than I am - I've actually made him sit outside in the parked car with me when we've arrived at a dinner party ten minutes early at his insistence, as I think it's an intrusion to show up early at someone's house (which is a whole different topic!). Anyway, I love these friends and I'm not dropping them - I just wondered if my perception was off, or theirs, and I think the clear consensus here at least is that my sense was correct. =)

                                  1. re: aching

                                    Lol, sitting in the car is definitely a burden that an early bird like me knows verrrry well. I make sure to keep a good book in there for when I overestimate driving time.

                                    1. re: Lixer

                                      I stream Netflix on my iPhone/iPad when I have time to kill sitting in the car - love it!

                                2. re: aching

                                  Time to start telling these friends that the reservation is a half hour earlier than they actually are. ;-)

                                  1. re: aching

                                    I also am always on time, and it really aggravates me when people are not. It's really an insult, implying you just are not important!
                                    The restaurant should definitely have bought you a glass of wine for giving up the seat you were all ready occupying. Sort of nervy of them asking you to leave, not good PR!