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May 5, 2011 06:43 PM

Rant: What happened to phone reservations in Boston?

I've noticed a trend over the past year or so where it is increasingly hard to make restaurant reservations on the phone in the Boston area.

I eat out in other cities, and have no such problem. In Boston, it's more and more common that I call a restaurant at night to make a future reservation, and I get a phone recording explaining why it's impossible for them to answer the phone, and asking me to leave my request, and they may call me back sometime in the future to let me know if I got the reservation.

Given that almost every restaurant has a host/hostess, it makes no sense to me that this person can't take dinner reservations. Just put me on hold for a few minutes, I don't mind. I'd rather hold for 10 minutes and know I got the reservation, than leave a message, and wonder if I'll ever hear back.

And again, this seems to be a "Boston only" trend. I've almost never had this happen in other cities.

I know some people tout "Open Table", but literally every time that Open Table has said that a date/time was unavailable, I've called the restaurant directly and gotten a table at that exact same date/time. So Open Table is not reliable at all, in my opinion.

Anyway, just my own personal rant here. I would figure that in these depressing economic times, restaurants would be making it easier, not harder, for me to make reservations.

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  1. Just curious - which restaurants have you had this experience?

    1. Part of the problem with OPen table is that restaurants can block certain times from appearing open on it. If a restauranrt wants to reserve the 8 o'clock Saturday slots for call-in reservations then Open Table shows that they have no reservations at that time. In the past when I've wanted one of those prime spots and Open Table says there aren't any, then I call, and can usually get one at the time I want. I walso would like to know what places you've had difficulty with as, though I most often use Open Table, I sometimes have to call, and have not had the issue you've had.

      3 Replies
      1. re: kimfair1

        while certainly not a flawless system, I much prefer using Open Table for the majority of my reservations than calling the restaurant directly. For starters, I often make reservations late at night or early in the morning when restaurants are not open. Second, I have earned hundreds of dollars in open table gift certificates over the years amounting to multiple free or highly discounted meals. But there are some (not more than a dozen or so) restaurants who block prime times on the weekends and in those instances I just call. But getting something in return for making a reservation and the ease of seeing what is available at any point in the day are pretty awesome if you ask me.

        1. re: Gordough

          Right, I guess that's my point...OpenTable works great, except when it doesn't, and then you have to call anyway. And you don't know ahead of time for what places it is accurate, and for what places it is not accurate.

          Given the cost of dinner at higher end places, and the bad economy, it's mind-boggling to me that restaurants are doing away with having a live person answering the phone during normal business hours.

          1. re: johnblacksox

            Unless you're dealing with someone like me who 9 out 10 times simply will go somewhere else that *does* have open seats via OpenTable. Sorry, if they're blocking out seats for live calls, they probably just lost my business. I'm the same way with Foodler & food delivery - there are places that I prefer, but since they're not on foodler they don't get my order.

      2. I've found that the only time I can't get someone on the phone to make a reservation at a local restaurant, is when I call and an off hour. When are you trying to call? If the restaurant isn't open for lunch, for example, calling them at 1pm to make a reservation might be too early.

        I usually try to call at the very early part of the dinner stage, like 5:00pm. I can't remember the last time I didn't get a human on the phone at that time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mwk

          I always call during normal business hours, so if a place is open from 5:00 to 10:00, I'll call between 5:00 and 10:00.

          I think the problem is that some restaurants try to make do with less staff, and don't want a hostess/waitress "wasting time" answering a ringing phone.

          My point is that it's insane to not pick up the phone and take dinner reservations. I get the fact that they think it would easier to use Open Table, but as noted by other posters, Open Table is notoriously inaccurate. Tables may be available when Open Table says they aren't. And maybe Open Table says no "dining room" tables are available, but maybe I can reserve a bar table instead. I've heard both possibilities.

          When I call to make a reservation, I'm offering the restaurant hundreds of dollars in business. I'm basically requesting that they take my money. To be greeted by a recording telling me to use OpenTable, or leave a voicemail that may be replied to 24 hours later, is crazy.

          I think some of these places have completely lost sight of how to run a business. They are effectively discouraging people from patronizing them. I know, because I have given up at some of them, and moved on to restaurants who answer their phone live and take my reservation.

        2. I completely agree with you and am so happy to read that someone else feels that way. It's an unbelievably frustrating situation. The problem at Ten Tables is so ridiculous that I've sworn I'll never eat there again, despite the fact that the one time I did have dinner there the food was good. I've had a similar problem getting an answered phone call when trying to make a reservation at O Ya. When I finally did manage to connect for a reservation I was extremely unimpressed with the place, so at least I don't have to worry about fighting with their system in the future. More recently, I've had problems at Journeyman. I understand that managing a reservation system might be challenging, but doing it well should be a basic part of running a restaurant. (Or else just don't take reservations at all, be clear about it, and risk annoying people with a wait like at Neptune, et al.)

          O Ya
          9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

          Ten Tables
          5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

          1 Reply
          1. re: peelmeagrape

            I agree regarding Ten Tables. The problem with simply leaving a message and hoping for a call-back is that immediately after leaving the message you need to start thinking of a Plan B which, in some cases, means making a reservation that you'll need to cancel if Ten Tables calls back and confirms your reservation. It's interesting that, despite its popularity, Ten Tables sees fit to have a policy of charging diners who make reservations but don't show up. I wonder if the no-shows decided at the last minute that Plan B was better than Ten Tables.

            Ten Tables
            5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

          2. i prefer to call and have had no problem with getting in contact with any restaurant and my tastes are eclectic from Rod Dee and Thailand Cafe and Om to Rialto, Craigie, and Clio/Uni. i have not had a problem getting a reservation. I think that the best times are held off Open Table.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

              Restaurants use Open Tables to create niche demand. Managers and hosts can be reached on their personal cell phones.

              Back in the day restaurants and more frequently dance clubs had unlisted numbers. The trend being described here is a 21st. Century equivalent.