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Apr 16, 2012 10:56 PM

Should a 930 reservation be a 930(ish) seating?

Hi. I'm surprised how many postings I see from people who arrive on time (with all diners present) - but are kept waiting a long time past their actual reservation time - including at some very 'high end' restaurants. I know that popular restaurants like to do multiple seatings, and that some early(ier) diners can hold a table longer than expected. However, should a restaurant really keep diners waiting for up to an hour (or even more) past reservation time to accommodate early(ier) diners - especially when there is a fairly late reservation to follow, and that the later diners can end up eating well into the early 'am' and beyond? Yes, I know that a late reservation means late dining - and if it's a tasting menu etc then even later dining. However what is reasonable with regards to expecting to be seated at (or around) the time that you reserve for - and how delayed (in seating) is beyond reasonable? In my mind more than 20 minutes or so is unreasonable - an hour would be beyond a bad joke and should be accompanied by many good free cocktails (though one is then too... to enjoy the food).

Conversely, what is reasonable with regards to being giving a dining time limit (for an early reservation) - and if there is no limit given, then being asked to vacate a table? I must say that at a high end restaurant in Asia recently free desserts suddenly appeared straight after the main to 'express' us off the table - a very bad experience as we were given no indication re a time limit.

I'm keen to hear other views - perhaps I expect too much (as a customer:)

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  1. There have been some pretty long threads about this in the past, although I don't see any of them listed below. There are any number of variables but the general consensus is that so long as you are enjoying your meal, and you were not told of a time limit, that the table is yours. Most of the time 'polite' people will realize there are people waiting and won't linger overly long, but there are sometimes events that are important and the restaurant needs to work around the campers. Some restaurants are known for keeping you waiting, others are known for not keeping people waiting. But life happens, and there are times the restaurant can do nothing to change it, and asking people to leave is not acceptable in most cases.

    Of course like all such subjects there is a diversity of viewpoints on this, but that is my summary of the gist of previous conversations on the matter.

    2 Replies
    1. re: KaimukiMan

      but conversely, places that will charge a fee for a silly late show-up or no show reservation really ought to do something for the customer who is timely and waits.

      1. re: hill food

        They should come to the line, and "make things right," IMHO. If not, guess which restaurant will never get my patronage?

        I try to arrive a bit early, and do not like being kept waiting, for very long, but do understand that sometimes, tables do not turn, on the half-hour. That, I can live with. Being stiffed for hours, then I get porky.


    2. Generally I expect my table to be ready at the time of reservation. In the vast majority of occasions, this is what happens. Occasionally, there may be a few minutes delay but this is very rare.

      1. If they take reservation's in 15 minute increments, I expect to be seated within 15 minutes. The thought that you own the table once you get there is more a european norm, and is fading fast.

        Better yet, when leaving, tell the front why you are not returning and which of their competitors you will be dining at next time. And maintain your integrity and turn down any comps.

        95% of the time, the wait is not the fault of the wait staff. Please tip according to their service, not the restaurants.

        3 Replies
        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

          "The thought that you own the table once you get there is more a european norm, and is fading fast"

          Although, thankfully, not here in Europe. Except for those places that notify a time limit (usually 2 - 2.5 hours) when you make the reservation. As my earlier post, European restaurants seem to manage their space very well in that folk are not hassled to leave nor are new diners kept waiting for a table. There's maybe a lesson there for restaurants and diners in other continents

          1. re: Harters


            Actually, I have seen a bit more "table-clearing" in Europe, and the UK, than in the US. In each case, the host/hostess, has offered us a table, and moved our Ports, etc., to it. In some cases, they have offered to comp the dessert wines, but I have never accepted their offers.

            For me, fifteen minutes on an average night, and then thirty minutes on a buy night, is about my max. Beyond that, things NEVER turn out OK.

            Many of the restaurants, that we frequent on both sides of the Atlantic, know that we are "slow diners," and I never hesitate to point that out. We love our foods, and our wines, and will usually add a "cheese-course" to the meal, if available. Most restaurants are marvelously accommodating, so long as they know.

            For instance, Gordon Ramsay (various locations) knows that we might start their evening, and when done with the cheeses, and the desserts, plus all of the wines, might well "shut 'em down." They accommodate us nicely, and stick us in a corner, where they should not need the table. We never "camp out," but extend our meal by several courses, and wines. Never has that been an issue.

            Some other restaurants (both sides of the Atlantic), and I feel that the "clock is ticking." While I do not like to wait, there is another side - I do not like to be hurried. That is why I let the restaurant know how I like to dine.

            Just some personal observations,


            1. re: Bill Hunt

              I agree. I like to enjoy my meal but I won't linger unnecessarily. We will order several courses and may indeed shut down a space but are conscious of both the staff and other diners. If a restaurant closes at 10 pm ( typical of even the swankiest in the area we live) I will finish and pay my bill especially if we are one if the very last or if it is late. Some nights it can be close to 11 but we we literally eating the entire time.

        2. PerfectPalate, Have you been left waiting an hour after reservation time for a table? If so, what has the maitre d' told you? Just wondering if this is a real or hypothetical issue for you.

          3 Replies
          1. re: escondido123

            Yes, I have been kept waiting more than one hour to have my party seated. All those instances hapened while I was traveling in the U.S. (and once in Italy) and I had no alternative but wait. In my hometown, I have on occasion been kept waiting for more than half an hour, which is more or less my limit waiting time, and beyond which I just move elsewhere.

            1. re: JMPSR

              Wow, it must have been difficult having no place else to go, but I guess that's why they could keep you waiting. Wonder if that's also the case for the OP.

            2. re: escondido123

              In my case, we were told that a table would be forth-coming, though it was well after an hour, since our confirmed reservation. When seated, we were told that most items on the menu were no longer available, and instructed to order immediately, or the kitchen would be closed. No time to look at the wine list - order now, or go hungry!

              Not sure about PerfectPalate, but my experience was not a good one.


            3. In a word, and to answer your question - YES.

              I am a patient person, but expect that if I arrive (usually ~ 10 mins. early), to be seated around the time of my reservation. Normally, I am.

              Now, that is not always the case, but the CH MOD's do not like me mentioning a restaurant, where our 9:00PM reservation turned into 10:00PM +, and then we were told that the kitchen was about to close, and to order quickly, or not at all. Besides that aspect, the steaks were horrible, and most of our choices were long gone. Have not been back.

              You do NOT expect too much, as a customer/patron. There can be reasons that restaurants run behind, but if they actually care, they will make "good" for a patron, waiting for an hour, or two... But only if they actually care. Some are just too full of themselves, and do not care, assuming that others will queue up the next night, and then the next.

              Even at restaurants, such as Galatoire's, where one can make reservations for upstairs only, or stand in line for downstairs, we make the reservations, and expect them to be honored. Maybe we are just "odd?"

              While we normally arrive a few minutes early, if running late, will call the restaurant, to tell them our ETA.


              13 Replies
              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Bill - it sounds like you do a lot of great dining. We have had it happen - and I got rather hot under the collar to say the least. To me it is inexcusable that a restaurant should expect someone to wait well beyond the reservation time unless something entirely unexpected has happened. They expect people to turn up for reservations on time - or cancel they cancel the res, often all too quickly but the other way around and...

                Then again, if the experience and value is there then (maybe) I can forgive a small(ish) wait.

                1. re: PerfectPalate

                  In very general terms, I am patient, and have been on both ends of diners not vacating, when the restaurant might expect them to. That "stuff" happens, and again, I have been on both ends of it.

                  However, when I have a reservations for ____ PM, and have confirmed that, whether by FAX, cell phone, or other, I sort of expect them to plan on seating me.

                  How quickly, and how close to my appointed time - well, that can depend, but I would like to think that about 15 - 30 mins. would be acceptable. However, given certain circumstances, I could wait a bit longer.

                  In my case, with the particular New Orleans restaurant, by the time that they let us know, that it would be a very long time, prior to seating, it was too late to go somewhere else. We were trapped, only to hear that the kitchen was then closing, and that most items were not available, after our extreme wait. Let's just say that my patience had worn very thin, and it made a horrible impression on us.

                  Also, I am not a big fan of standing in line for a restaurant. So long as it does not impact on my food, or my service, I will always make reservations.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Fortunately, I am in a large circle of people who don't wait more than 20 minutes anymore. We've all learned, over the years, that the only way to salvage an evening is to cut our losses and go elsewhere. And restaurants that can't manages their tables well don't get a second look; we have way better things to do with our time.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      I'm sympathetic with your point, but in some instances it might be a bit harsh to totally blame a delay in seating on "poor table management". I've been in some smaller, very popular restaurants where unfortunately the management is faced with "campers" and there really is no good solution to this. If the management is properly apologetic and understanding, and perhaps offers some "perk", I give them a second chance. Obviously this does not apply to those restaurants where there is always a delay in seating.

                      1. re: josephnl

                        Restaurants have an obligation of results, not an obligation of means.

                        1. re: JMPSR

                 what should a small, say 10 table (40 seat) restaurant do when a party of 10 stays at their table(s) an hour longer than conservative seating guidelines advise restaurants to allow. Of course, I'd hate to be the party waiting to be seated, on the other hand I empathize with the restauranteur trying to deal with this problem. This is less of a problem with larger restaurants where there are more tables and seating options, but if it's a small place and not a chronic problem, and the management handles it well, I'm much more understanding. JMPSR...smallish busy and successful restaurants may not always have the appropriate means to meet what you consider their obligations. I don't like it any more than you, but it's life, and sometimes unavoidable.

                          1. re: josephnl

                            If I am the waiting party, I leave, and I don't come back. I have no obligation to be more understanding of the restaurant than it is of me. It represents a loss of goodwill for the restaurant, and future business. Maybe the future business of the campers is more important to it; that's the restaurant's prerogative. I have mine, too, which is that I don't exist to indulge campers.

                            1. re: Karl S

                              So what do you suggest a restaurant do about persons who stay longer than they can reasonably expect...especially if they are ordering after dinner drinks, more wine or whatever? And if the restaurant is obviously doing what it reasonably can to make your wait tolerable (and assuming it's not a chronic problem), how would you like them to meet their obligation to you?

                              I am not the most patient person in the world, and I too do not like to wait. However, on occasion unforeseeable things can happen, and especially at a smaller restaurant this can be a real problem. I think it's perfectly reasonable to leave after waiting for some time, but as long as it's not a common occurrence at the place, I don't think it's fair to assume that it's always the restaurant's "fault" or that it is always avoidable or that the establishment doesn't care about goodwill.

                              1. re: josephnl

                                If a group is waiting for dinner with a reservation and the other party is dawdling then I think it is the restaurant's duty to offer one an after dinner something away from the table or the before dinner group something before they sit down at the table. To just shrug your shoulders and say "oh well" is not a reasonable solution from professionals.

                                1. re: escondido123

                                  Oh, I agree with you completely. By no means did I intend to imply that the restaurant should just "shrug their shoulders" and say "oh well". (See my previous posts). Should there be an unreasonable delay in seating (>20-25 minutes), the customer should receive not only an explanation and apology, but some tangeable perk...perhaps complimentary cocktails, appetizer or something. My only point was that sometimes despite excellent management and good intentions, a restaurant may on occasion find itself in a situation where they are unable to seat a party on time.

                                  1. re: josephnl

                                    It sucks to be the restaurant in such a situation, but it's a lose-lose, and I have zero pity for the restaurant in such a situation. Any more than the restaurant has for me when I show up more than 20 minutes late for a reservation and they feel entitled (rightly) to give my table to someone else.

                                    I have to say that, in my experience, restaurants facing this problem often are not entirely lacking in some responsibility for it, hence why I will tend never to darken their doors again absent a very strong gesture on their part (which doesn't necessarily involving comping, btw - there are many ways for a restaurant to be more engaged and empathic with their customers' plight).

                2. re: Bill Hunt

                  I very much agree with you. I almost always show up a bit early, and I expect to be seated within 15 minutes of the reserved time. In smaller restaurants, I'll generally give them a bit more slack, if they are nice about it and explain the delay ("campers", etc.). If it's more than 20 or so minutes, I expect the restaurant to apologize and offer something...perhaps a glass of champagne or wine. Unless there is something truly unusual, I'll probably not wait much more than 30 or so minutes...and likely will not return.

                  Some restaurants overbook, and always keep you waiting. I avoid these places.

                  1. re: josephnl

                    A little "perk" is nice, but a human, updating me is a bit better. To tell me to "cool my jets," and "it'll be a few extra hours," was the best that I could get.