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bizarrely rigid seating policy at homeroom?

Just wondering if anyone else has had this experience at homeroom:

I have had 3 or 4 small meetings there in the past several months. Usually 4 people, around 3pm on a weekday when the place is all but empty.

I had actually called homeroom before our first meeting, asking if it would be appropriate to have a mid-afternoon meeting there with minimal ordering (some food, mostly drinks). They said yes as long as we don't linger into their dinner rush.

Of course with 4 people coming from 4 different places we don't all arrive at once. Before yesterday, the first person or 2 to arrive would be told in an apologetic tone, sorry you can't have a booth until you have more than 2 people. Or: I would let you take a booth but my boss is here; you can move when all your people have arrived. Something along those lines. We thought it persnickety & odd to act like they had a full restaurant when it was only 10% full, but oh well.

Yesterday 3 of us did arrive pretty much at once, & so sat at one of three empty booths. (There were probably 6 customers in the whole place.) Waiter brought 3 menus & 3 glasses of water. We said, we have another person coming. He flinched visibly & said he would have to check & see if it was ok for us to be seated. He left & another server came over & proceeded to drill us aggressively: when is your 4th person coming? will she be here in 5 minutes? 10 minutes?!

Umm... we don't know, she hasn't called or anything, we were expecting her at 3... ?!

We were lectured sternly about how they have a strict policy of not seating incomplete parties, because their second rush was going to start "soon". We were like, um, you have 2 other empty booths right now?

They didn't make us get up, & our 4th arrived shortly, but we were like, wow, this is almost hostile! We kept an eye on the traffic into the restaurant & eventually left at around 5pm when the other 2 booths had filled. There were still plenty of empty tables by that time; the place was about half full.

I thought maybe the boss/manager had recently screamed at waitstaff for seating incomplete parties. They seemed really tense about the whole thing.

We obviously won't be back, but I'm wondering what y'all make of this. Have you run into weirdness like this there? Is the boss/manager a jerk? Did we catch them on a bad day? What gives?! Am I overreacting?

& more importantly: where else can we go have our meeting? We need free parking & a reasonably quiet, welcoming(!) space.

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    1. re: plaidbowtie

      Yes, those are the rules. However, they might want to consider changing the seating rules so that they only kick in at certain times like "when more than half the tables are occupied." Because they just lost a regular repeat customer for no reason other than following a rule that was meaningless in this context.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        That link also addresses why they don't make exceptions to the rules during slow periods.

        1. re: bluex

          Not really. It said why they don't sit 2 at a booth during slow periods, but the OP had 3.

          1. re: Civil Bear

            The issue wasn't the booth, it was that the OP's party was not complete. And the links explains why they do not sit incomplete parties.

            1. re: bluex

              I do not believe the link explains why they do not sit incomplete parties during slow periods. It only states why they don't sit incomplete parties period. That seems like a pretty silly rule to enforce after telling the OP that their party would be able to linger up until the dinner rush.

              1. re: Civil Bear

                Exactly. They chose to make a blanket rule that they enforce even when it does not serve the intended purposes, instead of dealing with explaining their policies to their supposedly crazy and aggressive customers.

                I know that if I was made to stand around waiting for a table in a half empty restaurant because of a "rule" that I would never go back. Or I would lie: Oh, everyone's here. Hey, Lisa, great to see you, want to join us?

                I don't see the value in a customer service business creating an adversarial relationship with its customers.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  forget the rules. their mac & cheese was not that good . . .

                  hopefully it's improved, but this thread doesn't make me want to find out.

      2. But they had enough people for a booth, even without the person who was running late. So the only "rule" that applied was that they seat the whole party at the same time. Since the justification for that rule is that seating incomplete parties increases wait times, when there is no wait time, and no reasonable expectation that before the final member of the party arrives there will be a wait time, the rule is just arbitrary.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Right, then that's rule #2, that they won't seat incomplete parties. Which they presumably enforce in the middle of the afternoon for the reason stated in rule #4, that their customers are too self-centered to understand that they can't do at dinner rush what they do when the place was empty.

          I wonder if there's something about the mac-and-cheese focus that skews the crowd in that direction?

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Why should anyone patronize a place that has such a low opinion of its customers? Oh, we'll deign to take your money if you follow our rules and let us talk smack about your behavior. No thanks!

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Because they can't cook mac and cheese at home?

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Macaroni and cheese the Homeroom way isn't just opening the blue box.
                http://www.chow.com/recipes/30436-hom...

              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                How does politely spelling out a seating policy display a "low opinion" of your customer?

                I happen to appreciate a place that pays this sort of attention to their operational details. Customers too often assume that opening their wallet somehow absolves them of any further responsible behavior.

                I'm also having a real hard time finding the "smack talking". perhaps because it isn't there?

                1. re: Brandon Nelson

                  I agree. I imagine it took some thought and effort to put together the policy so you have to wonder how much of an issue this had become with customers. Running a restaurant doesn't leave you with a lot of time to write up policies just for the sake of it.

                  1. re: Brandon Nelson

                    Here's how it shows a "low opinion" of customers: The rules conflict.

                    A) must have 3 or more to have a booth
                    B) won't seat incomplete parties

                    So, with the OP, they had enough people for a booth, but had an incomplete party. Which rule trumps the other? A customer-friendly restaurant would resolve that conflict in favor of the customer. A server-friendly restaurant would let the server use reasonable judgement.

                    Maybe they need a rule 5: "Any discrepancy in the previous rules will be resolved to the detriment of the customer."

                    1. re: waldito

                      Rule 1: The boss is always right.
                      Rule 2: See rule 1.

                      1. re: waldito

                        A complete party of three can have a booth. An incomplete party of any size won't be seated. No discrepancy.

                        From what the owners say on their Web site, their experience might be summarized as, "The slightest ambiguity in or inconsistent application of seating policies resulted in some customers throwing tantrums you wouldn't believe, so here we are with these seemingly absurd rules."

                        1. re: waldito

                          Not hard to understand. Their party, when complete, will be seated at the next available 4 top. Their is no conflict. Rule A is about booth seating, Rule B is about incomplete parties. Your complete party of 4 can have a booth.

                        2. re: Brandon Nelson

                          "We used to allow 2 people to sit at a booth during off hours, but then those same people would come back on a busy night and get angry with us for not letting them sit at a booth again.... We have some seriously some crazy stories of people’s reactions when they aren’t seated at a booth–so we’re hoping that by explaining this we’ll have a little less aggressive customer lore in the near future"

                          Describing their customers as "angry," "crazy" and "aggressive" isn't talking smack and having a low opinion?

                          I think indigirl nailed it when she said "What's striking here is that they are reacting to a few rude customers by treating all of their customers as if they are those rude ones."

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Who's to say it was just a few rude customers?

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Well if it's all their customers, then there's something else going on!

                              Basically, it's saying that they can't figure out how to deal with the bad apples, so they're just going to treat everyone badly. Doesn't say much for their management skills, does it? Really, if you can't cope with difficult customers, don't go into a customer service business.

                  2. "Oakland customers"

                    What does that mean Robert?

                    Did anyone say they were from Oakland in this thread?

                    1. re: Mission

                      Homeroom is in Oakland. I doubt they get a lot of out-of-towners at 40th and Shafter. Maybe some South Berkeley hipsters.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        And 1 semi-distinguished older gentleman from North Berkeley.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I live in SF, I know lots of SF folks that go there as well as even people from suburbs. There are a lot of hipsters but it's a diverse group that goes there.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I live in SF, and have never been to Homeroom nor do I know anyone who would travel across the bridge just to eat macaroni & cheese.

                            1. re: jpancake

                              i live in the City and have been several times, and i know many who have done so from the City. People who i consider of the sort who enjoy good food prepared well in a friendly atmosphere.

                        2. re: plaidbowtie

                          They lost me at the up-charge for bread crumbs.

                        3. It's obviously a mandated policy handed down by management. If it was my server @ss on the line I'd follow the rule, no exception. You shouldn't take it personally. Just sayin...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: letsindulge

                            Ah, the Rules!

                            Not taking it personally. & I totally get that the servers need to keep their jobs. Just don't want to be in a place w/ that kind of vibe, when there are other places that are welcoming & hospitable & somehow manage turnover problems w/o having to post rules that, realistically, most folks won't read anyway.

                          2. Homeroom rules...so did a nun appear from the backroom and rap your knuckles and belittle you in front of the class? Don't patronize the place if the rules don't suit you.

                            1 Reply
                            1. Cross that restaurant off my list. Though I can understand most of the rules, I think the tone is condescending and I prefer to spend my hard-earned money at a place that appreciates my business.

                              1. I wonder if the same rules apply if you buy out the whole restaurant.

                                No one gets seated until everyone shows up and they yell at you if less than three people are in a booth at any one time.

                                Also, do you have to ask permission to use the bathroom at this place?