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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. re: Robert Lauriston

        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.

              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. re: Robert Lauriston

                    "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?

                                1. I too got a kick out of this thread. The.name Homeroom is a tipoff. Wonder if the owner is a former dissatisfied teacher or what. Very controlling.. Guess it depends on how bad one wants Mac & cheese. The interior does look kind of cozy though.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: miss_belle

                                    Yeah. I kinda prefer being treated like a grownup when I go out to eat, not like an unruly high school kid who needs to learn the rules. 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.

                                    Anyway... of course people can run their businesses however they want. I am obviously not their target market. I mainly liked going there for the space, which is very pleasant, & the convenient location. The mac & cheese, though good, was kinda incidental, as I can & do make my own using all the advanced skills Ruth mentions above ;)

                                  2. heh, I actually have plans to go to Homeroom next week. Their classic and Trailer Mac, which I had at the Underground Market, were fine, but not exceptional. Service and policies don't seem liked by all, but if it was good enough to return to four times, I'd like to hear what's good there. OP? Anybody?

                                    One previous thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/734733

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                      As I said upthread, the food was secondary for me. Main reasons I kept going were because I liked the space & the location. That said, the "spring mac" w/ peas & lemon zest was my usual order.

                                      It's been quite instructive to start & follow this thread. My story, & homeroom's rules, appear to be button-pushing & polarizing, with some folks insisting I'm an entitled douchebag & others saying the restaurant is unclear on the concept of customer service. I'm not crazy about being called names in public but hey, it's the internet, & I learned some things.

                                      We are going to Cafe Colucci next time. I called & asked them about it too. Hopefully they will exhibit more consistency between phone & in-person.

                                      I'm still curious about how hipsters factor in.

                                      1. re: indigirl


                                        I think there's mostly metered parking around Colucci, but even if so, you can find free 2 hour street parking within a few blocks. They're not huge and can overflow on the weekends, but at 3PM I think you'd be okay.

                                        Yeah, "hipster" is a wonderful bogeyman... but you've got to have a term for people who wait in line an hour to eat popular food that can probably be prepared better at home.

                                    2. The Homeroom "dinner rush" is no lie and a Eastbay phenomenon!

                                      I have a rental property a block away that I have been working on for the last few months, when I leave and drive by at 5pm every night there is a line out the door.
                                      (I just drove by and there was a line in the rain)

                                      I know of few other places like this in the Eastbay,perhaps Bakesale Betty at lunch and maybe Kirala and Trattoria La Siciliana...any others?

                                      Plus it is a very small place.
                                      If you don't like their rules, stay out of their kitchen.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Mission

                                        Right now it's 7pm on a Friday night. There has never been any line at all when we've ended our meetings on weekdays. Just sayin....

                                        1. re: indigirl

                                          My favorite quote of this thread.

                                          "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"

                                          "Just sayin...."

                                      2. Sounds like what this place needs is someone like the late Edsel Fong to enforce some real discipline and respect for authority.

                                        1. Folks, we know this is getting into the realm of etiquette and it's easy to break into discussing other posters' motivations, but please keep your comments focused and avoid judging the original poster (or any other poster). Discuss the restaurant, please, not your fellow hounds.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                            Ha I love it. This thread is about restaurant rules and the Chowhound team comes in to remind us of Chowhound rules. Classic.

                                          2. I think someone should open a pub nearby and call it Detention or Study Hall for those who can't follow the rules.

                                            4 Replies
                                              1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                                Love it, here's the start of a drink list at Detention:

                                                Pounding Mind Erasers: Kahlua, Vodka, Sprite, dusted with powdered sugar

                                                Not the Teacher's Pet: Calvados, Triple Sec, Mescal (with worm, add $10)

                                                Pen Explosion: Shot of Curaçao dumped into clear liquor of your choice.

                                                1. re: lakemerritter

                                                  Pounding Mind Erasers, that is the funniest thing I have heard of in a long time.

                                                  1. re: lakemerritter

                                                    Hilarious! Had no idea this would end up being the Thread That Would Not Die, but this drink list makes it all worth it ;)

                                                2. Honestly, I think they're just weird about seating in general. I went in with my kids about a year ago and ordered food to sit down. Saturday, late morning. Quiet, maybe 5-6 other tables seated. We sat down to wait at the large bar table and after 5-10 min the counter person brought over our food in a to-go bag and very snippily said I had told him it was to go. I politely said we'd ordered for here so were looking forward to eating in. He was completely weird about it, brought us our drinks in to-go cups and made as if he wanted to shuffle us out asap. No idea whether it was the presence of kids or whether he was new. But I haven't been back. The whole thing is very mediocre and overpriced anyway.