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Nov 14, 2013 03:00 PM

No reservation restaurants - advice and comments please

Hello Hounders

I am about to embark on the opening of a brand new restaurant, with an amazing chef and major design $$ spent.
As is the current trend in my neck of the woods, we are going with rustic style food, share plates, nose to tail, hip cocktails and most interestingly, a no reservation system.
This style of restaurant management is new to me, so could you please share thoughts, advice and comments about the positive and negative aspects of no reservations. Some practical advice about day to day management of this style and pitfalls would be helpful too.


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  1. With a few exceptions, I dislike no reservation places and, generally speaking, they don't get my business. There is absolutely nothing positive I can say in support of such a policy. When my partner & I go out for dinner, we have every intention of eating dinner, not spending our time waiting in a queue.

    There are the obvious exceptions where I accept general custom is not to have reservations - buffets, the high street Indian places and the like.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      I quite agree here.
      From the owners perspective, however, a no reservations policy means that you don't have a four pax table sitting idle from 5.30 (opening) to 8.30 (reservation). It's all well and good to demand an "out by" time for early res, but if a table decides not to heed your policy, there's very little you can do as a manager.
      Also, the owners see no res as a way to entice exclusivity.

      1. re: cronker

        I'm confused, no res <==> exclusive?

        1. re: jaykayen

          A line out the door of people scrambling to get a seat = exclusive. Yes, that's how some people think.

          Think about the cronut craze. People lined up all night and waited for the couple hundred that were available. Did that dissuade those who didn't get any? No, they came back the next day to wait in line again..

        2. re: cronker

          You honestly think that most people, if seated at 5:30 upon opening, wouldn't be done with their meal in 3 hours? Most civilized people are aware that if they are seated at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m., that there *will* be a turning of the table they're at at least once during the evening.

          And as a manager, if there are absolutely no tables available for the 8:30 reservation, and people have been squatting for 3 hours at a table - why not politely ask the squatters to move to the bar and comp them an after dinner drink, explaining that someone else made a reservation for 8:30 p.m.

          ETA: Unless you go the hybrid route as suggested by bobbert above - 20-30% of the tables kept for walk-ins.

        3. re: Harters

          "When my partner & I go out for dinner, we have every intention of eating dinner, not spending our time waiting in a queue."

          Agree, agree, agree! I don't always have a reservation, but i won't stand in line for dinner. A line out the door doesn't say "good" to me, just "hip". Depends on what you value.

          1. re: WNYamateur

            I avoid ANYPLACE that describes anything about themselves as "hip"!!

            1. re: PotatoHouse

              What makes a place hip anyway…noise, young crowd, everyone texting, loud music, weird food…???

              1. re: josephnl

                a truly 'hip' place avoids any association with that term or its synonyms, even ads, publicity, signage all of that.

                if 'hip' is the goal, the venue can make a columbarium seem boisterous (or alternately make Studio 54 look like a tearoom), either way a word-of-mouth reputation is really the best way to achieve that status. it has to look effortless even if it's not.

          2. re: Harters

            Couldn't agree more. In London there's such a wealth of great restaurants that I can't think of any that are so much greater than the others, are non-res and worth waiting more than 10 minutes. And as Jay Rayner says in the Guardian, I would never queue for a burger!

            1. I'm not in the restaurant business, but to me it would seem that with reservations you would have a pretty good idea of how many people/tables you would be having each night and can staff/order supplies accordingly. Without reservations, you might be overstaffed and then you are paying people to stand around all night if no one shows up.

              Just my thoughts.

              1. I think the best is the hybrid restaurant, leaving say 1/3 of the tables for walk-ins. Personally, due to my frantic life-style, I rarely make reservations and am often shut out. I also do not like waiting more than 20 minutes or so but at least I know what I'm up against.
                Benefits to no-reservations: No having to kick people (campers) off their tables which they believe they own. With this comes the not having to deal with the people with the 8:00PM reservation whose table is not immediately ready - strange in that these people are often the same ones who camp out.
                Another benefit is that when it's busy, tables are never empty waiting for the reservation 25 minutes from now. It's easier to turn tables.
                Downside is you lose people who, as noted, do not like to wait and it is easier to plan when you know how many "are on the books".
                The hybrid system allows some to score those coveted tables while not shutting out walk-ins. It mitigates the effect of no-shows and gives the restaurant flexibility when the initial plan was to put that 8PM reservation at the same table where the campers are lounging. You make the walk-in wait longer because they're, well, walk-ins. At the very least, maybe "we accept reservations for tables of 6 or more".
                Anyway my long two cents.

                1. for those who don't want to queue for dinner, they simply won't, so never mind trying to appeal. (i am one of those.) as far as it inferring exclusivity? lol. it's more like a cattlecall. whoever is first in the gate gets in. how does that equate "hip" patrons?

                  new restaurants always overstaff foh people in the beginning anyway, so that's not an issue here.

                  is there lots of buzz about your place? are you on facebook and twitter? has the local media done any spots on you? does your chef or bar manager have a following? do you have ANY idea how busy you will be? or all just a wing and a prayer at this point? without reservations in-place, my concern would be over-ordering and over-prepping food that will go to waste. the opposite problem of running out of food in the first few weeks will be received poorly, so how is your chef addressing this?

                  have you estimated table turn-times, based in ticket times? how many turns will be optimal for you? starting new, your cooks and servers will be a bit of a mess and things will not go as quickly as everybody would like, thereby increasing turn-times. for those waiting to sit, you will need to give a fairly reasonable estimate of when they CAN sit. if you say 30 minutes and 90 minutes later they are still dumb enough to be waiting, they will be mightily pissed off. (this can happen when reservations are overbooked too, and either way it's ugly.) do your servers "know" how to turn tables for you?

                  there will need to be very cool heads and calm personalities at the door. schmoozing is a must.

                  if you've got a crush, consider sending out a server or manager with a tray of comped amuse-bouches for those in line.

                  i'm in boston and happily this trend hasn't really hit here. we're a surly bunch, so don't know that it will, lol.

                  in the beginning, i'd strongly consider taking some reservations to help manage your flow til everything is running more smoothly and predictably, but perhaps that horse has left the barn.

                  good luck.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Thanks hotoy

                    Just to be clear, I do not own or have a financial interest in this new venture. I am employed as their restaurant manager.

                    Almost everything you have outlined in your post sits comfortably with me, as a manager with many many years experience in all kinds of dining formats.
                    There has been a substantial amount of money spent on social media, there is a good buzz going around.
                    Staffing is my issue, and I already know how I will handle that.

                    I will be the cool hand here, and I'm comfortable with that, although I strongly agree with you about being solid on truth for waiting times.
                    I am meeting the chef for the first time today, and am hoping he has something resembling a menu that I can peruse.
                    There will not be guests lining up for tables. We have a large and fun bar area for them to wait. Food will be served there also which concerns me about cannibalising the restaurant $$.

                    1. re: cronker

                      have you considered a bar-only menu then? (also something i hate) with low food-costs and super quick ticket times?

                      you're just going to have to accept that some patrons who put their names in for tables will choose to stay at the bar. is the bar bigger than the restaurant for capacity?

                      am assuming this is not your first open. :) what started as the opening vision doesn't always translate to reality. am sure you can go with the flow.

                      1. re: cronker

                        Food will be served there? Like gratis?

                    2. No-reservation places are nice if you tend to go out for dinner at the last minute - as long as the wait is less than about 20 minutes. If going to a restaurant involves an hour wait, I generally can't be bothered.

                      No reservation places are a real pain if you make plans ahead of time - I'll skip the no-reservation place, and go somewhere where I know I'll get a meal that night.

                      Shared plates might interact badly with no-reservation. If you're sharing plates, it's nice to have a group, so you can have a variety. But getting a group into a no-reservation place is generally not worth it - if we have more than 4 people, I'll go with reservations.