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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.

                      1. What, why would you want to do that? Better to manage the flow of your customers than have a crush at 7 o'clock and then people leaving. The only places I want to have no reservations is a bar, or a place that is always packed and reservations means the book for peak hours is filled a month in advance (and thus becomes a first come, first serve for everybody).

                        It definitely depends on your market. In a big city I wouldn't dream of going out to a restaurant without a reservation if I thought they were at all popular. In the suburbs, I expect to get seated without a reservation promptly. A place that I know has a long wait, I would appreciate being able to make a reservation.

                        I did work for a restaurant that is similar to what you're describing, we took reservations for large groups only. As in any restaurant, hire enough good people.

                        1. if you're offering stellar food and in an area with decent bars you might pull it off. Little Serow in DC does this and will call or text your phone when you're at the top of the first-come waiting list.

                          sounds frantic and problematic, but apparently they are indeed that good.

                          IIRC it's a set menu with only 2-3 seatings.

                          1. Wow, lots of negative responses. Well here in NYC, its not uncommon to see restaurants with a no reservations policy. They can be small local places or more widely known. Common theme in order to be successful is that the combination of the food and atmosphere makes it worth the wait. Otherwise reservation or not won't make a difference. No reservation policy tends to drive a younger crowd so if that's what the owners are going for, it can make sense. But managing turnover is key. When I go to Momofuku Ssam Bar for example, I don't really want to wait more than an hour and I'm willing to do that because there is a good bar close by. Hopefully you have a good bar or there is one close by. One nice policy is to take peoples mobile numbers and text them when a table is 5 minutes from being ready. Like others have said, need to also accept reservations for large groups.

                            1. I don't make resrvations except for special occasions, large groups or when taking a client................
                              That said, if I arrive and am told the wait is more than 15-20 minutes I'll go somewhere else.
                              Since you say you are going with a restaurant model that is the trend in your area,thereis little to make you stand out from he crowd. Maybe offering reservations will gove you that boost.
                              From a management standpoint, not taking reservations can cost youbusinessandgenerate ill will. There is a local area steakhouse we enjoy. They are open 6 evenings per week from 5-10 and don't take reservations. From experience we limit our visits to Tues-Wed-Thurs. The restaurant is good, but we won't chance an hour wait on the weekend. If we want to go out on the weekend with area friends and suggest this place, the typical response is "we stopped going there years ago because they won't take a reservation."

                              There is no reason a restaurant such as you describe can't take reservations for 50% of your tables, and accept walk ins as well, Outside of big cities most people don't make reservations for midweek dining and often not for weekends.

                              I might come to your place with just my wife, but if we were going to be a group of 4 or more I'd want to make a reservation.

                              1. Well, I probably wouldn't bother to go. I hate uncertainty and lines, and view them as a device designed to get me to buy liquor when I don't want to have it without food yet. A no reso policy is a red flag for a pointed lack of hospitality to this category of customer. FWIW. (I normally reserve in the early evening: starting in the 5-6:30 block; pre-peak, that is). So, just understand that you will be losing business you might otherwise get if you blocked some of your tables for reserved spots with a clear policy about how long a table could be held before being given for a walk-in.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Karl S

                                  there are a few upscale places here in boston that don't take reservations. unless i know i can get there at an off-time or right when they open, i don't even bother trying. they all are also tiny and i am never going to wait an hour or more to eat.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    I have never bothered to attempt any of them. I don't feel I've missed a thing except frustration. (That's right, I never went to Olives. Boo dippy hoo.)

                                2. We don't actually eat anyplace that we have to make a reservation... but if there is a line out the door, or they say it's going to be more than a 10-15 minute wait, we don't eat there either. Neither of us is physically able to stand around waiting for long. Get customers to a table quickly (or at least give them some place comfortable to sit), and they'll be happy...

                                  1. Like a lot of foodies here, I avoid no reservations places. In my experiences there is an effort to be the "new hip place, so cool, so trendy, we don't have to take reservations". Many times, from my experience, when the new wears off and the new kid in town opens these places end up taking reservations.

                                    When I go out to dinner I don't feel like waiting in line to eat. Or, waiting in a bar with a bunch of hipsters so that they can get me for another $50.00 in booze. Not that I mind drinking mind you, but I like to do so on my terms.

                                    I know there are many, many places that are doing the no reservations thing. That's fine with me, their place, their rules, but I choose not to go. I don't know why a business as competitive and cut-throat as the restaurant business is so willing to reduce their potential customers.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                      it totally depends on the place. of the ones in my city, they offer some of the best food around and are consistently recommended on my local board. in these cases, they are going on being open 10 years and still run 2 hour waits.

                                      if the food wasn't all that, you're right, it would be a very different tune.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        Same here in NYC. Some of the best food at reasonable prices is found in no reservation places. They've been phenomenally successful and continue to be. But if you showed up at 5:30 at these places, there would be a table with little wait so if you're in the early bird crowd, try it out. Come between 7-10? Be prepared to wait. But that's the trade off you are making. The high quality of the food is at a lower price point than most places that take reservations would be at.

                                        1. re: Bkeats

                                          places i am talking about are decidedly not at a moderate price point.

                                          boston and nyc are very different restaurant worlds. :)

                                          1. re: Bkeats

                                            To me, 5.30 is a late lunch, not dinner.

                                            I want to eat dinner at dinner time - which in my book is around 8pm. I also want to eat lunch at lunch time - around 1pm

                                            1. re: Harters

                                              To me, 5:30 is an early dinner. I am abed before 9 and up before 4:30 to be in the pool by 5AM and at work by 7AM. I live in a metro of larks - Boston - having grown up in a metro of owls - NYC. Much happier for it. Anyway, resos are an essential tool of sanity for this hound.

                                          2. re: hotoynoodle

                                            I also agree. If I owned a place that had a no reservation policy and had people lining up each night to get in why on earth would I change that? So tables could sit empty waiting for that 7 PM reservation? From a strictly business perspective, the best situation is a line out the door filled with people who, for some unknown reason, are willing to wait an hour to spend their money in my place. These places are not "missing" those of us who will not eat there because of the wait. If you're able to pull off having the crowds minus the reservations, that's the way to go... money wise.
                                            I guess the downside is becoming that place where "...nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded".

                                            1. re: bobbert

                                              I live in NYC where we have our fair share of no-res places. It works just fine if a restaurant is really popular but as places cool off many of them suddenly start accepting reservations.

                                              As a customer I have mixed feelings. I understand why restaurants do it but OTOH it makes my life harder. I have the same affection for lines as I do for traffic jams. They're a waste of time. Added to that is the level of uncertainty they introduce.

                                              If the No-Res Cafe is jammed you've got to have a fall back place to eat. And of course you haven't made reservations at the fallback place because you thought you were going to eat at No-Res Cafe. Maybe the fallback will be slammed too. Now you're wandering around the city and a sense of desperation begins to set in.

                                              Price levels also play a factor in how I view a no-res place. If they're low I'm pretty tolerant because I realize their profit margins are thin. A no-res policy maximizes revenue.

                                              If their prices are higher I see it as a passive aggressive act by the restaurant. They're already profitable but they're looking to squeeze even more money out of their customers by making them wait on lines.

                                              Whenever one of those no-res places cools off and starts taking reservations I feel like the natural balance of power has been restored.

                                        2. I guess if the place is popular and can count on lots of walk ins, no res makes sense to them.

                                          Last night I met 3 friends at a casual brew-pub type of place that doesn't take reservations TH-FR-SA from 6 to 9. Since we wanted to dine at 7, I was about to move to our second choice when the hostess mentioned (we were on the phone) that I could "call ahead" an hour before and get on the list. So I did. When we arrived, they kept referring to my reservation. Very confusing.

                                          1. "... rustic style food, share plates, nose to tail, hip cocktails ..."

                                            For the love of God, don't serve kale.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Bob Martinez

                                              you're not going to line up for kale/pig ears martinis?

                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                  I can just see the ear over the side of the glass like a lemon slice ...

                                                  I too avoid no-res places. I often eat with a dining group, and patience is not their strong suit. As a result there are some very well-known no-res places that I've never been to.

                                                  One restaurant I like doesn't take reservations for brunch. I'll go, but so far just with two of us, & I make sure we're there an hour before I actually want to eat. That's OK for Sunday brunch, but lots of us don't have that kind of patience at dinnertime.

                                                  Basically what this does is eliminate the half of the population that are planners ... who may also control more than their share of restaurant destinations since they, you know, plan stuff.

                                              1. With a no-res policy, you will instantly eliminate some percentage of your potential customer base. There are many folks (myself included) who never go to a no-res place, because we hate to wait.

                                                It seems to me that if you are just starting out in a new place, you really have no idea how busy you'll be until you're open for at least a few weeks. Why not start out taking limited reservations…say for half of your tables, still leaving plenty of space available for walk-ins, and see how it goes. You can always further limit your reservations later (say for weekends, or peak hours) or if you find yourself packed all the time, get rid of reservations all together.

                                                But, to me, if I were opening a new place, I would not want to eliminate any potential customers…and you will do that with a strict no-res policy.

                                                16 Replies
                                                1. re: josephnl

                                                  josephni - a good approach, yet I can also see why an owner would want to give a big F-U to the idiot customers who make multiple reservations and never cancel the unused ones.

                                                  those oblivious jerks created this scenario IMHO. even tipsy hipsters have limited patience for waiting in the bar for an over-booked room.

                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    Are there many people who make multiple reservations and don't cancel the in-needed ones? I, personally, can't imagine doing so. Actually, I make most of my reservations on Open Table which does nor permit double booking...and if you are a no show more than a few times/year, they cancel your account.

                                                    1. re: josephnl

                                                      Yeah, I actually have heard about people making double reservations just to "make sure" they get a table at a new trendy restaurant or at several restaurants. It's dumb and selfish. It became such an issue that certain places started asking for debit or credit card numbers with the reservations so that if the people are don't show up, the restaurant will charge a cancellation fee.

                                                      BTW, the multiple / double reservations tactic is to make a reservation at several different restaurants for the night and then see which one calls you back first to say you're in. The problem is, people weren't canceling their back reservations at other restaurants.

                                                      1. re: cornedhash

                                                        oh yes VERY common in SF and DC (and I would suppose NYC and LA), so the jackass can decide at the last minute which place they 'feel' like going - why there's up to $50 USD in no-show fee in some cities and a CC# required at reservation. AND the silly wait times for those with true and honored reservations - "hey WE'RE HERE! they aren't" (the no-shows booked for 8:00 and yours is for 8:15, but the hostess, pays them the courtesy of holding a while so that 8:15 turns into 8:45) these idiots f*ck it over for everyone.

                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                          It's also because of those idiots that places have been getting away from reservations. I'm one of those who rarely make reservations. Last time I did, I got a phone call, an email and a text message basically reminding me to show up. Quite the hassle for a meal and quite the pain for the restaurant as well.

                                                          1. re: bobbert

                                                            yeah I agree, I'm someone who honors my reservations/commitments and feel harassed by these reminders or stress that I'll be cancelled if I don't respond.

                                                      2. re: josephnl

                                                        Plenty of instances on CH where a poster reports that he or she is holding reservations at 2 or more restos in a particular city for a single time slot and is polling other CH'ers as to which one to patronize. I specifically recall a couple years ago calling out an OP for this practice. The mods, in their wisdom, deleted my post.

                                                        1. re: masha

                                                          this is especially problematic on holidays and weekends. reservation no-show rates (in boston, anyway) can be as high as 30%, and even higher for the later slots. any regular opentable users know this, so just use the phone.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            No shows are a very real problem - no doubt about it. That said, most restaurants still take them and manage to remain in business.

                                                            1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                              For high-end restaurants, where demand exceeds supply, they protect against no shows by requiring a credit card to secure the reservation - to which I have no objection. For less exalted venues, they often overbook, reckoning that some percentage of the booked patrons will not show - which is why you may arrive on time for your reservation only to be told that there is a wait for your table. This is really frustrating for those of us who honor reservations (or cancel with some reasonable notice); we are bearing the consequences of the ill manners of other patrons.

                                                              1. re: masha

                                                                I'd have no problem if more restaurants started charging for no shows. If a last minute emergency comes up how hard is it to make a quick call? I'm hearing about no show rates of 20% to 30%. That's either a lot of dead grandmothers or a lot of inconsiderate people.

                                                                1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                  most do a 24-48 hour window to allow cancellation without a charge. "last minute" does little to help the restaurant re-book with certainty. the restaurant doesn't care *why* you cancel, just when.

                                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                    I'm thinking that if a restaurant went to a mixed policy - 70% reservation and 30% walk in - late cancelations wouldn't be a problem. FWIW Opentable allows no-penalty cancelations up to 30 minutes before the booked time.

                                                                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                      i've worked in restaurants 20+ years. am well-versed in opentable. :)

                                                                      all this quibbling about reservations doesn't matter as the op's owners have made their decision.

                                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                        ehh the OP hasn't opened and did ask for opinions on the topic. better to spew now than for them to flail later.

                                                                        all I can really say to the OP is give it a shot, but don't sign a pre-nup to this deal, be willing to bend and wriggle. see what works.

                                                                2. re: masha

                                                                  not sure of the law in other states, but here in mass. we cannot charge a credit card for a no-show reservation. there needs to be a paper signature, like faxed or signed in-person, stating the guest agrees to the no-show charge. many places do this now on new year's eve and the charge is substantial.

                                                    2. one of our "hot new places" was a no reservation place...it now takes " limited reservations" and Monday reservation only. .. the first few months people lined up and waited. ..now people call and asked how long for a table and show up and wait at the bar sipping one of the "exclusive hip" cocktails while waiting

                                                      1. If you're going to have a no reservation restaurant, make sure you are very near a good pub or bar. That way they can have somewhere good to wait and then you can call them when their table is ready. Some places also have an arrangement where people waiting for the table get a discount at the pub/bar. I don't like no reservation places but having a drink in a nice place nearby sugars the pill quite a lot.

                                                        22 Replies
                                                        1. re: Paprikaboy

                                                          Why would the OP want to send customers to the competition?
                                                          He is specific about serving hip cocktails. If would make sense that he'd want those waiting for a table to be spending money in his bar.........................................

                                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                                            You're quite right of course. That would be a bit silly almost as silly as not reading a post properly and posting:)

                                                            1. re: bagelman01

                                                              It depends on if he has a bar at all (plenty of restaurants don't). If he has a bar it depends on how big it is and whether it's full. All of those are good reasons to send customers elsewhere to wait.

                                                              1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                sorry, I don't agree. It's never a good idea to send customers elsewhere to spend money on alcohol while waiting for a table at your restaurant that also serves alcohol.

                                                                They may get comfortable at the other bar/pub and spend the rest of the evening and their entertainment budget there.

                                                                They may fill up on booze and not want to come eat a meal at your restaurant.

                                                                They may have had more than 1 drink during that 90 minute wait and have the need to order food where they're waiting.

                                                                I grew up in the retail business, got my degree in management about 40 years ago, was in the food business as well. One NEVER sends customers elsewhere to spend money you want to capture. It's BAD business.

                                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                                  I would like to agree but in my experiences, the "sending someone to another place to wait" has been only when the restaurant with the wait does not have a bar (or maybe a very small, very full bar) and is usually too small to accommodate a waiting area (waiting outside in Maine in January gets a bit chilly) and the place nearby only has a bar with, at most, bar snacks for food.
                                                                  So the options for such a restaurant are:
                                                                  1. the customer can wait 25 minutes outside in the rain/cold (which would almost invariably lead to the lost customer) or...
                                                                  2. they can go across the street to "Joe's" (who you would have an arrangement with) for a cocktail - "...check in with the bartender and we'll call you when your table is ready" (or these day, we'll call you on your cell).
                                                                  I've done this a number of times and always returned for dinner. About 50 times more often, where such an accommodation did not exist, I ate somewhere else.

                                                                  1. re: bobbert

                                                                    doesn't sound like this new HIP no res is in the frozen northland of Maine.......................
                                                                    if they spent amazing design $$$$...........one would hope that the bar is large enough and there is waiting area as they planned a no res operation.

                                                                    Otherwise the fools and their money will soon be parted.

                                                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                                                      I agree with you there. I was talking in the most general terms where sending waiting customers elsewhere to wait works fairly well with small places with friendly, drink only options nearby (as in next door or across the street). In the OP's place, I don't think so.

                                                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                                                        canada has plenty of cold nights. :)

                                                                        this whole part is moot. the op's place DOES have a large bar.

                                                                      2. re: bobbert

                                                                        There's a terrifyingly popular Mexican place near my house that I go to pretty often because it's good. And it doesn't take reservations. So unless you stroll in at the exact moment a table or a couple of bar seats opens up, you are shit out of luck - the place is small, and standing around waiting means wedging yourself in among the seated diners, which is no fun for you or for them. So the host/ess takes my cell number, we go have a drink at the wine bar next door, and when space becomes available s/he calls us. Everybody wins: us, the terrifyingly popular Mexican place, and the wine bar. I don't know why anyone would not love this system.

                                                                        1. re: small h

                                                                          The description of the small Mexican place is far from what the OP descibes this new operation will be.

                                                                          Major Design $$$$$$$$$$$$$$
                                                                          Amazing chef
                                                                          HIP Trendy
                                                                          and>>>>>>>>>>>>the hiring of OP as a professional manager, but without experience in the no res model

                                                                          and as for your comment "I don't know why anyone would not love this system."
                                                                          If I was one of the backers who may have pout up hundreds of thousands of dollars, or the back who is on the hook for a major loan, I'd be damned if one cent of potential sales was sent elsewhere.

                                                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                                                            Yes, my local Mexican lacks a "large and fun bar area" (it does have a "small and fun bar area"). But given the choice between keeping your customers close by but ready to return, and driving them away entirely, wouldn't you choose the former? In other words, I'd rather send some of the potential sales elsewhere than all of them.

                                                                            PS: The OP's design costs $$, not $$$$$$$$$$$$$$. No need to exaggerate.

                                                                            1. re: small h

                                                                              yeah but that's in Canadian $$...

                                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                                Well if its CAD, then it would be $$ x 1.04. CAD traded through parity a long time ago. So my trips to Montreal to eat are much more expense in USD terms now.

                                                                              2. re: small h

                                                                                problems of sending from a device with a touchscreennnnnnn

                                                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                  Ah, modern technology. It takes me forever to send a text because the stupid smartphone keyboard has a mind of its own. And my fingers are pretty small. I can't imagine how irritating it must be for the larger-handed.

                                                                                  1. re: small h

                                                                                    not just larger hands, but I have spinal stenosis and my hands freeze intermittently. with the 2 hour edit window, even if I see a typo, I can't edit (unike Facebook)........

                                                                              3. re: bagelman01

                                                                                In NYC, its not at all uncommon for new restos that are launched by chefs breaking out from established places to not have a bar or a only miniscule one, so you give them your mobile number and go to a bar and wait as small h says. Ideal if they had their own bar, but you adapt to the situation. Some restos owners then open up their own nearby bar to capture the waiting diners, see Ssam Bar - Booker & Dax or Pok Pok NY - Whiskey Soda Lounge.

                                                                                1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                  we're not talking about NYC. OP is very far away from NYC.

                                                                      3. re: Paprikaboy

                                                                        Good point, PB.

                                                                        One of our local Indian restaurants gets very busy from time to time. They send you off to the pub on the other side of the road. In the days before mobile phones, they'd come and get you when your table was ready.

                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                          Harter's - heh one time in NYC we were on the waiting list at Boca Chica while having drinks around the corner, one of us had a ridiculous puffy orange down jacket - so every 15 minutes or so we'd trade coats and pop in to check, figuring the hostess would recognize the jacket more than any one of us.

                                                                          whoever it was on a given check-in was referred to as "oh yes, the club-kid jacket"

                                                                        2. re: Paprikaboy

                                                                          A wine bar in my neighborhood also allows you to order food from next door & the restaurant brings it over.

                                                                        3. I've always wondered if anyone else felt this way on a topic. It's not an issue for me to wait a few (10-15) minutes at peak time at a small place. But if it's going to be longer, then I either want a reservation or I'd like to be able to call ahead and put my name on the waiting list (and be given an approximate wait at that time so I can my arrival with a minimal wait).

                                                                          The places that make me crazy are the no reservation/no call-ahead spots. I get that it's hard to accurately time diners, but forcing me to stand around (and not always indoors, or in a bar - yes, I'm talking to you, Blue Door Pub...) just seems disrespectful of my time. And there are too many great places in my area (MSP) to waste time and money loitering. Sorry, but that's how I feel.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: latte4me

                                                                            this is a good point, in DC, Hank's Oyster in Dupont generally doesn't accept reservations but you can call ahead about 20 or 30 minutes and they'll give you a general idea. once some other (ahem, they arrived later) guys were seated ahead of us and w/o a word of complaint from us, mgmt booted them off the table and gave it to us. no hard feelings among all parties involved.

                                                                          2. Ultimately it's going to come down whether it works or not. If you've got people lined up on a nightly basis ready to wait, it obviously works. If you're hurting for business, then it doesn't, and you need to think of something else. You may also find that when it first opens up, people are willing to wait, but then business drops off later.

                                                                            Whether it works will depend on a lot of local variables, which are very hard for us to gauge here.

                                                                            - How appealing is the restaurant? Spending lots of money on design and hiring a great chef is no guarantee of success. It's also going to depend very strongly on location, price, what the competition is, the economics of your area (pricy meals tend to get sacrificed when times are tough), the menu and so on.

                                                                            - Is no reservation normal in your area? If so, for what type of restaurant? If everyone else takes reservations, and you don't, you'll likely be in trouble. If it's standard, than no-one is going to blink. You need to do your own research here - we can't help you.

                                                                            - How painful is the wait? Is there a comfortable place to wait, with seats, with the option of a drink and some nibbles, or do they have to wait out in the cold, or sit in their car, or stand in a crowded lobby. Is there stuff they can do while waiting within a 5 minute walk of the restaurant, or is the restaurant somewhere isolated.

                                                                            - How accurate an estimate can you give people, and how long is the wait? If you tell people 20 minutes, and it takes an hour, you're going to have an angry customer to placate, and no return business. If the wait is normally 2 hours, you're a lot less likely to get people to put up with it.

                                                                            There are two things that strike me for your particular case.

                                                                            One is that you say the style is shared plates. Is it possible to have a complete meal experience for a couple with this model, or is it more designed for a group? In the latter case, no reservations make it more difficult for your target audience to get in, because the larger the group the harder it is to get a spot.

                                                                            The other is that you say that what you are doing is 'the current trend" in your area. So that means you're going to be competing with a lot of people doing the same thing. If you're the best, that's one thing, but if you're in the middle of the pack it's going to be the little details that can make the difference between a packed restaurant and going out of business.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                              I don't think the reservation policy will have anything to do with the success or no for the resto. If all the right elements are there, the place will work regardless. The reservation policy will just affect the mix of people there. Those who don't want to wait won't and those who are willing to will come. Its like the threads about loud restos. Some people won't come but others are fine with them. Imagine if this place took reservations and was a smashing success so then the threads would be complaining about how no one can ever get a reservation and the local threads would be asking for tricks about how to get a reservation (e.g. dial at precisely 9:00 am 31 days in advance) and others would then say I never go anywhere that I have to work to that hard to get a reservation. The statement that people won't put up with two hour waits sounds like Yogi Berra saying no one goes there anymore, its too crowded. As I posted before, no reservation places tend to have a younger clientele and that maybe what the owners are aiming for. If the food is worth the wait, I don't mind waiting as long as there is a good bar inside or at least nearby.

                                                                            2. The quality of the room is the deciding factor for us, in the "no reservation" department. If the restaurant is good, either based on our personal experience or recommendations from trusted sources, we will wait. Though, if we are going to a white tablecloth room, we expect to make a reservation, and have it honored.

                                                                              I completely understand the no reservation system. If a room is small, occupied tables are the only way to provide a living for the owners and staff. Reservations have a way allowing a table to languish. I think you will be okay as long as you are not marketing a fine dining experience.

                                                                              Have you considered taking reservations for large parties only? Maybe 6-8? Cafe Chloe, here in San Diego does just that. It is a small place, and they fill a perfect "in between" niche. They have a devout local casual dinner following, but I know people also dine there for a special evening out. Their success is based on the excellent quality of their room.


                                                                              1. Pros:
                                                                                -won't have to answer reservation calls.
                                                                                -won't have to do call backs to confirm those reservations.
                                                                                -won't have to spend time figuring out if you can squeeze in their party of 2/3/4/5/6/7/8 on a very crowded weekend night.
                                                                                -won't have to listen to the unavoidable lines like 'I know the chef (which 8/10 times the chef will not remember such person) and 'We want the table by the window/door/bar/etc.
                                                                                -won't have to deal with no-shows.
                                                                                -won't have to deal with the 8:00 reservation showing up at 8:45 and then going ballistic when told their table was released after waiting the 15/20 minute grace period. Once in a while, you'll get the full monty when said ballistic group demands why YOU didn't call them to inquire if they were still coming. Yes, it happens.

                                                                                -won't have any idea if it's going to be a busy night or not which means you won't have the opportunity to schedule extra staff if you need it.
                                                                                -will be alienating a significant portion of diners who only dine with reservations.
                                                                                -will have to deal with a waitlist/sign-up sheet and the challenges of that setup, e.g. the party of 4 whose table is ready has wandered off and only come back after you've called their name repeatedly and have already moved on to the next name.

                                                                                My best advice would be draw up a set of rules and stick to them. You will be inevitably tempted to break your own rules, especially when dealing with extremely difficult guests (and they WILL show up at your door) because if you let them slide that one time, they will pull the same stunt the following week/month and argue that you allowed it the last time, why are you refusing it this time? And did you know they drove all the way from 'xxxx' and you've wasted their time and ruined their night?

                                                                                6 Replies
                                                                                1. re: prawn

                                                                                  "-won't have to listen to the unavoidable lines like 'I know the chef (which 8/10 times the chef will not remember such person) and 'We want the table by the window/door/bar/etc."

                                                                                  this will absolutely happen. ever see people jockeying in-line at a club, trying to curry favor with the doorman by dropping names? same deal.

                                                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                    Not the same deal. When they have you on the phone, it's a one-on-one situation and can get out of hand quickly. When there's a line and a crowd of people behind them, people tend to keep their dramatics to a minimum.

                                                                                    1. re: prawn

                                                                                      are you joking?

                                                                                      i have only worked in places that take reservations and we still got all sorts of "big shots in their own minds" claiming to know the owner, manager or chef, or to BE the owner, etc. i've had people use my name, swear they know me, and that i guaranteed them a table. they are yelling in my face and have never met me. nor i them. this is only trumped by the "do you know who i am?" gambit.

                                                                                      those with a misplaced sense of entitlement don't just use it on the phone. blowhards think they have more leverage in person.

                                                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                        Why would I be joking? I have worked in both situations, reservations only and no reservations allowed.

                                                                                        Being stuck on the phone with a blowhard demanding a 7:15 seating by the window because 'they know the chef' is 10000x worse. You cannot simply hang up on them regardless of their rudeness - you need to refuse with tact and that is often time consuming. You also need to be wary of those who get upset enough that they accept your alternative offer for an 8:30 seating but have no intention of showing up.

                                                                                        With a waitlist/sign-up sheet situation, there is little room for debate - yes, there's a waitlist and no, I cannot allow you to skip ahead. With a line of waiting people behind them, most blowhards tend to be much less brazen.

                                                                                        IMHO, your comparison of a restaurant/host(ess) and a nightclub/doorman are apples and oranges.

                                                                                        1. re: prawn

                                                                                          we can agree to disagree then. having had too many men decades my senior that are at least a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier badger me to be seated because they are so deserving, know so-and-so, ARE so-and-so, while at the same time lacking any sense of public etiquette, i mostly give up on hope for much of humanity.


                                                                                          am happy to be out of the biz.

                                                                                        2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                          blowhards give me such a heightened self-esteem as in: "WOW I've never done or WOULD even try something like that!"

                                                                                          sometimes they make my smug little day.

                                                                                  2. Reservations available for parties of 4 or more.
                                                                                    Call or text when their table is ready
                                                                                    Offer a different special bar menu
                                                                                    Start comping drinks if people are waiting more than 45min!

                                                                                    1. My husband and I own a restaurant in a vacation area and I think you will like the no-reservations system from a management point of view. We tell people who call for reservations that we're a "first-come, first served type of place" but if they have a party of 8 or more we appreciate the heads up and we try to accommodate them.

                                                                                      There are only a couple months out of the year when we are operating at maximum capacity and customers have to wait for a table. If your food is great they will tell you every time that it is worth the wait.

                                                                                      We lose a table now and then but chalk it up to being over capacity and hope they will return at a less busy time. We will never hold an empty table for someone (who may or may not show up) when we have people waiting at the door to be seated.

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: elegraph

                                                                                        wondering where you are and how long is the wait during high-season? are there lots of restaurants as options or are you one of the few games in town?

                                                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                          We are literally in the middle of nowhere, in the Hayward Lakes region of Northwest Wisconsin, 17 miles from the nearest town in any direction. There are several resorts with restaurants and other full-service restaurants in the area, including the flagship (original) Famous Dave's a few miles down the highway. During July and August the wait for a table might be 15 to 30 minutes.

                                                                                      2. There are only a handful of restaurants on this earth who are producing food that's worth waiting in line for an hour to buy; odds are that your restaurant is not one of them.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: cavandre

                                                                                          I think maybe there's a handful that you might be willing to wait for but where I live, they are quite common. Some of the best quality food at a lower price point is what you get if you are willing to wait.

                                                                                        2. This might seem a bit counter intuitive but the best systems from a business perspective are:

                                                                                          If you're a busy, getting slammed every night place, go with no reservations. If you're full all the time with people always waiting (whether for 10 minutes or an hour - it doesn't matter) why would you not want that?. Never an empty table waiting for the reservation. Less hassle with taking and keeping reservations and frankly, if you're full, you are not missing the people who do not eat at no reservation restaurants.

                                                                                          If you're not always full, then you take reservations. The "reservation" people are happy because their table is waiting for them and they patronize your place. The walk-ins still have a good chance to get in and get a table. You alienate no one and maximize your business. A win win.

                                                                                          7 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: bobbert

                                                                                            But it wouldn't matter if your second category did or didn't take reservations. Everyone gets seated because not enough people care to eat there since there are always seats. Success of a restaurant has nothing to do with the reservation policy. Potential customers will self select, but if its a popular place, you will either wait for a table or have a challenge getting a reservation. I like to think of a no reservation place as much more democratic allowing for spontaneous decisions. For example, if I wanted to go to Momofuku Ssam Bar tonight for dinner, all I need to do is show up and wait. On the other hand, if I decide to go to Eleven Madison, well I would be SOL.

                                                                                            1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                              I too am a no reservation person and think exactly as you do when deciding whether/where to go.
                                                                                              I was thinking more along the line of the posters who say the do not go to places that don't take reservations no matter if there's, say, even only a 20% chance of a wait - they'll never know if there's a 30 minute, 10, minute, or 0 minute wait because they're not even going to try. In my scenario, they have their reservation and they're happy and the no-res people probably get in as well.
                                                                                              I regularly go to very good no-reservation places, usually weekdays or off hours. I'm SOL at peak times on weekends. Also SOL at popular places that take reservations during busy times. Like you, it's the price I pay for the freedom of not being tied down. Oh yeah, there are rare times when I do make that reservation, usually with a group or a special occasion when I plan something that has to get locked down.

                                                                                              1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                my life and job are mostly flying by the seat of my pants and so i rarely make reservations, unless i am dining with more than 6. most often it's less than 4 and we are eating at off-times or in smaller ethnic places that don't take reservations anyway.

                                                                                                that being said... if i show up someplace at 5:30 or 9:30 and they say it's more than a 20-minute wait i will go elsewhere. luckily, i live in a city where the restaurant density allows that option.

                                                                                              2. re: Bkeats

                                                                                                "I like to think of a no reservation place as much more democratic ..."

                                                                                                It's pretty easy to make a reservation and anybody can do it. It's not just limited to the rich and powerful. Yes, reservations do put people who impulsively decided to pop in to a restaurant at a disadvantage to other people who decided where they wanted to eat in advance.

                                                                                                As a society we tend to give the edge to people who are willing to plan ahead. When we travel on business or go on vacation we reserve a hotel because we want to be sure we have a place to sleep. To get to that hotel we reserve airline tickets because we want to be sure we'll get where we're going on time.

                                                                                                If we go to a baseball game we buy tickets in advance if we want to be sure to get good seats. If we leave things to the last minute there's a good chance we'll be sitting in the far reaches of the upper deck.

                                                                                                No one ever says that hotel reservations or airline tickets or baseball games are undemocratic.

                                                                                                I don't think that no-res restaurants have anything to do with democracy. I think they're specifically intended to maximize a restaurant's profit. There's nothing wrong with that but it's not the same thing as democracy.

                                                                                                1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                                                  You think we all have the same chance of getting a reservation at 8:30 on any Saturday you choose at Minetta Tavern? If you can get one, then I'd say you're above the masses fighting to get in after 6 and before 10.

                                                                                                  1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                                    That's an exception to the way reservations work. We both know it. You're a long time New Yorker and so am I. Minetta is a McNally scene place where Friends of Keith get special treatment. In fact, Friends of Keith don't need reservations. He sets aside the best tables for them in case they decide to show up.

                                                                                                    For the other 99.5% of New York restaurants reservations work fine.

                                                                                                  2. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                                                    I do fundamentally agree with you (although you don't technically "reserve" your baseball tickets - you actually purchase those and so no one at the stadium really cares if you show up or not although they do lose out on selling you $10 beers). You do, however, touch on the problem inherent with some types of reservations which has been touched on by others above. Like the airlines, some restaurants overbook because of the number of no-shows. Like the airlines, because of this, you might not actually be sitting down at 8:00pm for your 8pm reservation. Maybe some people are camping out, maybe the restaurant planned poorly or maybe, because of no-shows, the restaurant overbooked by a few tables and this particular night, everyone showed up. To avoid this, restaurants that take reservations have had to resort to the confirmation phone call with the email and the text message and the "we need a credit card" where you're charged $xx if you don't show - all for just a dinner. I can't remember the last time the car I "reserved" was the type I ended up driving (btw, a classic Seinfeld). I do agree that the democracy analogy might be a stretch.

                                                                                              3. I think a lot of this depends on where you live. I almost never make reservations for dinner unless it's a special occasion and never end up waiting overlong for a table. In fact, most of the restaurants that do take reservations are full with walk-ins moreso than reservations. Culturally where I live, reservations are for large parties and special occasions or a time when you really need to be in/out by a certain time.