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La Ciccia "call back tonight or else" voicemail - crossing the line or appropriate?

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  • mikeh Feb 27, 2014 07:12 PM

This afternoon around 5 p.m., I received a voicemail from La Ciccia asking me to call back to confirm my reservation for tomorrow since I had previously canceled and/or no-showed a reservation there. If I didn't call back to confirm this evening, they would automatically cancel my reservation for tomorrow.

It's true that I once didn't honor a reservation there months ago. I was urgently called out of town on a business emergency. They never called me to confirm (and they don't usually call people to confirm), so I completely lost track of it with everything else going on. It's the only "no show" I've done in the past 10 years of frequent dining.

I'm torn as to whether this call I got from them is inappropriate. I understand restaurants operate on thin margins, especially small places, but it's still a buyer's market with thousands of restaurants to choose from. To give me an ultimatum voicemail the evening before with only a few hours to respond to keep my reservation is a bad first impression on what was supposed to be a special occasion meal. Also, what if I happened to be out of pocket today. If I were flying back from the East Coast, I would've completely missed the voicemail until it was too late to preserve my reservation from getting canceled.

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  1. It's the only "no show" I've done in the past 10 years of frequent dining.
    They have no knowledge of that time line. All they know is that you were a no show.
    Did you call to explain?
    I think they were justified to put you on the no fly list.

    3 Replies
    1. re: wolfe

      Do restaurants normally do this or do they let it slide in the name of customer service? Again, I have absolutely no comparison data points, but it's setting a negative tone on the experience before it even begins.

      They could've called yesterday or Tuesday like most places that have call back policies...

      1. re: mikeh

        I once made an OpenTable reservation that I honored but for some reason, the fact didn't get into the OT reservation system. (Probably a matter of an omission on part of the hostess.) The next day, I got an email message from OT asking if I had actually been a no-show and reminding me that if I had been and it happened again, they might kick me off of OT. I sent them the check number, check total, etc and the whole thing was resolved without a problem, but it kind of shows you that no-shows are a big deal in the restaurant business. They cost the restaurants money that may be significant for a place that does not have lavish margins.

        The worst case scenario is when a dining Neanderthal makes reservations at a bunch of places for the same time slot only to decide at the last minute where to go screwing all the other places. People who do that should be strung up.

        An analogy to that scenario would be the person who calls all the cab companies on a busy night to get a cab only to take the first one that shows up while screwing the other drivers who drove there for the pick-up. Rumor has it that if cab drivers from the different cab companies sense that it's the case, everyone will refuse to pick up the fare and the idiot will be left stranded.

        Bottom line: While you may not be one of the bad guys, the restaurant may not have a way of knowing that, so the restaurant putting you on probation is understandable in my opinion.

        1. re: mikeh

          "slide in the name of customer service'.
          A reservation is an agreement, they agree to hold a table, you agree to show up. Don't want the agreement then cancel the reservation or just do walk-in.

      2. I've had reservations at places that required me to confirm though I've NEVER no-showed.

        1. Last week we ate at Cotogna, Rich Table and AQ... all three restaurants called either the evening prior or the day of to re-confirm reservations, and for the few voicemails left, I got the distinct impression that the retainment of our tables was dependant on a call back to verify our pressence. It's a custom I haven't really experienced outside of San Francisco. Oddly, only Cotogna was packed.

          2 Replies
          1. re: OliverB

            I eat in restaurants all over the world and all the formal ones now almost invariably ask me for my cell phone number. So do the small informal ones if they are "hot" restaurants. I often get calls from some asking for confirmation, usually the same day. I feel pretty certain if I was more than 30 minutes late showing up my cell would ring.

            1. re: OliverB

              I've had restaurants in Toronto and Montreal call and re-confirm, same in Barcelona, Berlin, etc. I've come to expect it at all high end places that don't take a credit card and most of the mid range places on the weekend.

            2. Seems like a perfectly reasonable policy to me.

              I'm sure if you had been on a plane and called them when you arrived they'd have sorted it out.

              1. Dare I say, in the restaurant industry, those who don't call to cancel and no shows are no less then a "business emergency." Reasonable policy in my opinion.

                9 Replies
                1. re: oysterspearls

                  So now that I'm clearly behind the count with this place, should I expect a bad table/indifferent service or anything else out of the norm? Is it pretty much over between me and them (at least until I regain their good graces)?

                  1. re: mikeh

                    I don't think this is the kind of place that would hold a grudge as long as you don't repeat your past sins.

                    1. re: nocharge

                      Once at A16, the staff thought we showed up an hour late (OpenTable screwed me and put different times in the computer than my email), and our server was unbelievably snotty for our entire meal, correcting our pronunciations and trying to dissuade me from ordering dishes that I had already tried on previous visits. So you never know, I guess. (You know, I was very fond of that place until that incident, and I still have not been back -- even if I had been late, there is no excuse for overt rudeness on that level.)

                      Moreover, OpenTable sent me an email saying they were going to penalize me for no-showing for the reservation that was not in A16's computer. I told them what happened, showed them the various emails with conflicting times, and I didn't get penalized, but thanks to that experience, now I always call to confirm my reservation, even if the restaurant doesn't. I'm thankful when they call now.

                      1. re: dunstable

                        I've had that happen twice with Open Table and I even had the email with the right time. Luckily I just showed the email to the restaurants and they were cool with it.

                    2. re: mikeh

                      Servers will usually be unaware of any issues regarding a reservation.

                      1. re: mikeh

                        I don't understand this post. Did you call back to confirm your reservation and eat there or not? What happened?

                        Personally, if I had done what you did 3 months ago and felt the way you felt about getting the phone call then I would have called back and cancelled. If I still wanted to eat there, I would have called back and apologized for my previous lapse, explaining it was a family emergency. Actually, I think I wouldn't have reserved at La Ciccia again without bringing up the matter myself and apologizing. You seem to think La Ciccia should understand human things happen and overlook it. But aren't they allowed to be human as well?

                        I realize many people view eating in a restaurant as purely a business transaction, where the people eating are not "guests" but "buyers", but that is not the way I feel about it (which is one reason I go to places like La Ciccia. They make it personal.)

                        1. re: kmzed

                          Touché. I too wondered about this post. Summarizing bluntly: Customer stiffs a restaurant, then reserves again, gets a request for confirmation, and asks publicly whether the _restaurant_ behaved appropriately!

                          Certain customs exist for special-occasion restaurants, and this thread's responses demonstrate that many of us customers are aware of them.

                          Another food site a few years ago had two threads by diners who took offense at restaurant actions. One had no-showed at a very small, expensive, limited-seating restaurant, then was indignant that the owner called back for an explanation. The other secured near-impossible French Laundry reservations by claiming to be someone he was not; noticed a marginal chill in the service once this was discovered; and thought even that limited reaction was inappropriate enough to complain. So much for customers being always right. The restaurant-management training schools should collect such threads, as case studies, if they don't already.

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            The ask about appropriateness was not that they asked for confirmation, but a) bringing up that they were asking because of a previous no-show; and b) they would automatically cancel the reservation if I didn't call back that evening because I had previously no-showed.

                            The argument is that the correct approach from a "customer service" point of view is to do the confirmatory call without bringing up the no-show or threatening to cancel a reservation on such short order (but maybe call a day or two earlier and give a longer period of time to respond). It could have, in theory, put one in a very difficult situation if one happened to be out of pocket for just a few hours and this were a dinner with an important client or something.

                            1. re: mikeh

                              I suppose they didn't need to bring it up in that manner, but I can still see the restaurant's point of view. A lot of people don't understand that no-showing actually hurts the restaurant -- like, "what's the big deal, they can just give the table to someone else." It sounds like that little reminder wasn't necessary in your case, but generally speaking I can see how a brief lesson in reservation etiquette might be useful, from the restaurant's perspective.

                    3. If this mail was delivered in a pleasant tone, I consider it completely reasonable. There are a lot of people out there cancelling and no-showing a lot of reservations, I suspect, and they don't really know you from adam. In my book, this certainly does not cross the line - they're more than willing to have you dine there with a single extra phone call.

                      If they refused to accept a reservation after a single no-show, I would consider that a bit much, but still, it's their restaurant.

                      I believe I have never done a full-on no-show, but I will admit I've gotten, recently, a little more aggressive about making a reservation then cancelling 48 hours in advance. I also started to notice that getting on the waiting list works - the only way I was able to get a reasonable table at AC.

                      1. Actually, getting a call to confirm a previous reservation is a pretty nice touch, and keeps both restaurant and customer on the same page. If the tone of the message is nice, it is entirely reasonable. Also -- it could be a new policy that they are asking for confirmation calls from everyone. Roll with it, and enjoy your evening there.

                        1. reasonable. but I don't think tone matters 100% The person is probably calling 100 people. If you are at the end of the list there bound to sound tired and not enthused.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: daislander

                            Very good point about the tone.

                            1. re: Tripeler

                              'when they phone I want to hear joy in there voice when I tell them I coming..' lol right. Hopfully yes but probably no.

                            2. re: daislander

                              it's not the way I read the story. The restaurant specifically mentioned the reason they were asking for confirmation. The party reserving had failed to honor previous reservations. When I reserved at La Ciccia I didn't get a call the day before my dining date. I don't think they call everybody, unless it is a new policy.

                              Also, the poster made it sound like it was an "ultimatum" and resented the call period. Maybe someone else getting the exact same call would not have viewed it this way at all. Maybe there was nothing in the tone except what this recipient heard.

                            3. They probably should have used better wording. But, in their defense, you did no show and there is no way for them to no if your reason is legit. So what you said was true but people in retail get lied to every single day.

                              1. 1. I wouldn't count it against the restaurant. Probably partially because of online reservation systems, everyone assumes you need reservations for well known restaurants in SF. If the restaurant loses a reservation at the last minute, they may not be able to fill the space.

                                2. I also wouldn't feel guilty about your no show though. The reservation thing has gotten so out of hand in SF. You have to book way in advance, keep track of them, answer their calls/call them back etc. It's inevitable that confusions are going to arise over the 50 such transactions one does every year. Restaurants should understand that too.

                                1. Thanks for all the replies. To tie this off, we had an absolutely exquisite meal at La Ciccia last night n a warm and inviting atmosphere. Its reputation is well-deserved. The owner and waitstaff were top notch as well. They run a classy operation.

                                  I think the reality of dining out in the Bay Area puts pressure on everyone. For diners, the need to book good places (not just special occasion meals, but normal "end of week" meals as well) a month in advance when plans are apt to change. For restaurant owners, having to deal with the fallout of that. I think it's a unique difficulty that we face here. Even in NYC, aside from places like Per Se, there's such a volume of restaurants there that they don't have to deal with this problem as much as we do.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: mikeh

                                    San Francisco has the most restaurants per capita in the country. I eat out all the time and rarely make a reservation, though I normally do for La Ciccia.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      It's mostly a problem for people who don't live in SF, want to eat out at peak times on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights (e.g. 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.) and like to eat out at the mid-range to expensive places.

                                      I have really really great casual food places all around me, what I lack is exactly the type of restaurants that are always booked up Fridays and Saturdays in SF. And if you're coming in from outside SF, (I at least) don't feel like risking it/waiting it out without a reservation.

                                      Also, I think the per capita for SF is so small, that even with the high ratio considering all the people from the Bay Area pouring in at peak times to eat doesn't really make up for it.

                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                        Yes, I read that although the population of SF is about 800k there are over 2,000,000 people in town each day.

                                        1. re: Civil Bear

                                          That's way too high. The population increases by around 170,000 during weekdays due to commuting and on average there are about 130,000 visitors in the city on any given day.

                                    2. re: mikeh

                                      Thus my previously instigated thread of "where do you go on a friday when you want a decent meal and don't have a reservation"

                                      1. re: mikeh

                                        I don't think it's that hard to get a reservation in SF if you just do a couple of things, either book a month in advance or 48hr in advance when the cancellations come. Also not forgot to call the day or a day before and see if there is a table free. Personal interactions go a long way.

                                        Not to mention most places do take walk-ins especially if it's at the beginning or service or towards the end of the evening.

                                        I had a harder time getting reservations in NYC in advance and I did almost all them the same week I was there.

                                        1. re: mikeh

                                          Glad to hear that everything worked out to make for a happy experience in the end.

                                          I never go to restaurants where reservations way far in advance are needed. I just don't live that way or eat that way. (How should I know a month or two in advance what time I'm going to want to eat dinner and what I'll want to eat and how many people will be joining me?) La Ciccia is one of the few places I have ever made a reservation because it is almost impossible to find Sardinian food in the US and I happen to like it a lot. If it ever gets to the point where I have to set my alarm clock and use speed dial to make a reservation there I will (sadly) not go at all.

                                          I like to patronize somewhat under the radar places that reliably serve fresh, good food.

                                          1. re: mikeh

                                            As a NY'er who loved La Ciccia when last my wife and I visited SF, I'm glad it worked out and I think you hit the nail on the head with your analysis of the situation. I don't blame you for having some apprehension after getting that call, but I can't say I blame them for making the call and protecting their business either. As an aside, last night (Sunday), we got a call from a hot newish restaurant recently reviewed in the NYTimes, asking me if we intend to come tonite as per our reservation. They're relatively new and want to ensure that all their tables are taken (especially since they have folks waiting), but were uncertain given the forecast of snow for today. So they checked up on everyone. I get it and, although I'm not happy to get calls asking me to reconfirm, I think it was reasonable for them to do it. Hopefully, our meal tonite will be as good as yours was.

                                          2. If they already knew from the name that you had no showed once I can see why they called you and left the message.

                                            I've certainly had restaurants make it clear that if you didn't confirm the reservation, they would release the table. I've also known places that don't take reservations for people that have flaked.

                                            They aren't a large place and there is a good demand for the table and you have a negative history with them now.

                                            1. To me, its all in how its done.

                                              If they'd just called to confirm...OK

                                              That they said you'd been bad before...pointless and negative.

                                              While we're at it...

                                              If I make a rez on Open Table, please don't then call me and make me call back to confirm... send an email. By using OT, I've already told you how I want to contact you...on the internet. Don't waste both our times by making me use a frigging phone and wait till somebody picks up. And besides, the internet will find me in places the phone can't, so success is more likely.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: sal_acid

                                                Agreed. Having to make contact during business/restaurant hours can actually be a pretty big burden.

                                                I get for some keeping track of reservations, making phone calls during the day etc. etc. every week or so isn't a big deal - but considering the amount of logistical stuff I have to do in a day. There's a reason I made that table res at 1 a.m. on Open Table . .

                                                1. re: sal_acid

                                                  I agree it's annoying but some people make reservations and don't show up.

                                                  1. re: Ridge

                                                    agreed

                                                    I'm in business and I have this sort of problem every day

                                                    even if it pisses you off, you don't want to anger the good people to "get" the one bad guy. anger 5 to get the 1? no thanks

                                                    an angry customer tells a dozen others that you suck

                                                    the math doesn't work.

                                                2. I guess everywhere should just do what Rich Table and Commis are doing up there already, which is force you to put in a credit card to make a reservation, and if you don't cancel a week ahead of time, they charge you $50 per person for the no show.

                                                  Seems kind of wild, but I suppose it solves a lot of problems.

                                                  It's better than Trois Mec's LA solution of selling non-refundable tickets I suppose.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                    Crenn has a 48 hour cancellation policy, I don't know what the charge is if you miss. Manresa has a 24 hours cancellation with $100 per person forfeit. All seems reasonable for places of that size and bill.

                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                      24, or 48 hours make sense.

                                                      A full week in advance seems kind of crazy to me honestly. A lot can happen in a week. A lot can happen in 48/24 hours, too, but not as much as a week.

                                                    2. re: BacoMan

                                                      Commis requires one week notice only for parties of more than four and holidays, otherwise it's 48 hours.

                                                    3. I keep trying not to respond to this; I've failed.

                                                      Put yourself in the place of the restaurant. They know nothing of your 10-year history of showing up when you say you will. They only know that the last time you said you'd be there, you weren't. So they asked you to confirm.

                                                      Why the drama?

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: miss louella

                                                        Its all in how its done.

                                                        Call to confirm?...fine.

                                                        Call and leave a lecture on the machine (as this place did) ?...unnecessary

                                                      2. They were completely within their rights. You should have called the first time and not expected them to call you to confirm.