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Is this a legit gripe - asking for seating

The following is a gripe in the form of a question - much like jeopoardy answers must be in the form of a question.

My parents came to town last week to celebrate my 30th birthday. A month prior, they made a reservation online at one of our favorite restaurants in the city, requesting a table in a specific area of the restaurant. Upon arriving at the restaurant, the hostess informed us that a table in the area we requested wouldn’t be available for another 30 minutes. We mentioned that our request was made over a month prior, but she didn’t even offer an apology. Not seeing a way to rectify the situation, we didn’t ask for a manager; we sat in another area of the restaurant, and luckily our waiter more than saved the evening. That being said, is there anything we should/could have done differently? Called the restaurant beforehand to follow up? I know your maxim is to speak up early, but short of kicking folks out of their table, I didn’t really see a way for a manager to rectify a situation like this.

Why does the person think the restaurant must grant their request, regardless of when it was made?

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  1. Here's the response by Washington Post's critic:

    In writing, if there's a point an author wants to make, he tends to repeat it. Same thing applies to diners. If there's a request you have -- for a specific table or server or dish -- make it early and restate it.

    A *good* restaurant shouldn't make you do that, of course, but details sometimes fall through the cracks. Had I been you, I would have followed up your parents' online request with a call to the restaurant the day of the dinner and asked to speak with a manager.

    At the very least, the restaurant should have apologized for the oversight. But it sounds like the evening was a success, thanks to your server?
    This suggests the OP has a legit gripe. I don't think a restaurant has to honor a request. The OP ask for a reservation and they got one. The OP was unhappy because they didn't get the table they want, and that almost ruined the evening?! Is this just another narcissistic millennial?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Worldwide Diner

      It's hard for a restaurant to guarantee a table in a specific area at a specific time given that the guests with reservations in the earlier slot may linger longer than the restaurant anticipates.

      Having to wait 30 minutes for a specific table - while inconvenient - is not unacceptable.

      I've found the only way to truly guarantee a specific table at an appointed time is to pay for it. Separately from the food.

      1. re: Worldwide Diner

        The hostess should have apologized to you and offered another table or seats in the bar where you could wait. I don't think 30 minutes is too long to wait for what I assume is one of the more desirable tables in the restaurant.

        (By the way, I've known Tom Sietsema for decades, our families grew up across the street from one another. I have not seen him in many years, but I talked to his mom a couple years ago.)

      2. I can't imagine that most restaurants can hold to a promise of a specific table (at a specific time). Not unless it was for the first seating of the night, right at opening.

        1. What is calling three hours prior to a dinner reservation to confirm time and seating when made thirty days in advance.Still might have to wait a little.

          1. WW Diner,
            I'm with you. I think if you make a specific request and you are not notified that it can't be honored, it's reasonable to expect you'll get the table you want at the time you reserved -- parTICularly when you made the reservation a month ahead of time.

            This assumes, of course, that your parents left a phone number where they could be reached. Did they actually talk to someone when making the reservation, or did they leave a message? Either way, though, really, someone should have notified them well in advance if their special request couldn't be met. OTOH, a call the day of couldn't have hurt!

            I know I have favorite restaurants where the table location can make a huge difference in the overall experience. Glad your server saved the day.

            1. I know many restaurants that routinely run 30 mins behind a reservation time. Sometimes they do it to encourage a pre-dinner trip to the bar, sometimes just sheer greed jaming in as many people as they can. So for me the issue of the 30 min wait wouldn't have been that substantial of an inconvience to me, if that table meant that much.

              1. That wasn't my gripe. I was reposting the question from a chat....

                I should've made that clear...

                1. Answer>>>>>>>>>>>.

                  Why, if you wanted a specific seating area, wans't the reservation made for the earliest reservable time?

                  Anything after that you are subject to the vacating schedule of earlier diners.

                  1. I regularly get pissed off by seating arrangements. I feel that, in the general way of things, if you've made a reservation, possibly several weeks in advance, a couple of things should happen.

                    Firstly, your table should be ready at the appointed time. To be fair, it almost invariably is.

                    And, second, in recognition of the commitment you've given to the restaurant, the least they can do is give you a good table. And it is in this that I have a regular gripe - even with Michelin starred restaurants. Now, OK, I didnt get the actual worst table in the room - the one next to the toilets. But, I did get the second worst - the one next to the pass and servers station, where, all evening, they clattered about with cutlery and crockery, banging itno chairs s they took just about every dish from the pass and, when they were not doing that, they just idled about in the vicinity chatting about last night's football, the next night's girlfriend, etc. The room was packed so there was no point in asking to be moved but I later asked the restaurant manager about the policy. He mumbled and muttered and, basically, shrugged his shoulders at my comment. No, I won;t be back in spite of the very decent food.


                    10 Replies
                    1. re: Harters

                      I would have never put up with that. There's no reason to.

                      When you first walked in, and you were given the table you KNEW you wouldn't like, why did you continue to sit there?
                      Calmly, quietly and with commitment hand somebody of your choice, who you know will make the difference, a 20 or whatever you feel fits and you'll get what you want. If a person can afford to go out to dinner/lunch/breakfast they certainly can afford to play the game.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        The issue isnt whether or not I should have put up with it. The issue is the restaurant's table allocation policy.

                        1. re: Harters

                          The restaurant's table allocation policy (what policy?) has nothing to do with what I'm referring to.
                          My suggestion transcends even the most strict of policies.
                          I stand with my response…

                          If a person goes into a restaurant and wants what they want then 'policies' really aren't an issue.

                          1. re: latindancer

                            Oh, OK.

                            I thought you were responding to the point I'd made about table allocation policy, rather than just making a point of your own. Apologies for the confusion.

                            1. re: Harters

                              But what "policy" is that? Someone has to sit there. Why shouldn't it be you? Lots of people make reservations who don't show up. Should they hold a prime table in the middle of the room just for you, betting on the probablility that you will arrive? If so, for how long? What if 85-90% of their tables are reserved? Should they hold all these tables empty while keeping others standing in the bar, a practice many others loathe?

                              Talking about Table Allocation Policy makes it sound as if there is a list of bullet points and somewhere near the bottom it says "If Harters calls for a table, F*** 'im, put 'im near the Dish Pit."

                              1. re: acgold7

                                That "policy" is the one by which every restaurant in the world works out where it is going to seat people who have made a reservation. That is why, when you walk in to many restaurants, having made a reservation, there is a little "reserved" sign on the table.

                                You are also asking if they should hold a prime table in for someone who has reserved, in place of holding a shit table for them. Damn right they should - and the vast majority of places manage to do just that. Which is why it particularly pisses me off when a place doesnt.

                                1. re: acgold7

                                  Maybe not in the US but many restaurants have table pre-allocation systems. In order of table quality it goes something like this : minor celebrities, PR invitees and journalists, friends of the house, regulars, locals, local tourists, foreign tourists, people with children, and finally single diners.

                                  Then when you arrive they add another layer: good looking, fashionable, and the chic and expensively dressed. And that is why I am always at the back by the toilets....!

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    Very good points including that about being nicely dressed. As for the categories of priority, you might be missing restaurant industry people who might would go in somewhere between the categories you mentioned.

                        2. re: Harters

                          John - I am getting curmudgeonly in my old age.

                          If I don't like the table I am being allocated (and there are spares) I simple relocate myself - the wait staff tend not to like this at all - and who knows what revenge they have wreaked. I have yet to be thrown out of a restaurant but it will eventually happen. But

                          I usually book far in advance and so there is no reason for a bad table - the worst example I had was when I booked before they opened (we were passing and popped our head around the door) for a month after they opened and still got the worst table next to the bar with drinkers waiting for their tables on a Friday night.

                          1. re: PhilD


                            I suppose they just can't be arsed to do a better allocation. Wouldnt happen like that if it was my gaff - someone books early, they get a good table. Maybe not the best table, that'll be for Mr Bloggs who comes every Thursday and is a big tipper. But not a shit table - that'd be for the walk-ins. Not that Galvin La Chapelle could have taken a walk-in that evening.

                        3. Online requests aren't enough. They don't know you.

                          I've made the request, on a few occasions, and gone in a few days prior and handed, either the hostess that I know or the manager, a big tip that I find appropriate for the type of restaurant. A handing of the tip and a personal encounter guarantees you get what you want.
                          If it's that important to you next time I suggest you do the same thing.
                          It's remarkable what a little 'greasing' will do…every single time 'my' table is sitting waiting for me.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: latindancer

                            "A handing of the tip and a personal encounter guarantees you get what you want."

                            ONLY when the person you tipped in advance is on duty the night you dine, or better yet: still employed by the establishment.

                            Years ago, my brother did what you suggest for a very important client dinner at a top NYC restaurant. Two days later, he and the client arrived and were shown to a table in 'Siberia." When my brother complained to the Manager and mentioned he had come in person to see XXX two days earlier and tipped lavishly for location, he was simply told: XXX doesn't work here anymore.

                            That was the last time an advance tip was rendered.

                            1. re: bagelman01

                              I understand what you're saying and, of course, it's a logical deduction.
                              The restaurants where I've used this are, for the most part, restaurants where people are familiar with me.
                              Having said that though…
                              In places where I don't normally dine and I've asked and
                              I've been told the person I'm giving the tip to isn't going to be there I'll simply tell them to leave notice with whomever is on when I want the table and they'll also get tipped.
                              It's never been an issue once I set this in motion and, in fact, the service I get when I dine is above and beyond
                              what is expected. I think it's because they now think (because word gets around) I'm a big tipper, which I tend to be.
                              Everyone wins.

                            2. re: latindancer

                              When does tipping become a sort of bribery?

                              I understand the concept of tipping in the US to recognise good service but needing to tip before your meal to get the basics (like your choice of table) seems to take it too far.

                              I am also not certain "everyone wins" . Its sounds like tipping is becoming an like an arms race in the US, with 15 to 20% being table stakes to get basic service and that you need to pay north of this and be a "good tipper" to get good service - like your choice of table.

                              It seems to me that the tip percentage will just go up and up for the basics of good service. The server definitely wins by getting an increasing percentage of the spend (for the same service delivery), the high tipping diner wins because they get the good service.

                              But don't the majority of diners eventually lose because if tip inflation means the percentages keep climbing they have no choice but to pay up or be criticised as tight wads.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                My thoughts exactly regarding the comment that 'everyone wins'. Yes, the tippee wins because they just bought themselves a table, the staff wins, because they get extra money for giving someone preferential treatment, but pretty much everyone else loses.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  <When does tipping become a sort of bribery?>

                                  When did I ever say it wasn't bribery? Of course it is.
                                  This entire thread began because the OP didn't get what was asked for, online.
                                  I don't sit around and ask 'why' when something doesn't go the way I want it.
                                  There are certain games we all play (IF we really want to get what we want and not continue to bitch about it).
                                  I want my car brought to me from valet in a reasonable amount of time so I don't have to stand there and wait? I tip big…
                                  I want a certain table in a restaurant? I make sure I get it…taking a stab at it online isn't, most likely, going to get me that table. is there anything else I could have done without tipping? Please let me know.
                                  You can certainly go into detail about what tipping does/doesn't do (who cares at this point it's the norm) but I'm, in the meantime, sitting without the table I want without tipping.
                                  I'll stick with my way.

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    <When does tipping become a sort of bribery?>

                                    Tipping has always been bribery. Always will be. No one has ever said it was anything but. That's why the amounts are variable, more for good service and less (or none) for poor service. That's the entire point.

                                    Look up the etymology.

                                    I'm not saying this is good or bad, just the way it is.

                                    1. re: acgold7

                                      I think there is a subtle but important difference. A tip is incentive pay based on the work performed, do a better job and earn more. A bribe is a pre-payment (or promise of a payment) for a service that is already someone's job and is required in order to receive that service they are meant to provide.

                                      I like latindancer's response as it is so honest. But I do still feel it has unintentional consequences of pushing up costs for everyone, where every service has a price and the performance of a normal component of a service requires a prepayment.

                                      Research on tipping always proves that it doesn't really affect service quality. Most interactions are one offs and as the tip is after the event the server needs to deliver good service without a guaranteed payoff....so they need to assume everyone tips well and serve accordingly. Now prepaying service changes that equilibrium and if it becomes common it will inflate the cost of service for all and again probably won't change the service outcome.

                                      It's interesting to reflect that the (percentage) size of tips seems to be rising, and the base food costs are rising so the servers take is also rising at a disproportionate rate. I wonder if it will eventually depress demand as dining becomes more and more expensive relative to diners income (I know the reputation the US had for cheap meals has disappeared and we Europeans now find restaurants in the US expensive).

                                2. What is .... go to the bar and catch up with your parents and have a birthday drink. 30 minutes isn't worth getting panties in a wad about if table location is THAT importnst.

                                  1. I would have called earlier to confirm. However, I think the restaurant did a good job on honoring the request.

                                    Assuming they were willing to give you the next table in this section I think they were more than accomodating.

                                    Unless you are asking for a table during the first turn of the tables, there really isn't much else the restaurant could do

                                    1. If it was a really high end restaurant and I'm not a regular diner there, then I probably would not expect my online request to be honored over the preferences of regular big spenders. But, if it is my favorite restaurant where I dine frequently and they know me, then yes, I would expect my advance request to be honored, particularly for a special celebratory meal, and I would be piqued if it was not.

                                      This reminds me: we were once dining in an extremely popular restaurant in Montreal, where advance reservations are pretty much necessary. A couple entered and were seated wayyyyy in the back. A few minutes after they entered, I saw them exit. They then argued in the front of the restaurant (it was summer and the big patio windows in the front were open). The woman then hopped over the potted plants in front of the restaurant and over the windowsill and sat herself down at an empty prime table for two in front of the window. The man followed. Not two minutes later, they were firmly ushered out!

                                      1. While I don't think a restaurant can be held to giving you a specific table, and apology would have been professional.

                                        A couple years ago, I made reservations at a popular restaurant. I made it a month in advance knowing it booked up.
                                        We were seated right away, but at about the worst table! The table was situated right in the line of the most foot traffic, and I was not a happy camper.
                                        After a minute, I looked at my DH and told him I was going to complain, but just as I got up, a server came over and offered to move us to a much better table.

                                        If we were walk ins, I'd have taken the table, but a month in advance? No.

                                        1. Honestly, I think it's reasonable to expect A table to be open within 15 minutes of your reservation, but a SPECIFIC table - only one or two within the restaurant - is just asking too much. It doesn't have to do with how early you made the reservation. As you mentioned, short of kicking people out of THE table, there's nothing the restaurant can do about it.

                                          They COULD have, and should have, let you know at the time of making that reservation, "We will do everything we can to have that specific table available at the time you arrive, but we can't guarantee it. There may be a wait when you arrive. I hope you'll understand if that's the case."

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: EarlyBird

                                            Doesn't it depend on how many tmes a place turns their tables? If they only do one or two sittings it is a reasonable requests, if they do six turns it is unlikely.

                                            1. re: PhilD

                                              Yes, how frequently a night they turn their tables, how many tables they have in total, how many of "the" desired table they have, all should come into play when promising a customer a specific table.