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How Long Is Enough to Wait for a Reservation?

We had an 8.30 reservation at a popular restaurant and arrived quite early (8.10--no traffic!), told the host we were there and went to the bar. At 8.30, I checked with her and was told the table was just signing its check. At 8.45, I cruised the tables and the table closest to finishing had just begun its dessert course.
She had just made up a story to fob me off.
I wonder, why do restaurants tell you the impossible just because it's easier than apologizing for keeping you waiting? For that matter, how much of a delay should be tolerated for a firm reservation time?

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  1. its really up to the patron, how much you want to eat there, convenient options, etc.

    Most restaurants know that if it is within 30-45 minutes most people wont leave.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DukeFan

      <<<<Most restaurants know that if it is within 30-45 minutes most people wont leave.>>>>

      I find that hard to believe. Most people want leave in 30-45 minutes? Wow!

    2. Unless there aren't any other options in the area or we are with others, 15 min tops. I have little patience.

      12 Replies
      1. re: viperlush

        Yup. Most restaurants will give away your table after 15 minutes if you are late for a reservation. I don't see any reason to cut them more slack than they would cut me, especially if in a situation like the OP to verify that there does not appear to be any table that is actually wrapping up its meal.

        1. re: masha

          But there is asymmetric risk/benefit to your approach. If you are late by more than 15 minutes and the resto gives your table to someone else, it means that the place is quite busy and there are obviously people waiting for tables. So there is no loss of business to them. If on the other hand you arrive on time and the table isn't ready in 15 minutes and you decide to leave, it will probably cost you more than another 15 minutes to leave, go to another place and wait for a table there (since you won't have a reservation) or if you arrive at a place without any waiting time, its probably because its not as good as the original destination. It could take another 30 minutes before you have dinner at the next place. You don't actually benefit from your decision to leave. In the meantime, someone who was without a reservation that was waiting gets your table. Asymmetric results from the decision.

          Now if its clear from a look at the dining room that there is no way that anyone is close to finishing, maybe you can come to a conclusion that its wiser to leave, but using a fixed 15 minute limit doesn't actually result in any benefit to you, IMO.

          1. re: Bkeats

            The benefit to me is not standing around waiting for the table that I reserved. And by leaving I'm choosing to spend my money elsewhere. I usually have a granola bar in my pocket so I won't starve.

            1. re: viperlush

              But that's just some psychic benefit. It didn't really cost the restaurant anything. Sure you make the decision that you won't go back, but there are others waiting so the restaurant will be fine. I'm not defending any restaurant's practice of overbooking or mishandling reservations, but if tables are late because people are lingering, reservations may be late. You're faced with a Hobson's choice. Do you wait or not? Not waiting may give you the satisfaction of saying to yourself "serve's them right for not honoring my reservation" but it costs them nothing. Just pointing out the dilemma in game theory that the diner faces.

              1. re: Bkeats

                I think viper's point (correct me if I'm wrong) has nothing to do with somehow sticking it to the restaurant. It's a choice I'd be making for my own sake, because at a certain point I'm so annoyed that I would be happier just leaving. So the benefit is my own. It's not a choice made specifically to spite the restaurant. So it doesn't matter whether or not it costs the restaurant anything -that's not part of the consideration.

                1. re: sharebear

                  Exactly. When making reservations at a restaurant I'm not considering benefits or costs for the restaurant. And when I leave because they are unable to honor my reservation time I'm not considering costs or benefits for the restaurant. Unless I'm not the decision maker, I'd just rather save the money and try again somewhere else, go home, or forgo the meal.

            2. re: Bkeats

              If I know that I could not be seated elsewhere in less time than I will have to wait, yes, I may stay, but I will be frosted. But it does not always occur that way; for example:

              A few years ago we were on vacation in a small city known for its food. In our planning, we had narrowed this particular dinner down to 2 restaurants, located within one block of each other -- similar menus, similar reputations for good food. One took reservations and one did not. We selected the restaurant that took reservations precisely because we do not like to wait for a table. We arrived and our table was not ready; we were told that it would be ready in about 10 minutes. The restaurant was small, with no bar; we could see the entire dining area. After 10 minutes, it was obvious that no table was about to wrap up. We sent a member of our group down the block to see what the wait was there. He called back to say that there was no wait at all. The rest of our party left for the other restaurant.

              1. re: masha

                Ah, but you were able do the second part of my observation. You determined that there was viable alternative to the indeterminate waiting time. You had a true choice. If your friend said that the wait was an hour+ at the other spot instead, what would you have done?

                1. re: Bkeats

                  Might have sent him across the street to check out another option. As I said, it was in a city that has a lot of good restaurants. Even if we had to wait somewhere else, we might have found a restaurant with a bar, where we could sit and eat some apps in the meantime.

                  Had we been in our home city, we might have left for home and opened a can of tuna fish. As I said, we hate to wait for tables and typically only go to restaurants that take reservations. So, if a restaurant fails to deliver within a reasonable time, we have no qualms just leaving.

                2. re: masha

                  That's exactly what I would have done. I am generally eating in an area with lots of options so it isn't worth my while to wait excessively (more than about 15 minutes).

                  1. re: tcamp

                    If I am going to buy a drink and apps at the bar, I'd rather do it at a restaurant that's not stood me up on my reservation. If the original restaurant has the good sense to offer a comp, then I 'll stay (although, as I mentioned in the particular instance that I mentioned here, there was no bar so not really an option for the original restaurant).

                3. re: Bkeats

                  Also I would add that the length of the waiting time is not necessarily proportional to the quality of the food at the establishment.

            3. In my opinion, it may depend on the size of the restaurant. If I have a reservation, I would normally expect to get seated within 10-15 minutes of the reservation slot, but preferably pretty much right away. One thing to keep in mind is the size of the restaurant. A small place may have limited flexibility and may fall victim to parties that linger at their tables longer than expected. For a larger place with a higher seating capability, I would be far less patient.

              But generally speaking, I think anything beyond a 10-15 wait would reflect extremely negatively on the the restaurant and even 10-15 minutes would seem completely unacceptable if we are talking real high-end places. The most expensive restaurant in San Francisco only does one seating per table per night, so no excuse whatsoever to keep you waiting if you show up with the entire party on time.

              1. You never told us when you actually were seated? The time you arrived prior to your reservation is irrelevant, but when did you actually sit?

                3 Replies
                1. re: jrvedivici

                  We ended up being seated not long after the manager arrived. The table we were put at was technically not in the restaurant but in an adjacent area that served as a retail shop. It was next to the entrance to the restrooms and beneath the stairs that led up to the entertainment venue. As my question suggests, the real problem for me was the hostess's unreliable assurances that our table was just being vacated at 8.30 when, in fact, no restaurant table was done with its dinner at 8.45.

                  1. re: huguccio

                    Well to answer your original question I'm pretty good with having to wait up to 30mins even with reservations. I've been in the business my entire life so I understand the difficulties with trying to manage a full restaurant and reservation book. People's eating habits are difficult to forecast, although you saw a table at 8:45 just on desert, you don't know if they finished dinner at 8:20 then asked for a few minutes to digest before ordering desert? There are any number of reasons people sit longer than expected, personally I wouldn't have been too upset.

                    Based on what you are saying now it seems you were seated at a table other than the desert one, so perhaps there was other tables near being ready that you didn't see when you made your walk through? More importantly was the meal worth the wait?!?!?!?!

                    1. re: jrvedivici

                      The table was tucked away under stairs leading to the music venue and sat at the entrance to the bathroom area. The restaurant also runs a shop adjacent to it and there are a couple of tables in that space. This was one of them. I suspect that this was never to be our table and was offered to resolve a problem. My issue, other than the 15-20 minute delay in seating, was the hostess's reassurances at 8.30, the reserved time, that our table was signing its check. Fifteen minutes later, the table closest to leaving was starting its dessert course.
                      The food was fine, but since we were going upstairs for the music, it was rushed. In part that was my fault, since I had presumed wrongly that the music would occur in the restaurant space.

                2. Assuming I've arrived at the appointed time, then I expect my table to be ready for me. And, in the vast majority of cases, it is. Maybe once a year, there's a delay where we might be asked if we'd like an aperitif in the bar or just wait. It's never been more than a few minutes.

                  If I was the OP, I'd be annoyed at being lied to by a member of staff. It is not what you want when you're intent on a nice evening.

                  1. My experience with having made reservations has been, I was seated immediately or with in 5 minutes. 10-15 minutes would be absolutely be my limit. After that, they would be made aware of my.. displeasure, and I'm out of there.

                      1. As long as it would not be acceptable for the restaurant to cancel your reservation for being late.

                        That said, based on years of responses to questions of this sort on these boards, I know I am far from alone in applying the perennial 20-minute rule for waiting before considering plans for social engagement have been broken and no longer bind (a particularly handy rule back in the Old Days before Mobile Phones....).

                        1. At 8:45 I'd be walking out the door. I'd have reached my tolerance limit.

                          As to the hostess being a liar, that's the way management trained her, she probably isn't smart enough to lie on her own.

                          BUT>>>what were you doing cruising the tables and inspecting where diners were in their meals?????????????????
                          That's way too intrusive and out of line. If I was one of the diners and saw you checking out my dining progress, I would have told you to get the F away and mind your own business. Then I would have called the manager and asked that you be put on the street.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: bagelman01

                            I think someone walking past your table is not intrusive. I wasn't lurking or taking notes. You see what is in front of you.

                            1. re: huguccio

                              Obviously we disagree.
                              You were not seated at a table in the dining room. You were not being led to a table by the hostess, you had NO business in the dining room until your table was ready. You were an intruder, your mere presence was by definition intrusive.

                              Unless this was a TINY dining room, for you to have determined the stages of every diner's meal to pronounce that "the table closest to finishing had just begun its dessert course." you were behaving as a stalker.

                              The hostess lied to you, your table wasn't ready on time...walk out, don't go back, post a bad review on YELP, BUT to inspect the dining progress of a every patron to make the above statement is way out of line, OR maybe you like the hostess aren't telling the truth.

                              There's no way that you could know that "the table closest to finishing had just begun its dessert course." Perhaps a given table wasn't having a desert course.....
                              It sounds like you were annoyed your table wasn't ready and are embellishing the story.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                Ay yi yi. "Stalker?" "Intruder?" :(

                                In a long delay, I'd certainly have headed to the ladies' room to get a better view of what was going on in the dining room. A quick glance around on the way to and fro would give me plenty of info. I think that most adults can guesstimate what stage a table of diners is at in their meal, from behavior cues and table props.

                                1. re: DuchessNukem

                                  This. I would have done the ladies' room/scope out the situation walk too. I'll wait up to 20 minutes for a table I reserved, but then annoyance will set in. Without a reservation is a different story, probably up to an hour at a good place but no more.

                                  1. re: Kat

                                    The OP 'cruised' the tables 15 minutes after the reservation time. For the OP to know which table was at which stage of their meal with certainty is much more than a qucik ladies' room run.

                                    OP's choice of word>>>CRUISE, a leisurely trip, not a quick recon.

                                    This contradicts your and DuchessNukem's ideas..Duchess mentions a quick glance

                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                      Bagelman, how long does it take you to glance at a table and see that they are eating dessert? Two seconds? Three?

                                      1. re: LeoLioness

                                        Leo...the question is how many tables did OP have to cruise by?
                                        2 second time 15 tables is one thing, but in a large restaurant that could have 50+ tables....................

                                      2. re: bagelman01

                                        Oh Bagelman, I'm not sure what you understand the word "cruise" means, but try this: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictio....
                                        My problem was, why 15 minutes after being assured a table was on the verge of vacating, my party of four was still standing against the wall waiting. I could have walked out, yes, but I chose to walk the area where tables large enough to accommodate us were located because I wanted to verify what seemed obvious--the hostess was just stalling us.
                                        Trust me, though I doubt you will, there was nothing intrusive about walking normally through a single aisle separating booths and tables. You make it sound like such a passage is akin to sticking your head in the confessional to eaves drop.

                                  2. re: bagelman01

                                    In what dictionary does the definition of "intrusion" include "mere presence"?

                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                      The section with tables for four or more has about 10 places. The walk, though I used the word "cruise," was a normal walking pace. This restaurant, though popular and pricey, is noisy and informal. I was not staring at tables, making calculations about how fast they were going to finish. All I wanted to ascertain was whether anyone was at the check paying point.

                                2. It depends. If there is a comfortable waiting area, then I'll give them 15-20 minutes before complaining and expecting an explanation, apology and/or a complimentary perk...a drink, glass of wine or something. If there's nowhere to comfortably sit and wait, I expect to be seated within 5-10 minutes of the reservation time. In no event will I ever wait more than 30 minutes without a satisfactory explanation of a very extenuating circumstance and a sincere apology.

                                  1. It really depends. I understand that people can camp out at tables and really stretch out a dinner, and that messes with the tables for the rest of the night.

                                    I've also been in situations where the host screwed up and gave away a table to walk-ins. That's usually enough to promt me to leave if I'm hungry and/or the bar is too crowded to sit comfortably.

                                    Sometimes it's really a rock-in-a-hard-place situation. I live in an area with a pretty high concentration of restaurants, but if I leave at 8 on a Saturday night, my choices are usually either a sub shop or waiting somewhere else (or getting on the subway or getting a cab and hoping for the best in another neighborhood)...I often have to weigh my annoyance at not having my reservation honored versus wanting to eat within the hour.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: LeoLioness

                                      I can forgive a restaurant that on occasion keeps guests waiting beyond their reservation time. If it occurs regularly, it's usually an indication of overbooking and/or poor management. I try to avoid these places.

                                      1. re: josephnl

                                        I can't begrudge a place for trying to maximize their capacity. If its a place I like and want to go to, but know their practice is over booking, I would make my reservation a half hour earlier than what I truly wanted! Win-Win! I have actually done this.

                                        1. re: jrvedivici

                                          But then you risk their observing their "15 minute" policy. Many restaurants will consider you a "no show" after 15 minutes. Indeed, I've gotten into more than one "fully booked" restaurant by hanging out to see if someone doesn't show up…and many excellent spots will give the reservation away after 15 -20 minutes, especially if you haven't called.

                                          I must disagree jrvedivici…if a restaurant always overbooks and expects their guests to wait to be seated, I think it is disrespectful. IMHO restaurants are in the hospitality business…and hospitality requires being courteous and kind to guests. I'm talking chronic and planned overbooking here…occasional problems in seating guests on time can be excused, especially if handled well by the management. I guess this is why I generally avoid most new, "in" and trendy places…certainly until things quiet down.

                                    2. She shouldn't have lied to you.

                                      A restaurant should only give you a reservation they honestly believe they can meet, but they can't control whether or not the other diners ahead of you will linger.

                                      I think I would start getting irritated around the 35 minute mark.