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Mar 13, 2014 08:02 PM

"No seating incomplete parties" rule [moved from Boston board]

[NOTE: We've moved this discussion from the thread at -- The Chowhound Team]

I side with restaurants on the "no seating incomplete parties" rule. I was surprised and amused when one of Devra's fill-ins dinged some restaurant hard for this longstanding (and in my mind perfectly justified) practice, like she hadn't even heard of it before.

It was like that time when the Andelmans, who allegedly work closely with the restaurant business, became indignant to the point of making a grotesque public scene when a hostess wouldn't seat them in the dining room before the start of service. Toads.

I don't think you have to think about it very hard to figure out why some places do either of these things.

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  1. I didn't think about it very hard. Quite clearly they forgot that they are in the hospitality business.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Bellachefa

      Yes, it's the hospitality business, not a hospitality not-for-profit or hospitality chattel system.

      Holding a table largely unused except maybe to serve a partial round or two of drinks has harmful ripples throughout the evening: it inconveniences subsequent reservations, may cause a very costly loss of a table turn, forces walk-ins to bail, and so on. All of these crimps gross revenue, hurt server earnings, hurt perceptions of the restaurant's rectitude in honoring reservations, and so on. It's not a trivial issue.

      To my mind, expecting to be seated this way is the definition of undue self-entitlement: forcing a raft of inconveniences on a bunch of people around you for your slight convenience. If you and your dining companions can't show up on time, that's a shame: maybe it's due to circumstances beyond your control, or maybe you're just one of those assholes who doesn't respect other people's time.

      Regardless of the reason, don't expect the restaurant and a bevy of other paying customers to treat you like it's your private dining room.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          I'm sorry, but there is nothing more inhospitable then having a group of 5 of us wait uncomfortably in the entrance of a restaurant, looking at our empty table, causing a traffic jam, while waiting for the 6th member of our party like we were second class citizens. Been there, done that. There is nothing more inhospitable throwing a dinner party of 8 and having one couple caught in traffic and being told that the 6 of us cannot be seated for our special occasion dinner until the full party has arrived. Been there, done that.

          1. re: Bellachefa

            I agree. Wouldn't it be a convenience for the establishment to seat the 5/6th of a party and have 5/6ths of the drink orders in place and leave it to the 6th guest to catch up? While the ordering process moves along? If I am dining with the group and the 6th person is late, we call him, get the drink order, place it, and he has to get with our schedule on ordering.

            1. re: Small Plates

              This might work, or they sixth person might never show up, while the table continues to delay the start of its dinner ordering for an hour, hoping they'll appear.

              Ever stood staring at an empty bar seat the guy next to it insists will be filled shortly, as soon as his DC finds a parking space, for an hour? At some point, a restaurant has to defend its interests and that of its other customers against the slight convenience of one party.


              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Let's say the reservation is for 6 and the restaurant has a rectangular table expected and prepared for the party....three patrons on each side seating. One patron gets delayed, but the party informs they will place an order for the missing #6 patron. Should the restaurant seat the party? Or how about the #6 cannot attend. Does that mean the party of 5 gets denied. the table reserved and now they have to wait for a different 5 top table.

                Sometimes the policy is ridiculous. The rule has merits for odd numbered guests, but it does not make sense for even numbers and only one guest is missing...especially if they are ordering for the missing guest in advance and usually, or considering, there will be an empty seat at the table had the reservation been made for one less.

              2. re: Small Plates

                I completely agree w/ you and bella and the scenarios you paint in support of your argument.
                mc, i cannot see that your bar story has any bearing on this. it is a totally different situation.

                I watched the neighboring table at Oleana go through this situation last night. All 5 women were settled in and waiting for the birthday girl. When she was 1 1/2 hrs late she called them, having had problems, and was to have arrived after we departed. The women had all ordered their drinks and mezze for sharing and then had gone ahead and ordered their entrees when their friend called.
                A screw up indeed, in a small restnt where every table was filled, but fortunately, oleana does not practice nazi seating laws.

                I do think that hostesses should rely on their own discretion and intuition if they think some 'vying for a larger table' trick is being pulled, but other than that, a table waiting for 1 or 2 out of 6 seats-- disallowing the rest of the party to sit- sets up a bad feeling dynamic from the get go, and that bad feeling is something hosts should be avoiding at all costs.

        2. Demanding to be seated before dinner service even begins feels worlds different from expressing annoyance that your table is unavailable because you're down one guest. (I won't rehash my usual Andelman-trolling soapbox speech here, but....)

          That said, I too scratched my head when that Globe review came out. I agree that it's a perfectly justified practice—why shouldn't the restaurant let walk-ins take advantage of an open table while the reservation (or next-in-line) party gets its act together? In that extra 20 minutes or so while your missing crew "parks," the restaurant could be serving someone else who's hungry and, you know...present and ready.

          To the OP: I have found noon to 1:30-ish to be pretty slammed at Blue Dragon, particularly later in the week. That said, if you get there—complete party—right at noon you shouldn't have too long a wait, and the food service has always been pretty fast, in my experience.

          1. Completely side with restaurants on this one.

            1. I think one of the issues is that restaurants handle this differently, some seat, some do not. If a restaurant does not seat until a full party is there, that should be known and made clear ahead of time.

              1. It's also worth considering that by not seating an incomplete party, the restaurant might be thinking about what would happen if the missing guest(s) didn't show up. For instance, 4 of 6 diners arrive. If the restaurant seats 4 people at a table large enough for 6 and the missing diners (for what ever reason) never show up, then the restaurant has 'wasted' 2 seats. Had the group waited unsuccessfully for a complete party, at some point the 4 diners could be seated at a 4-top.