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

[NOTE: We've moved this discussion from the thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/968455 -- 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.

                1. Does is make a difference if a group has a reservation or not, or if the restaurant even takes reservations? I'm one of those people who generally arrives early and I've never been asked to wait for the rest of the party before being seated.

                  I have been denied a table because of an incomplete party at a place that didn't take reservations, which is frustrating but understandable.

                  1. My own frustration with incomplete parties not being seated, is that my parents are mobility-impaired, enjoy family gatherings, and are severely challenged in hosting at home. They are also very frugal. Our family works to make dining out possible for the parental units. This translates to 8 or 10 of us arriving at the restaurant "somewhat" earlier than our parents. And yet the restaurant still does not seat us? So basically, my mobility-impaired parents end up waiting; which is the exact situation we were hoping to avoid. The extreme example of this is the situation in which some of us arrived 30 minutes in advance of our desired dining time, and yet we waited an additional 30 minutes after our parents arrived. Very frustrating indeed.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: KarenDW

                      may is suggest that, in most restaurants, there is virtually no waiting if you reserve a table at the open.
                      arrive at the open.
                      i've NEVER had any sort of wait using this strategy and many very popular/crowded restaurants are on my regular rotation.

                      (granted i don't go to the restaurant in the sgv that serves insanely spicy food and is well known to have a several hour wait virtually every minute they are open for business. customers start lining up there well before the open.)

                      1. re: KarenDW

                        I've found that restaurants who do this, generally make that apparent when you make a reservation. If that's the case, then you can choose to take your business elsewhere since that policy won't work well for you.

                        People are all different and what works for one group, won't work for another.

                        1. re: KarenDW

                          I think you need to make sure the disabled /physically impaired guest(s)are included in your reservation and all is ~very~ clear from the get-go.

                          No one wants a lawsuit.

                          1. re: KarenDW

                            Thanks for your replies. It's the "no reservations" type of restaurants that are frustrating for us. 10 out of 12 guests arrive, well in advance of our desired dining time, to account for a possible 30-40 minute wait. We rarely have a problem with being seated in places which take reservations.

                          2. I'm habitually 20 minutes early to everything, and I also hang out with people who are habitually 20 minutes late (dunno what I did in a previous life to deserve this, but it must've been serious). Luckily, I like sitting alone at bars, 'cause I never expect to be seated at a table until the whole motley crew assembles.

                            But last night, I showed up for a group birthday dinner, and our table for twelve was already set, and the bar area was a mob scene, so the host insisted on showing me - just lonely ol' me - to the table, so I'd have a place to sit. Except for the eleven seats around me, every chair was full. This is a midsized neighborhood Italian restaurant, nothing special, which happens to be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. They also didn't add the customary large-party 18% to our bill, which surprised me so much that I had a few other people eyeball the check for verification.

                            So while I wholeheartedly agree that the "no seating incomplete parties" is justified, it obviously isn't always vital to a restaurant's survival.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: small h

                              <<it obviously isn't always vital to a restaurant's survival>>

                              so what?
                              it is a business decision that should be made only by people who have some of their OWN financial skin in the game.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                <it is a business decision that should be made only by people who have some of their OWN financial skin in the game..>

                                Where did I imply that it shouldn't be?

                                1. re: small h

                                  i think wsgal misunderstood you or was just responding in general. your story gave a good example of a restaurant that made its own decision to seat you before your friends arrived.(and made a favorable impression on surprised-you!)

                            2. I'm kinda in the "it depends" camp. As with others, I can absolutely see not being seated until everyone arrives at a place that does not take reservations. At a place where you have a reservation and your table is just sitting there empty waiting for you to finish parking the car (legitimately parking the car), then I don't necessarily get it. I think it would be reasonable for the restaurant to advise your party that the "the clock is on" and we'll need the table in, say, 2 hours for the next reservation but sometimes the choice is between half the party standing and looking at an empty table or that same half sitting at the table maybe having a cocktail. I don't really see what's to be gained by the wait (other than the seating of the incomplete party possibly throwing off some of the timing with the meal - a real possibility especially in your higher end, everything moves like clockwork, type of operation.

                              I often drop off my elderly in-laws and wife and then go search out a parking spot which, depending where we are, could add anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes to a wait. I guess the restaurant could seat them in that time or have them wait 10 minutes for me and then take another 10 minutes to get them to their seats. If they are seated they could even start the ordeal of perusing the menu. Trust me, if they want to turn that table, it's the way to go.

                              Personally, it's never really bothered me one way or the other as I am all too happy to hang at the bar but there are times when it's just stupid. Live in the gray!

                              1. My personal opinion is owners/managers should empower the front of the house when there are rules like this in place. I truly believe that there are always exceptions to the rules-aged/disabled patrons, a 6 top when 5 are there, etc.

                                There will always be a-holes like the Andelmans out there and the front of the house should be empowered to deal with those types too (and a safe word to get mgt out there pronto)

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: foodieX2

                                  a safe word! that made me giggle and still perfectly descriptive