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Wait times at restaurants and worthiness of food

I'll never be asked to create titles for magazine articles. We had this discussion on the DC board about some restaurants doing away w/ reservations. What restaurants have you waited over an hour to get into? What was the wait time? Was it worth it? How about the corollary, when is the longest out you've made dinner reservations? Where and was it worth it?

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  1. not an answer to your questions but:

    the factors that govern how long i will wait are, among other things:

    food quality
    total restaurant experience
    whether or not there are other restaurants nearby that offer the same or better ratios for food:price, quantity:price, service: price, ambiance:price (i'd rather wait somewhere than be seated immediately at a restaurant that will seat me next to a table made up of unsupervised middle-school kids),
    wine list,
    parking availability,
    whether the restaurant offers a specific type of food that other, nearby restaurants don't, (seafood done in the style of sinaloa/nayarit)
    whether the restaurant in question offers something that we need for a member of our party that other, nearby restaurants don't (i.e. gluten free, vegan, high-chair, etc).
    distance from my home (if i'm going to be having wine with dinner, i'd rather wait at a place that is near my home than get a reservation far away)
    traffic to and from the restaurant

    and a million other factors that i can't remember right now.

    1 Reply
    1. re: westsidegal

      So what places have you waited a long time for a table and was it worth it?

    2. I think it's not just food worthiness, but also the cache of saying you dined at X.
      It's can be a braggy thing and something that bolsters self-worth.
      I don't need to eat anywhere that I have to wait over an hour in line, let alone 3 hours.

      15 Replies
      1. re: monavano

        I would never do anything for the cache but for good food I would. There's no glory in some of the dim sum places I've gone to but I'll wait. Some CHers will drive over an hour for a meal (isn't that in the manifesto?)--how different is it from waiting in line?

        1. re: chowser

          Very different, imo.
          I'll drive, but I don't want to wait in a line like a lemming for an unknown period of time when I get there.
          If it's a destination, I want a reservation.

          Glory is a good word. I think real foodies do it for the love of food. A place can be a dump, or off the radar, but people will go.

          1. re: monavano

            I'd eat anywhere the food is good whether it's a dump that has no wait or a place that happens to have few seats and has a long line. I won't wait for the Cheesecake Factory or places that don't have good food but a lot of buzz. But to get good food? Sure, an hour is an hour whether it's driving or waiting in line. IMO, a CH can be bothered to wait or drive for good eats.

            1. re: chowser

              Right, and everyone has their limit for waiting.
              That's what it really comes down to.
              There is no right and no wrong.
              Everyone negotiates life differently, so there's no winning or losing this debate.

              The funny thing is, the chains are the most crowded every Friday night.
              Why anyone would wait an hour at Macaroni Grill is beyond me, but people do it all the time.

              1. re: monavano

                Exactly, which is why I'm asking this here. To find out how long CHers will wait for good food and whether it was worth the wait.

                My daughter's friend loves Cheesecake Factory (which is why I had it in mind before) so when I asked where she wanted to eat, at 2 or 3 pm, she said theret. The wait was over an hour. Really? As I walked away, I mumbled something about how could the wait be so long THERE, especially at that time??? My daughter's friend said, "Well, the food is soooo goood!" Okay.

                1. re: chowser

                  Ugh, I know.
                  I don't get it.

                  Also, I think the willingness to wait is not directly correlated to one's chow-worthiness.
                  I don't appreciate great food any less than someone who is willing to wait twice as long as me.
                  I just mention it because I think there is a sense of being a better foodie if one goes to extraordinary lengths to attain certain foods.
                  That's not directed at anyone in particular ;)

                  1. re: chowser

                    I will admit that we don't mind going to Cheesecake Factory. I like their salads, and the Chicken Madeira, and they have a good kids' menu too. It's not one of those places we plan to go to (hey, let's go to Cheesecake tonight!"), but if we're at that mall, it's one of the better options there. They give you a buzzer that will work inside the mall, so we'll go check in at CF, get our pager, and then go walk around the mall for a bit. I wouldn't stand around for an hour waiting around, but the pages allow us to walk around the stores, so that eats up the wait time so we don't feel like we waited.

                    CF is one of the only chain restaurants we really go to, but even that, we only go maybe 2-3 times a year.

                    1. re: boogiebaby

                      It's nice when you can occupy yourself with some window shopping while you wait.
                      I've been enjoying the fish tacos and salad bar at Ruby Tuesday's of late, and I'm not ashamed to admit it!

                  2. re: monavano

                    Chains are always the longest wait where live. I hate the Olive Garden but I think I once waited two hours to eat there. I was with a group. It still sticks in my head as the worst wait ever.

              2. re: chowser

                Cache? You hiding or storing the food? Sorry, couldn't help myself as a food cache is a concept I'm familiar with from camping. Cachet. I will stop the speeling coorections now.

                1. re: Bkeats

                  LOL, I used Monavano's spelling. It didn't look right but I went with it. But, yes I have a nice cache of food, too. I used to be a stickler for spelling but as I've gotten older and started using my cell phone, all bet's are off.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Since you are a stickler for spelling, I would assume that you put the apostrophe in bets on purpose.

                    Please say you did that as a joke.

                    1. re: chicgail

                      As I said, I USED to be a stickler for spelling. I have no idea what I was thinking/seeing on my cell phone when I wrote "bet's" but thanks for pointing it out. CH is tough to read on a droid, especially for those of us post-50. I forget what sticklers CHers can be. I find reading comprehension can be off as one gets older, too, kwim?;-)

                      1. re: chowser

                        Thanks for your good humor about the apostrophe. Being in the same age group, I know exactly what you mean. Cheers.

                        1. re: chicgail

                          I have to admit it drives me crazy not being able to see well. But I had to decide that it's far better I see well distance when I drive than when I type on my phone.;-)

            2. I'm more inclined to wait on vacation. I have nothing else to do and I won't be back anytime in the near future. That said, the longest I've waited was still probably less than an hour. I tend to eat early so it's never terrible. I never go out for brunch, though. I can't deal with those waits.

              1. In my experience the wait is directly proportional to the hype and inversely proportional to the quality of food.

                That said I don't tend to go to chains and wouldn't wait long.

                But not all waits are equal. If there is a bar I can wait in then no worries, if there are bars close by and they will call me then great. But that assumes the waiting process is well managed - on Saturday I put my name down and went off for a drink as instructed. 10 mins later the phone goes as the drinks arrive.....we have ten mins to make the table or we lose it...!

                1. I don't often go to restaurants that don't take reservations. Those that don't tend to be the very causal sort of place and, generally speaking, there is rarely a wait of even a few minutes. The last occasion there was a wait, they said it'd be around 20 minutes - we went elesewhere. Waiting for a table is not part of my culture.

                  Furthest in advance was two months - for the Fat Duck (then listed at #2 in the world in the San Pellegrino awards). Totally worth the money.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Harters

                    Two months wait at a restaurant like the Fat Duck would be very short in the DC area where it's often a year in advance. What I found in London was the touristy places had long waits but the locals must know better.

                    1. re: chowser

                      The Duck doesnt open its reservations until exactly two months before the required date. And then the tables are gone in minutes. For places at that level of dining, I book as soon as I could.

                      1. re: Harters

                        SIL was set to try and get reservations at Ming Tsai's place in Boston, a year out, for her son's graduation.

                        She'd better put the # on speed dial and say a prayer!

                        1. re: monavano

                          Which one? Blue Ginger? If so that is a very popular spot for Wellesley grads along with Babson and a few others neighboring colleges. The place is tiny too. Rumor has it that Ming will give preference to grads/families who are "regulars" during their tenure and will accept reservation up to 2 years in advance for them. Other than that, yeah good luck to your SIL. :)

                          1. re: foodieX2

                            Not sure which one.
                            I hope they get it.
                            Graduating nephew and his dad are foodies that would really, really appreciate it.

                            1. re: monavano

                              Then don't have them read all the downhill reports on here! Personally I haven't eaten there in years and it was less then memorable. Decent food but nothing special or noteworthy. However I had a fabulous lunch at his new place on the waterfront.

                        2. re: Harters

                          That makes sense. It's not unusual for places to book a year out here. But, getting in when you call is an exercise in itself.

                    2. I won't wait more than 10 or 15 minutes. Around here, good places take reservations.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sal_acid

                        "Good" as in higher end? We have quite a few little hole in the wall places here that don't take reservations and you have to wait.

                      2. Bunch of impatient persnickety hounds. The last two nights I have waited an hour + for a table at no reservation places. Perfectly pleasant evenings. Saw the hostess, gave her my name and mobile number. In one went to to the bar and at the other went to the bar next door and sat with my friends and drank and chatted. Next thing we know, my phone is buzzing to tell us the table is ready. The time flew by. Great meals at both places. Nobody going to these places for cachet or to be seen or see. People enjoying good food with friends at a very reasonable price points for my city. Went to Ippudo and Momofuku Ssam Bar. These are destination dining places because they have good food. So many people go so the lines and waits are always long even after being open for many years.

                        Ironically, at one of the dinners we were arguing over who was the most anti-social person in the group. Pretty funny conversation.

                        ETA: I would never wait to eat at a chain like OG or CF. But then again I wouldn't generally eat at those places even if there was no wait.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Bkeats

                          Well, that's a bit different than standing idly with nothing to do but start at your smart phone.
                          That's what usually happens at the chains located in strip mall hell.

                          1. re: Bkeats

                            I love the new cell phone system where they call you. I waited for over an hour at Totto and it was worth the wait but we had no idea how long it would be. Just stand on the sidewalk... I'm sure regulars could judge by the sign in.

                            1. re: chowser

                              Ah Totto Ramen. Love the place. Did you go the the original one or the new larger place? I have only been to the original 15 or so seat original. My general sense of timing is that each column on the sign up sheet is a complete turnover of the seats which takes about 1/2 hour.

                              At Ippudo and Momofuku, you leave your number and you get a text that you are in the queue. When the table is close to ready you get a new text alert. Works really well. They also told me about how long the wait would be. Pretty accurate on that account.

                              1. re: Bkeats

                                Yes, when I read the title of this thread, my first thought was waiting for an hour for Totto and thinking it was entirely worth it. I've never had chicken based ramen before, so it blew my mind when I had it. This was at the original location. Then again, this was while on vacation, and we were hanging out in a group of 5 so the wait didn't feel as painful.

                                In comparison, I had to wait an hour for lunch for Ramen Dojo in San Mateo, CA, and that felt like it was not worth it. Only 2 people, not on vacation, but it is my favorite ramen place in the bay area. I suppose tolerance goes down if you used to get in without a wait before it got crazy popular. My last time was awkward because another woman was running to the sign up list at the same time as me, so I let her go first instead of cutting her off. But then, when they took our orders, there was only one tonkotsu broth left, so we could only order one instead of two. In that case, it really did matter how quickly you got to the sign up list. But, the alternative would have been even more awkward if I did cut her off - we would have stood there for the entire hour staring each other down...

                                Waiting an hour for dim sum can be typical and acceptable on weekends for the good places. But it's not something I want to do after a few times, so I plan to go during weekdays or right at opening instead. I think it's equivalent to waiting for brunch on weekends, but I see long brunch lines even for mediocre places that I do not understand.

                                1. re: Bkeats

                                  It was the original, small one. After waiting an hour and being close to the top of the list, one couple told the hostess they'd been waiting in line for an hour but didn't know to put their name on the list. Tough situation, then the hostess told them there was no wait at the new location just down the street or so. If only we'd known! Not that it belongs here but the chicken based ramen was worth the wait as was the sea urchin don buri and the pork buns (although not nearly as good as momofuku's).

                              2. re: Bkeats

                                I suppose the question to ask is if it is really a wait if you are sat in the bar? We always have a drink before a meal out so heading to a bar is part of the plan. Putting my name down then drinking isn't too dissimilar to ringing and making a booking.

                                The issues are places with no bars close by or very unpredictable wait times. I have gone early to put my name down to be told I can be seated - the dilemma is do we then defer and go for a drink or do we eat far too early!

                              3. The longest I've waited for a seat is 5 hours in Phoenix, AZ for Pizzeria Bianco (quite a few years ago). I kind of expected it, so we put our names down, went to the movies, and had another meal elsewhere. By the time we were hungry again, our 5 hours were up and it was time to seat.

                                Yes, it was worth it, but I wouldn't do it again for the same venue.

                                If it's good food, I have no problem waiting. I'll manage.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Novelli

                                  This is similar to calling ahead, which is what some places around here do instead of making reservations.
                                  You call, they tell you how long the wait is, and they take your name.
                                  Just show up later.

                                  I don't see this as waiting, to be fair.
                                  You showed up when they told you.

                                  1. re: Novelli

                                    Wow, did they tell you up front the wait was that long? At least you made good use of the time--I love that you ate before you ate. We went to a dive seafood place recently and was told the wait was three hours, two to be seated, one for food to arrive (on average). We left.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      An hour for seafood orders to come to the table?
                                      Yikes!

                                      1. re: monavano

                                        We go there often enough, it's beach-like, good seafood when you want a fried platter but have never waited for a table, let alone food. It was Mother's day but we figured it would be empty because it's so casual and basic (like bringing your mom to Cracker Barrel on MD) and it was a perfect stop, we thought, on the way back from Kings Dominion at 4 pm. Wrong! We're very thankful they let us know.

                                  2. If there is a comfortable bar area to wait in I don't mind - if its crowded and nowhere to sit and I am uncomfortable I just get too aggravated - I avoid a number of places where I like the food just because I assume the wait will be obnoxious. Ultimately I will often sacrifice quality and choose a lesser restaurant that is more accommodating.

                                    1. Not long ago I waited just over an hour to guarantee a seat at 5:30 on a Saturday for Little Serow (a DC restaurant serving northern Thai). I have an iPad and 4g so I watched some live golf as I waited in line and then my friend joined me. It wasn't a painful wait and the food was good, so I suppose it was worth it.

                                      I think traveling to a foreign locality and waiting is a bit different. We plan on going to Tim Wan Ho in Hong Kong - the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant (serves dim sum). I think we will arrive one hour before they open. This is culinary tourism, no different than waiting in line at Disney World to ride a ride, except that it will last longer and be much more fulfilling.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                        Little Serow is still white hot.

                                        Yes, better than Disney World- and you won't get ushered through a souvenir shop on your way out.

                                        1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                          WorldWide - Tim Ho Wan in HK has multiple outlets. The one in the IFC has a shorter queue - just avoid 12:00 to 2:00. Take-away is very speedy (just ask the cashier for the order form) and you can then head up to the IFC roof for a view of the harbour.

                                          1. re: PhilD

                                            Good to know. Does that apply even on weekends?

                                            1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                              Weirdly weekends can be a bit worse which I think is that the peaks at weekdays are constrained by the lunch hours of the office workers.

                                              I worked close to it and tended to do takeaway (its not a comfortable place) as the roof of the IFC is nicely landscaped and their is shade over the seats. And what many don't realise is that the IFC roof is public space so the tables outside restaurants are for the use of the public not the sole domain of the adjacent bars or restaurants - a quirk of HK planning laws.

                                        2. I have yet to wait over an hour for a place that ended being worth it. When I say wait that means there was either no bar or the place didn't have cell phone policy. There is something about standing around in your heels, with nothing to distract you to ruin the meal. Even the most entertaining date becomes tedious when your feet hurt, there's no place to hang your coat or rest your purse and you are cheek to jowel (sp?) with strangers. If that's the case I'll just leave and go elsewhere.

                                          If I know in advance the place is a no reservation and know that there is a good sized bar or place close by to hang out in during the wait then I am more amicable to waiting.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: foodieX2

                                            >>There is something about standing around in your heels, with nothing to distract you to ruin the meal. Even the most entertaining date becomes tedious when your feet hurt<<

                                            Yes! If I know in advance that there will be a serious wait (more than 15-20 min), then I can be prepared (i.e., with more comfortable shoes, or a magazine article to share w/ date). And certainly, am more willing to wait if the restaurant has a policy to call my mobile phone when the table is nearly ready. Standing still for even 20 or 30 minutes hurts my back... and makes me into a very grouchy dinner date.

                                          2. 20 minutes at the most.
                                            I prefer reservations.

                                            1. I've waited 90 minutes or so, but I'm not someone who waits generally. The only times I've waited were when I was with friends and they wanted to wait.

                                              It's a vicious cycle: people wait a long time for a table, so they feel like they need to make it "worth it" so they linger over an even longer-than-usual meal and that makes the next groups wait. Etc. etc. If a study were done, I bet that table turns at a popular, no-reservation restaurant would be materially fewer than those that use reservations.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: QuakerInBoston

                                                I suspect the study would show the opposite, that's why it's getting more popular. The place will fill early with those avoiding the wait, and then stay full longer with those who are forced to wait. Many also have table time limits to avoid those that want to linger - but that said who wants to linger if in full view of a queue of restless hungry people.

                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                  I don't know I've ever been to a restaurant that had table time limits. I'd love to see this sort of study to see where it fell!

                                                  1. re: QuakerInBoston

                                                    the study would need to draw boundaries though, between casual dining, say tapas-style, or a more formal environment.

                                                    i don't think having waited a long time makes normal people feel overly-entitled to an extended table-time. to a d-bag? then yes.

                                                    1. re: QuakerInBoston

                                                      Quite common in big cities like London and Sydney these days - very annoying as it takes the shine off the meal.

                                                      But restauranteurs are going no booking in busy areas like central London because it really maximizes table utilization. And the ones I know of in London are run by very savvy business people with strings of highly profitable places - they probably don't need to study - they simply look at their bank balance.

                                                      I saw the best example in Chicago at the Girl and the Goat where they book some tables (months in advance) and have no reservation ones that open at 4:30 - it was packed by 5:00.

                                                      I actually wonder if the reservation system works (economically) for quite places and busy city centre places maximize profit with no reservation and an excess of hungry people.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        Absolutely correct about GATG in Chicago, Phil and it's a very common phenomenon here. A friend was recently raving about another hot new restaurant, Fat Rice, that doesn't take reservations. Told me that the secret was to go for dinner on Tuesday at 5 pm. My reaction: that's not when I eat dinner, so I won't be there any time soon, even though the reviews have been stupendous.

                                                2. This also made me think of areas where there are, say, a lot of food trucks or small restaurants or vendors. The conventional wisdom is to hit the most popular but know you have to wait. Do you? Or do you go to the empty kiosk? My husband hates to wait so we often settle for mediocre food.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                    Depends on the day and the place. Here in Boston, I've waited 15-20 minutes for a truck if it's nice out and I have a friend with me to chat with but I've also done what you've said: gone to the empty truck and gotten bad food due to hunger + convenience.

                                                    1. re: QuakerInBoston

                                                      I've waited outside for a long time for food, too, but as you say, it doesn't feel that long. Being in nice weather makes all the difference,

                                                      Come to think of it, back in the ealy 80's when mix in ice creams were new, my friends and I waited well over an hour in the middle of winter in Boston in the freezing cold for Steve's ice cream. But in college, you do things like that w/out thinking.

                                                  2. We had reservations at Club 77, a local supper club, and we still waited in line for over an hour. The food was definitely worth it, and the owner comped a round of drinks with an apology for the party ahead of us who wouldn't vacate the table. IMHO, where there's a wait, it's usually worth it.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: elegraph

                                                      I can't get over how inconsiderate some people can be! As long as I'm given information, I'm better w/ waiting.

                                                    2. I've had waits for various reasons, and various lengths, but very few of them stick in my mind as being worthy. The only one that I do recall as being worthy was hardly even a restaurant. It was Franklin Barbecue in Austin, when it was still in the parking lot of a closed gas station (I have not been back to Austin since he moved into an actual building). That brisket was definitely worth the hour-plus wait. My son and I still talk about it. Just to clarify, I am a bbq-er, and have been told that my brisket is very good. I've also had some good brisket in a couple other Q joints. But the brisket I had that day is what my brisket wishes it could be.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Cheez62

                                                        Now that is a rec worth listening to--I'll have to remember that if we visit Austin. It's hard to find really good brisket.

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          I know that he has a brick-and-mortar restaurant now, but I hear that the wait times are still kinda nuts. There are people who will say it is not worth it, but I repeat, it is absolutely the best brisket I have ever had.