My no reservation policy rant

When did the no reservations policy become the norm?

A big pet peeve of mine is a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations.  Perhaps this policy serves a purpose if you’re a quick turnover noodle shop, grab-and-eat café or fast-food in nature.  But, if you’re serving multiple courses (appetizer, mains and desserts), have a dining room and courses are $10+, you can afford to take reservations.

Of course, I understand why busy restaurants do this – why would they want to waste precious money generating opportunities by having vacant waiting tables? Instead, they’d rather just make their patrons wait for an hour and arrive starving and ready to eat anything.
To restaurants out there that don’t take reservations, I offer the following recommendations:
  1. Take reservations, but limit it to a percentage of dining room space or number of tables.  For example, if your restaurant seats 100, you may opt to take reservations to fill 20% (or 20 people) for every seating.  Customers who really want to eat at your establishment will call in advance to score a reservation.  Those who are unwilling to wait for a reservation are still welcomed to visit on a first-come first-serve basis for the remaining 80% of your space.
  2. To reduce the chance of having idle tables, implement a strict time adherence policy. If you’re not here in 15 minutes we give away your table; you can’t call to hold, you must physically be in the door.  Of course, be sure to explain this to the individual, write it on your website/confirmation email and/or remind them when calling the day before. But, you’ve fairly given them a chance to reserve and if they can’t show up on time you shouldn’t be expected to hold a table indefinitely.  Having a strict time adherence policy rather than banning all reservations is what can help limit “wasted” resources.
I sincerely hope more restaurants will implement the above.  Sure, you may be busy now, but the hype will eventually die down.  Those who’ve tried your restaurant but had to wait a long time will likely not return.  So, think of it this way, taking reservations may be your insurance to cultivating long-term relationships.  After all, happy customers are returning customers.

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