Early for table reservation?
August 13, 2011 1:37 PM   Subscribe

If you arrive early for a table reservation, is there a chance you can get the table then, or do you necessarily have to wait? In other words, have you booked a particular table which, if free, could be given to you? Is showing up early by 10 or 20 minutes rude or preferred?

I got a later booking than I'd like. Can I hope to get in earlier, and then not be rushed to get off to a movie? This is a restaurant with entrees at 20-30 USD.
posted by JLMC to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Depends on the place, how early you are, how busy it is, how you interact with staff and how they're felling. In short, no guarantees. What might help is calling the place early, and politely asking your question about the earlier time/movie.
posted by scruss at 1:44 PM on August 13, 2011

I don't see it being rude unless its a really fancy joint (doesn't sound like it from the prices).

Every restaurant I've worked at would either give you a table if they have it, or have you wait at the bar.
posted by mannequito at 1:44 PM on August 13, 2011

It's not rude, but it's also not necessarily the restaurant's problem if you arrive early. Most places will accommodate you if they can as a favor, but they might not always be able to.
posted by tel3path at 1:45 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Uh, no? The reason you got a later reservation is because other people had already reserved earlier timeslots.

I suppose if you went early and let them know, they might squeeze your party in if there was a cancellation, but I wouldn't count on it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 1:45 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I tried this recently at a fairly casual, similarly-priced restaurant and was asked to wait.

Agreed with scruss that what might work is calling directly around 4 or 5pm (when the dinner shift is just beginning) to see if anything earlier has opened up.
posted by carsonb at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2011

There's a good chance that there will be a table free a few minutes early -- restaurants don't book all of their tables wall to wall all night -- they can't, because they just don't have the ability to that precisely predict how long each table will linger over coffee.

Restaurants also try to spread their reservations so they don't have the whole restaurant fill up at 7pm such that they have to fire a whole restaurant worth of entrees at the same basic time.

So, they may accommodate you, but if you get there, and there are open tables, but they won't seat you at them, please just wait patiently in the bar. Maybe order an appetizer with your drink, and peruse the menu so you know what you want, and that'll speed up your service once you're at the table.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:50 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The restaurant will of course seat you if you get there early and there is a table free--their business is in turnover, and the sooner you eat and pay, the more likely they will be able to seat someone at your table when you depart. Of course, for this purpose, "free" means not just unoccupied, but not already reserved/allocated to someone else. So if your seating is for 10:00 and you get there are 7:45 and see all the tables free, it doesn't mean that the restaurant is fully booked at 8:00 (meaning you're SOL).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:53 PM on August 13, 2011

Call them. I agree that you are likely to get a table at an earlier time if you arrive and they have one free, but it will probably put your mind at ease to just get that set up now.
posted by bearwife at 1:55 PM on August 13, 2011

Is everyone in your party okay with showing up early and possibly waiting for twenty minutes? If you have kids, or if you're taking someone out on a romantic date, they might not be thrilled to wait around.

Getting an earlier table is possible but not guaranteed, and it depends on the restaurant. Calling the restaurant and asking is the best course of action.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:28 PM on August 13, 2011

You can always try to ask. However, if they are busy there will probably be someone eating at that table 20 minutes before you arrive.
posted by twblalock at 2:30 PM on August 13, 2011

I got a later booking than I'd like.

Was that because you couldn't get a booking for an earlier time? Then it would be rude to show up early and you'd probably still end up waiting. If it wasn't, then call up and ask to change the time. Another thing to think about is a lot of restaurants don't book too many reservations at the same time because the kitchen cannot handle too many tickets at once. Especially in higher quality restaurants where preparing each dish takes time. Staggering reservations helps keep everything running smoothly.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:52 PM on August 13, 2011

It would only be rude if you showed up insisting to be seated early, then pouted/complained if the restaurant couldn't accommodate you. By all means show up early, explain your predicament, and politely ask if there's any way you could be seated a bit earlier than expected. No harm in asking!
posted by pecanpies at 3:14 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not rude unless you make a scene if the answer is no.

I don't see it being rude unless its a really fancy joint (doesn't sound like it from the prices).

There are plenty of towns and cities where 30 bucks an entree is quite expensive (or a 'fancy joint' as you say).
posted by justgary at 3:42 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have not reserved a specific table. You've reserved a timeslot, so if you come at 7:30 for an 8pm reservation, the restaurant will most likely wait to seat you until after they know all their 7:30 reservations are covered. So if they have 5 reservations for 7:30 and a 6th table opens up, they will be happy to give it to you, but they probably won't just give you the first open table.

Most places do reservations on the half hour, so you will have the best luck by coming in half an hour early. Anything earlier would be a waste of your time.

(I worked as a hostess at some pretty nice places during college. Seating charts are kind of an art form and kind of like a board game.)
posted by ella wren at 3:57 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

It really, really depends. If the night has been running ahead of schedule for the restaurant and you're super nice to the host, and if the planets all align, chances are you'll get seated early.
posted by cooker girl at 4:37 PM on August 13, 2011

Slip them some cash and make a polite request. It's amazing how many situations that advice covers.
posted by Slinga at 8:56 PM on August 13, 2011

I'm a part-time host at exactly the kind of restaurant you describe. A lot of the above advice is sound. I'd like to emphasize: CALL the restaurant and let them know you'd like to come in early. Please be polite--I can't overestimate how far this goes.

Please do not:
-Show up and just expect to be seated, especially if there are empty tables.
-Point out empty tables as if the staff doesn't know how to organize and allocate seating according to the needs of the business, or as if they don't want to seat you because of some secret personal grudge.
-Try to pay the host to seat you (sorry, Slinga). Most businesses worth their salt bend over backwards to show customers a good time so that they keep coming back. If you couldn't get an earlier reservation, it's because those tables are booked and they can't expect you to be finished by the time they need those seats, and not because the host hoards tables in expectation of a bribe.

Can you tell I just got off work? Just call ahead and be nice, and you should be fine.
posted by swingbraid at 9:11 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The thing most customers don't understand about reservations is that to have a table for someone at 8 the table will sit empty starting at 6 or 6:30, maybe 7 at the latest. So there's a chance that "your" table has been sitting empty to make sure that campers aren't still there when you're supposed to be.

If you don't mind waiting, I'd just show up and see what happens. The worst that can happen is that you'll have to wait. I take that back, the worst is that you act like a jerk and the restaurant won't want to take care of you as well. But you're not going to do that.

A good host won't take a bribe because that would screw over the restaurant. Getting fired or losing out on getting good shifts is not worth the money you'd give them. It's also not worth getting the cooks made at you. Because the cooks are the people in the restaurant you want to stay happy since they do things for every table.

Also, depending on the size of your party, the restaurant spreads the tables around unevenly between the servers. If they know a 12 top is coming in then 1 server will already have that table designated as theirs and the others tables will get dispersed so that when that 12 top comes in things become equal again.

So go ahead and show up. Tell them you know you're early and would love to have a table now if you can but don't mind waiting.
posted by theichibun at 8:16 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Quite a diversity of answers! Thanks for giving me a better understanding of the restaurant business. Politeness was rather part of my plan.
posted by JLMC at 3:57 AM on August 15, 2011

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