Help me understand this restaurant reservation policy?
April 20, 2015 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Okay, yes, apparently I was raised in a barn. There's a restaurant I'd like to patronize*, but I'm stuck on their reservation policy. Specifically, their use of the term "dinner seating." Please explain to someone who frequently fails to wear a tuxedo, even well past 6:00 pm.

Weeknights, the restaurant in question accepts reservations from 5 until 9, except Mondays when they are closed. This makes sense to me. Restaurants have done this sort of thing all my life. But we want to go on Saturday, and their site explains that, "Saturday, we have two dinner seatings: 4:30 to 6:30 PM and 8:00 to 9:30 PM."

What does that mean? How do you actually get a table? Is it just first come, first served? What happens if you want to eat at 7:00 like a normal person? This place is very popular. Are they routinely turning away hordes of people every Saturday who have shown up all full of hope only to be sent away? Surely that can't be good for business. Why do they do this instead of just taking reservations like everybody else?

I'm confused and kind of unpleasantly surprised that I can still be bewildered by a restaurant reservation at this age. Please fill in this embarrassing gap in my education of manners and help me figure out how to actually get a table.

*No, no, you're a fine restaurant. Really. All those other restaurants just wish they could be as good as you...
posted by Naberius to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Seatings mean the time they take reservations for. I'm guessing that the menu there is a set/tasting menu and/or highly complex. Seating the whole dining room at once allows the kitchen to work to a pretty specific rhythm.

Make your reservation for 8:00PM Saturday and enjoy a late night out.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:57 AM on April 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


To me it means you can sit at 4:30pm or at 8:00pm. A "seating" means they sit everyone at once. Presumably so the kitchen can be in sync doing courses at roughly the same time. The timing is strange but if this was a super posh restaurant I could see it... maybe they need that extra hour of prep in between to get everything ready.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:58 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do they do a special prix fixe menu on Saturdays? I understand that some of these places (like Grant Achatz's restaurants in Chicago) operate more like a theater than a restaurant, where you are essentially purchasing a ticket for an orchestrated ten-course food show where everyone in the restaurant gets the same dish at the same time, and nobody is admitted without a reservation.
posted by theodolite at 7:58 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is it just first come, first served?

No, you just make a reservation as normal but specify which seating you want.

What happens if you want to eat at 7:00 like a normal person?

You go somewhere else.

This place is very popular

... which is why they want to get through two seatings on their busiest night of the week

Are they routinely turning away hordes of people every Saturday who have shown up all full of hope only to be sent away?

If they're full they are, otherwise they are asking those people to come back at 8pm or to sit in the bar.
posted by emilyw at 7:58 AM on April 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


I can't answer the part about how the seatings work, but the restaurants that don't take reservations are generally popular enough that they will always have customers who will wait to come in. From their perspective, it makes more sense to give a table for someone who's there right now than to hold it for someone who may or may not honor the reservation.
posted by creepygirl at 7:58 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


You can't eat at 7:00. You ring them and book a table for the 8 PM seating and arrive at 8. They do this so they can manage the horde without the chef killing the staff and feeding their bodies to you as an amuse-bouche.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:59 AM on April 20, 2015 [27 favorites]


This place is very popular. Are they routinely turning away hordes of people every Saturday who have shown up all full of hope only to be sent away?

I don't know the reason for such policies, but that's pretty much the experience I had at a small, very popular restaurant in Pittsburgh a couple of months back. No reservations accepted, long line at opening, they seated the whole place and left a bunch of people literally standing outside in the snow because there was no indoor place for them to wait. My party didn't quite make it in the door, so we and a bunch of people who were behind us in line all left. It would please me to think that my leaving hurt their business, but I think that's a fantasy.
posted by jon1270 at 7:59 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


By offering 2 set table seatings with 1.5hr time difference, the restaurant is aiming to "stagger" the tickets (food orders) to ensure timely service and prevent the kitchen from being backed up.

While I personally haven't seen this rigid of a reservation structure in person, as a former restaurant manager, I can see how this helps the keep kitchen in a good rhythm and makes for happier guests.

At my former restaurant with 16 tables, I have had to turn people away because reservations were so high. In adddition, in my smaller town, placing and honoring timeliness of reservations was an idea completely foreign to many guests and required ample communication.
posted by Giggilituffin at 8:02 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a restaurant in my neighborhood that uses the two seating, no reservations model, and judging by the lines down the block every weekend, it does work, for certain places. It works on a first-time, first-served basis - you want to get a table, you show up at some point prior to your seating of choice and hope you make it in. Apparently this lends it cachet for some portion of the population.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:02 AM on April 20, 2015


There are reasons for and against all styles of reservation systems. Achatz/Kokonas have (as noted above) popularized a system that's more like buying tickets to an event--that, along with specified seating times, allows kitchens to manage highly complex/carefully orchestrated menus in the most efficient manner possible. When you're serving upwards of twenty dishes to each guest, with each dish having up to dozens of components on the plate, it simply doesn't make any sense at all to allow people to sit whenever--you just don't have enough bodies in the kitchen to handle the complexity. Instead, you manage the flow so you can have overlapping/shifting teams in the kitchen--you six, go plate eight of X, while those five people are finishing up eight of Y. They'll move on to Z after.

Set menu + restricted seating times = careful inventory and personnel management.

'Open' reservations--as in, we're coming at 7:15 or whenever--are easier in restaurants that are generally pretty full and are serving more standard dishes. There, you can just ebb and flow the way most restaurants do, taking walk-ins or not. Usually a reso-only policy comes into play with restaurants that are higher-end and popular. Can increase cachet, too.

No-reservations policies extend from the above--restaurants that make a few things, very well, where a la carte ordering and a la minute cooking are (relatively) trivial. You know you're going to be full, you have a handle on what's most popular, and you roll with the punches. (No reservations = cheaper in employment terms; you don't have to have anyone hanging around and managing the reso book).

Plus, with no-resos: there are utter assbag poopclowns who think nothing of making reservations at multiple places for one night, then deciding last minute which one to go to, and not bothering to cxl with the others. This is partly why the Achatz/Kokonas ticketing idea is genius: every seat in the restaurant is paid for ahead of time, no matter whether anyone shows up or not.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think these are set table times where a whole restaurant worth of people arrive at once, which would be described as a seating at 4:30 and one at 8. I think there are blocks of times in which reservations can start. The possible early seating times end at 6:30, because past that point, they won't be able to turn your table. The possible later times start at 8, when the 4:30 people will presumably be done (this is obviously a long, leisurely meal place) and end at 9:30, which presumably lets the staff go home at a vaguely reasonable hour.

If you want to eat at 7, you go to a less popular restaurant, basically.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:13 AM on April 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Does the website specifically say that they don't take reservations on Saturday? I've encountered restaurants with specific seating times before, but they always took reservations for those times. I think the most likely case here is that they still take reservations; it's just that you can only make a reservation on Saturdays for 4:30, or for 8:00 — not for any other time. At the very least I'd call to verify. If they do take reservations for their Saturday seatings and you show up without one, you're very unlikely to get in.

(I've also seen increasing numbers of higher-end restaraunts having a "no reservations" policy recently, but I've never seen that combined with specific seating times.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:13 AM on April 20, 2015


You can also call the restaurant and ask someone to explain their policy to you. Just ask politely and listen carefully.
posted by kalessin at 8:18 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does the website specifically say that they don't take reservations on Saturday?

That's just it - it doesn't. They just say they do the two seatings and assume I know how that works. I get why they would want to control the flow of tables so the kitchen can keep up. I'm just not sure how to navigate it.

Yes, I could just call and ask them, but I'm more comfortable looking like a rube in front of you guys :-) (This place is French and I don't want Patrick Stewart deciding I can't have the duck before I even get there. )

So is the consensus that the thing to do is call them up and tell them I'd like a reservation for the 8:00 seating?
posted by Naberius at 8:24 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


So is the consensus that the thing to do is call them up and tell them I'd like a reservation for the 8:00 seating?

Yes. They might tell you that it's first-come, first-served, in which case you have not made any faux pas but you might want to ask what time they suggest arriving to maximize your chances of being seated.
posted by jaguar at 8:32 AM on April 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


Definitely agree that if they tell you it's walk-in only for the 8pm seating then ask what time they recommend arriving, and how the waiting process works. Sometimes there is a lounge or bar where you can wait.

But I'd be a bit surprised if it's a fairly expensive lah-di-dah place if they want hordes of people milling in the entrance -- my guess is it's reservations for those two seating times. It's actually kind of fun - it makes eating like an event, especially at the second seating where you aren't as pressed for time. You see the waiters all walking around with the same course at roughly the same time, and it's definitely an experience!
posted by barnone at 8:39 AM on April 20, 2015


This place is French and I don't want Patrick Stewart deciding I can't have the duck before I even get there.

This isn't an early 90s sitcom. These days, most fancy restaurants do pretty well at being accessible those of less posh sensibilities. Look around at who the young rich people are these days--they're internet folks and T-shirt wearing traders who don't have the social skills to care/put up with hoity-toity frippery.

Just call them, tell them you'd like to eat on a Saturday as near to 7pm as possible, and what can they do for you.

I've called places like this tons of times for bosses. Ain't no thang.
posted by phunniemee at 8:42 AM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't think these are set table times where a whole restaurant worth of people arrive at once, which would be described as a seating at 4:30 and one at 8. I think there are blocks of times in which reservations can start. The possible early seating times end at 6:30, because past that point, they won't be able to turn your table.

I agree with this interpretation - reading that language I would assume they will be taking 6:30 reservations or 8:30 reservations, etc. I've seen this language for special event menus (like Christmas or Thanksgiving) all the time.
posted by muddgirl at 8:42 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want to sound more sophisticated, call and say "does your Saturday night two-seating policy mean you take reservations for either the first or second seating, or does it mean you take no reservations at all?"

Then let them explain. It really could mean either thing, it's confusing, and it's their fault.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:42 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't think these are set table times where a whole restaurant worth of people arrive at once, which would be described as a seating at 4:30 and one at 8. I think there are blocks of times in which reservations can start.

Oh, now that I think about it, that makes more sense. Not that some restaurants don't do specific seating times like I had previously suggested, but 4:30 would be absurdly early for the first one, so in this case I think blocks are more probable. But yeah, call and ask.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:33 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm going with jacquilynne's interpretation here: you can reserve for any time during the two seating blocks, but not between 6:31pm and 7:59pm, mainly because they can't turn tables booked at 7pm, and also because it gives the kitchen a brief breather to catch up on any prep that might be required for the second seating block.
posted by holgate at 9:43 AM on April 20, 2015


Yeah, I think that seems reasonable - basically that they take reservations for Saturday, but not between 6:30 and 8:00 because they probably won't be able to turn over those tables. I will call tomorrow - because they're closed today - and confirm, and hopefully all will be well. And yes, their site could benefit from a bit more clarity...

Thanks, everyone!
posted by Naberius at 10:04 AM on April 20, 2015


They just say they do the two seatings and assume I know how that works.

It means you should call for reservations.

They are likely popular enough that walk-ups get turned away most of the time. The only way to reliably eat there is to call ahead and thus comply with their schedule. They don't have to say that because the problem is self-correcting in practice. Sucks for you as a casual diner, but their restaurant is still full. They don't see it as a problem.
posted by bonehead at 10:46 AM on April 20, 2015


One other thing to remember is that you don't have to tell them that you've read the website. You could call them up and say "I'd like a reservation for Saturday at 7pm" and then they'd have to explain about their seating policy without ever knowing that you were confused. Not everyone checks the website first, I'm sure they've had to explain it over the phone before.
posted by macfly at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


« Older does an android app exist that'll hold certain...   |   Coping with email anxiety Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.