Flocking to a new restaurant?
I was on CBC Halifax’s Mainstreet today, chatting about restaurants with “no reservation” policies. This is a new trend, sweeping in from larger American centres like New York and Washington DC.
Like any story, there are two sides to this, and it’s been quite the divisive issue. Having been on both the kitchen side and the patron side, I’m sitting on the fence for this one.
New York restaurateur Ken Friedman (the Spotted Pig) has become the standard bearer for no reservations. He’s on record as saying he wants his restaurant to feel busy, more like a bar. That people come and wait in the bar, have a drink, and create a buzz. “Quiet is death”.
Now, that buzz business is great in big markets, with rock-star chefs and restaurants that are viewed as places to be seen if you’re somebody, where you have the clientele who feed into and off of that buzz, but it’s a different situation in smaller markets.
Aside from the hype generation, it can make fiscal sense. Not taking reservations means you don’t have to worry about no-shows and last-minute cancellations, the sort of things that lead to lost revenue and wasted labour. You don’t have to worry about guests leaving in time for the next seating, thereby ticking off the next party that’s supposed to be seated there. And I would wager it’s in smaller cities, like Halifax, St John’s, Victoria, where revenue as opposed to buzz is the driving force behind these decisions.
And then there’s the downside. Who do you risk alienating by having a no reservations policy?
Older patrons who may not want to or be able to wait for long periods
Parents with babysitters, who don’t want to be later than they promise, or add to their restaurant bill with more money tabbed for a sitter.
People coming from outside the area
Special occasion diners
The business dinner crowd
Ultimately, it’s up for the restaurant to decide if their target demographic is going to be affected by the policy, and if alienating certain diners is worth it. The savvy restaurant owner will reverse a decision quickly if it’s not making sense for them.
So, what if the restaurant you’ve been dying to try doesn’t take reservations, and you don’t want to wait in line? Well, unless you’re in one of those big markets where the restaurant is packed every night, it shouldn’t be a problem if you keep these things in mind:
• Don’t go during prime time; that’s typically 7pm. Go for the 5.30pm or 6.00pm seating; remember, your table hasn’t been booked for later diners, so take your time, enjoy a drink, and you can still wait to eat.
• Avoid weekends or holidays like Valentine’s day
• If the restaurant is close to a venue like a theatre or stadium, check to see if any big shows are playing as the restaurants will likely be very busy before and after the show.
Standing in line is not something that appeals to me, but nor would it deter me from going.
I would love to hear your thoughts on it–would you stand in line for a restaurant?