Something so simple as reserving a table for dinner has become so fraught with strife, the topic polarizes diners and restaurants.
Scroll through some Yelp reviews and you'll likely find diner's comments criticizing a restaurant's reservation policy.
Ask an owner or chef of a restaurant about the topic and they are sure to mention last minute cancellations, suddenly increasing or decreasing party sizes, diners who flat out lie to obtain a table and of course the dreaded no-show. The problem of no-shows is so rampant in dining that it's lead some restauranteurs to publicly shame diners who don't show up for their reservation.
Lies? Public shaming? This is not the way to have dinner!
A popular solution among smaller restaurants is not taking reservations at all. This can alienate diners and usually only works well for restaurants that are very busy. Once that business dies down, having a walk-in only policy can become a detriment. Accepting reservations can be risky for restaurants, as empty seats can mean huge profit loss. For example in a 34 seat restaurant, a handful of no-shows in a week can be crippling. When it comes to reservations, both parties are looking for security, so what can be done to ease reservation relations?
There is no across the board answer.
Tailoring reservations to fit the needs of the restaurant makes the most sense. In recent years some restaurants have begun instituting Chicago restaurant Next's groundbreaking ticketing system, which treats dinner like a Broadway show: tickets are purchased upfront.
For more casual dining experiences, pre-paid ticketing may take a while to catch on, though in today's click-to-purchase world that does not seem far off. Restaurants can choose to require a credit card and initiate cancellation fees on big reservation days or peak dining hours; New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day Brunch- these are days when a no-show can really harm a restaurant's bottom line.
Diners need to honor a reservation as they would any other professional appointment, and give 24-hours advance notice for a cancellation. A 5-top that turns into a 10-top without any notice strains both the kitchen and staff. Arriving with the amount of people originally stated is plain-old common courtesy. Keeping the restaurant informed of any changes in a reservation will only contribute to a pleasant evening out.
Most restaurants will do their best to accommodate and will greatly appreciate the heads up.
Diners want to be fed and have a good time and restaurants exist for that very reason; there could not be a more symbiotic relationship.
Respect, communication and flexibility can go a long way, on both sides.
After all, it's just dinner right?