Should My Restaurant Only Seat Complete Parties?

This is one of those age-old debates that can throw both restaurant owners and customers in a tizzy.  Much like reservation policies (read the lovely Nicole Lang's post here about that one), you have to flex seating complete parties to your restaurant's size and volume.

If you only have 35 covers, seating an 8-top as they slowly arrive is going to take up a large chunk of restaurant's seating and potential business if you have that one couple in the party that's running a half-hour, sometimes an hour behind.  On a busy night, you could be filling and turning that table.  If your policy is to seat only complete parties, having visible signage is helpful.

If you have the luxury of having larger bar area, send the partially arrived party over to get their drinks flowing. 

The flip-side -- if you have a larger space or it's a quieter night, seat them.  The perception of a quiet restaurant while awkwardly waiting in the front won't sit so hot with your guests.  They'll be more forgiving if it's bustling in your dining room.  

Once seated, you know staggering an entree order for a partially arrived table is hell on the kitchen (plus, where is Miss Manners?)  -- but if I were that late guest, had I ran into a stressful traffic situation or wardrobe malfunction, I would love to arrive to some steak tartar or mozzarella sticks.  If you seat that partial party, take that app order.

Plus, on this quieter evening, your waitstaff will be able to more efficiently take care of that party and start maximizing that drink tab table-side.

Thoughts on this restaurant owners?  Stories on what's worked, what hasn't?

Photo via WikiCommons.

Kevin Clay