Monday, May 9, 2011

Dueling Bloggers: Reservations

Back by popular demand, Dueling Bloggers returns after an extended hiatus. Next up for debate: reservations versus walk-in only.

Peter - Perhaps I am comfortably numb from a lifetime of waiting in line for breakfast at Camellia Grill or for a sno-ball at Hansen's, but I just don't have any issue with restaurants that don't take reservations. There's something about the wait that helps build anticipation, and as long as the food delivers, then the overall experience is that much better. And if the food is not worth wait, then I just won't go back.

Rene -You probably expect me to disagree with you on this and I can't say I do 100%. Certain places don't need reservations. Hanson's, downstairs at Galatoire's, a burger restaurant that is only open 4 hours a week (tongue in cheek), those types of establishments don't need a book. But you know who does? New restaurants who don't have their feet under them and want to have a No Reservations policy in order to build hype. Talk about setting yourself up for disaster. Waits compounded with the sometimes rocky starts of new restaurants can turn the next hot restaurant into a sinking ship in no time.

Peter - New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton is obviously prejudicial toward restaurants that don't take reservations. I can't tell you how many times I have read through a seemingly glowing review from him, only to reach the last paragraph where he delivers a one liner about how waiting for a table sucks before stamping a single star. Just read his review of The John Dory Oyster Bar ("All this greatness comes at a cost, which is the time and dignity lost waiting for a table") or in last week's review of Colonie, which he said "with all its strengths, would do well to embrace that realization and with it a truth John Cheever milled for years in his short stories set in Shady Hill: After Daddy’s off the train, he does not want to wait for dinner." If you don't like waiting for a table with the rest of us shlubs, that's fine. But you knew that going in, so why cry about it later?

Rene - Who talks like that? Sam Sifton is more obtuse than a dusty black tinted window on a stagecoach hiding a Texas Ranger during a Midwest thunderstorm. A few years ago, there was an article on how Italian restaurants in New York City knew to have extensive offerings of Soave (an Italian white wine) in order to better find their restaurant in Frank Bruni's good graces. It seems the Soave of Bruni has been replaced by the No Reservations bait for Sifton. If he hates waiting so much, why go? But there is probably something more sinister working here and that is in a down economy a restaurant may not want to pay the money to hire a theater major with a minor in painting to man the phones for 8 hours a day. Plus, add in the puzzling blend of timing reservations, jugging regulars and newcomers, making sure tables are available for walk-ins, etc..., and not taking reservations is just easier for a new restaurant. Hey, it works for Mondo.

Peter - You know what's worse than no reservations? Waiting to be seated when you have a reservation. We all know that nightly service is fluid, and you never know if the 6-top showing up 10 minutes late for it's 6:00 table will somehow snowball into an even longer delay later in the night. The no reservation system is the greatest form of local democracy since Dollar Bill was convicted and Nagin's term ended. If one person waits, then everyone waits... or pays someone to stand in line for them.

Rene - Peter, as the preeminent authority on Seinfeld's impact on pop culture, I can't believe you missed an opportunity to quote Jerry, although he was talking about rental cars and not restaurants. Here is the other reason not taking reservations is important for a restaurants bottom line: the bar. So you and The Folk Singer walk into a restaurant and they tell you, "It'll be a 20 minute wait." What do you do? Why you go into the bar and order a round of drinks. Boosting the bar sales helps the bottom line, helping the bottom line means know instead of hiring that reservationist they can start having a bar bites menu for you to snack on while you wait. Not taking reservations is genius, really.


Tom said...

Look. If you get a reservation, the restaurant treats you better. My long study of the issue tells me that you even get better food.

There is no populist, egalitarian aspect to reservation, unless you consider those who don't like to make plans as a downtrodden underclass. (If they are, it's purely by their own choice. There are no barriers to moving up and out of that group.) Reservations are free, and everybody has a phone, so they don't favor the elite.

You know who doesn't like reservations? Those who want to do anything they want, whenever they want to. But name any human activity that isn't degraded by that approach! You can't even have sex with your partner without checking in first. (Unless it requires standing in line, about which the less I know, the better.)

Tastefully yours,
Tom Fitzmorris

Anonymous said...

*awkward silence*

kibbles said...

yeah anyway so Mondo is not worth the wait. Spicer certainly has the cash for Open Table and the experience to train her staff to manage reservations, but they don't. long lines are a form of advertising -- just see Mother's or Coop's. interestingly, none of these places are worth the wait.

Irene's is the only house I'll wait for, and if they took more reservations I'd do them every time.

(as for the NYT critic, I'm sure he reviews places that go against his personal pref because it's his job)

Melissa Vergona Conner said...

It will take me a month before I try Velvet Cactus because they will be so crowded with a wait at first. If they took reservations, I'd be there tomorrow. Same with Mondo. I haven't been back. Guess it's different with a child. We eat out easily 3 days a week, but I can't go when I know there will be a wait.
However, in my prior life pre-child, I'd wait however long it took to get a great meal.