Heading out for the night, my friend cautioned me to make reservations.
"Oh, they don't take reservations," I replied.
"Boy, that annoys me," she replied. "Don't they want my business?"
As a restaurant insider, I laughed. "That's why they don't take reservations."
"Huh?" she questioned.
The management at this restaurant knows they will have enough business for the evening. If they take reservations and one of those reservations doesn't show, then that empty table will lose them money.
Reservations are a courtesy for the customer and for the restaurant. They assure the customer that there will be a table ready for them when they arrive. Reservations decrease the customer's wait time and assure that the restaurant is prepared for the guest. Also, taking reservations helps the restaurant in knowing approximately how many customers it can expect that evening. It's a small window into the activity of the night. The restaurant can plan, have enough staff and prepare food for that number of people. This helps to lower waste.
Reservations help the restaurant balance the work load ahead of time and prepare the physical setup for the expected guests. This is a great system, as long as there aren't any no-shows.
No-shows are customers who make reservations and then don't show up or call. Oh busboy, talk about rude. Have you ever waited for a repairman who didn't come or a guest who was so late you had to hold the meal, or prepared dinner for a guest who couldn't make the meal? Not showing for a restaurant reservation is socially ignorant and just plain rude.
When I was working at the Coach House in Saratoga Springs, we were very busy in the summer. As a courtesy to our guests, we took reservations. We took these reservations carefully, but left room for walk-ins. We were located directly across from the busy thoroughbred race track, and every August night we got a large amount of walk-ins. Every night we had crowds waiting at the bar in hopes of snagging a seat away from our reservations. I did not give away a table until I was sure that the reservation was a no-show. This got pretty tricky. This waiting caused us to lose business from at least three tables a night when it became too late to fill those seats. Waiting to see if someone shows requires time that could be filled with business.
What to do? Well, we started taking telephone numbers from our reserving customers. This helped, as the customer knew we were serious; I always called a no-show. I began to understand there were two types of no-shows: The ones who genuinely forgot, and the ones who blew you off. I learned to tell the difference. But this skill didn't matter; it was too late. Besides, many were out-of-towners probably already at another restaurant when I called.
One year, we considered taking credit card numbers in order to secure a reservation. Some very famous restaurants require a deposit. We tried this once. The first customer I asked to give me her credit card number screamed, then hung up. I guess we weren't famous enough. We did, however, use this policy for parties over eight. The customer usually understood and was grateful to have a large table secured. I always gave a confirmation number.
Another method that can work in a small town is to keep an index file on each customer, alphabetically by last name, noting the customer's likes and dislikes, the times they visit, what they order, the table they like, methods of payment and even their grandchildren's names. If you ask important service information on the phone, such as, "Would you like your regular table? How many in your party? What time will you arrive?", then the customer knows you want to give them special service. It also tells them you know who they are. These customers are much less likely to be no-shows. Besides, these customer cards remind the staff to pay attention to the personal things about each customer. They are great for making real friends, which is not a bad thing.
At the Coach House, when I turned away a customer on the phone, I would ask if they wanted me to call if a reservation opened up. It worked well for us to have a waiting list. The Coach House was the first choice for many customers who would forego another restaurant if I could fit them in. When I called someone on the waiting list, I would remind them to cancel any reservations they may have made at another restaurant.
My husband just came in and asked what I was writing about.
"No-shows," I responded.
"Yeah," he said, "it's really a problem when the employees don't show up."
OK, now I have another article to write.
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