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Service 101: Making and taking reservations
June 23, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
Many people ask me if they should make reservations before going to a restaurant, and I answer, “Why not?”
A reservation will hold your place in case the restaurant gets too busy. It also prepares the restaurant for your arrival so your table is ready, and it should keep you from waiting.
The term reservation refers to an arrangement to have something held for one’s use — a promise, a guarantee. By making a restaurant reservation, you make an arrangement with the restaurant that you will come and in turn they make a promise that they will be ready for you (or at least try).
Typically, reservations will be available in better restaurants that have seating and wait staff, not for fast-service restaurants, diners or cafes.
Restaurants that require reservations do this so they can plan for the number of seats used and the amount of food to prepare. When managing the dining room at the Coach House in Saratoga, the chef would call often to check the upcoming reservations while prepping for the night. Taking reservations spreads the customer load throughout the evening, thus easing the work for wait staff and kitchen staff. It allows the eatery to plan better timing so service does not slow down with a crowd coming all at once.
A restaurant has a plan to seat a certain number of people each night. The maximum capacity might be 60 or even 100 people at one time. It could “turn over” each seat two or even three times. No matter what the limit is, assigning and locating the seats and actually seating the customers take management.
The responsibility of managing the seating and the dining room frequently falls to the host or hostess, but the restaurant could have a dining room manager or a maitre’d. Whoever takes the reservations should be friendly, warm and accurate. As reservations are made, they are put in a reservation log book with the name, obviously, and number of the party next to the desired date and time. Any special requests are noted. Restaurants call all groups of people eating together a “party” of a certain number.
Restaurants usually limit reservations to two or three weeks in advance — after that the customer often forgets. For large parties, such as holiday parties, the lead time may be unlimited. In Saratoga in the summer, we would only take reservations up to a week in advance. After August, we would take them months ahead!
A good restaurant will ask for a telephone number with a reservation. Customers take reservations more seriously if they have given their phone number. It is not fair to the restaurant to make a reservation and not show up as the restaurant loses business for that time and table.
Some popular eateries require a credit card and actually charge if you do not show.
I liked to look over the names on the reservations so I could give the “regulars” special attention, such as their favorite tables, or tell the chef to be ready with their favorite foods. I also made sure the waitress knew their names.
We had one couple who were summer regulars who always made reservations and then would forget what time they had made them for. If I saw their name on the list, I would call and remind them of the time. A special customer service? Yes, but it saved me from having to turn away another good customer.
The person managing the dining room must coordinate the reservations with the “walk-ins“ if there are any. They must make sure that each wait person gets an equal share of customers yet accommodate the customers’ wants — window table, six people by the door, a high chair, etc.
Most good restaurants are used to and want to accommodate the customer’s desires. It’s good business! Restaurants that don’t require reservations usually are so busy they fill all seats anyway or they are so slow it would seem ridiculous to take reservations. Some restaurants just don’t have the time or ability. Remember that reservations are beneficial to the customer and the business.
Oh, busboy, we are now seeing more and more restaurants using the Internet to accept their reservations. One can make a reservation at a restaurant’s website. One can make a reservation in Johnstown, in Albany or nearly any other place in the world.
Restaurant Watch: When making reservations, pay attention to how the reservation is handled, or try the Internet.
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