Saturday, March 03, 2007

Another Service Dilemma -- I Want My Table!

Here's another stumper for you. I admit I don't have an answer on this one but it was particularly irritating. Last night, we had a specific special table reserved at a particular high end northside bistro, and had to wait 50 minutes -- that's almost an hour -- because the people from the earlier turn overstayed their welcome. After a long wait (where we had to have snacks at the bar not comped by the restaurant), we were finally seated by 9:00 p.m., an hour after our reservation.

Now don't get me wrong, I love this restaurant and all the staff there. And they don't really have a bar which makes it hard for them to, say, offer the lingerers a drink to move. But it also makes it hard for people like us to wait. And, like many restaurants, their policy is that they won't ask people to leave, even when they've had their coffee, paid their check, and continue to just sit and talk -- which is exactly what these people did. It's a dilemma for management. Do you risk irritating the first group of diners or the last?

I've been the first person to complain at restaurants like RBistro where they tell you they *will* ask you to leave. But while the restaurant could have mitigated the problem last night a bit more elegantly than just using salt behind the table, does the real blame lie with management or the diners? The early reservation for this table is usually 6:30 p.m. with the understanding that there will be a second turn. (When I've made the early reservation in the past for this particular table, I've been reminded that we can't have it all evening.) But these people just *lingered* until nearly 9:00 p.m. They stayed, chatting happily completely oblivious that the three of us standing in the foyer for an *hour* were waiting on their table. I was so irritated that I almost went up to them *myself* and politely asked them to move. I also was ready to just ask for another table even thouogh the restaurant was packed. As it was we ended up ordering food at the bar -- on our dime -- which broke our meal up in an awkward way.

Ultimately the hour-long wait affected my overall impression of dinner. Since one of our party had to leave by 9:30, it shortened our time seated together, the overall check, and our overall experience. We would certainly have had more wine if it hadn't been so late. Even though the food was wonderful, as usual, it was a lackluster evening. What could a better solution have been? I know that as a diner, I've certainly had sympathy for a restaurant on a busy night and helped my group of pals free up the table and move our conversation to another venue. And while I certainly didn't expect any freebies, it would have been nice for them to acknowledge the problem, offer us a snack or drinks on them, or at least offer us alternative seating options. Even though we'd planned on a special table, at least one of our party would have wanted to sit earlier -- anywhere -- to eat. And comping the snack we had to order in the bar to stave off cranky hunger would definitely have offset the irritation I'm feeling today.

I see it from both sides and have been both the lingering diner and waiting patron before. But last night, I was the waiting patron and this morning, I'm still irritated about it.


braingirl said...

Sadly, two days later, I -- as the diner -- am the one who feels like a chump in this situation. I can't believe we waited for an *hour* for our table! We should have left. I think of it like this: as a rule, my father will *not* wait for a table at a restaurant. If I'd had my parents in town, it's entirely likely that I would have wanted to take them to this restaurant, but if we'd had to wait even half as long for the table, we would have left. Who's problem is it then? It's the restaurant's becaue they have both pissed off diners, *and* a missing second turn.

Jeff said...

If it's the kitchen table at this "high-end northside bistro" then I've had a similar management issue. I reserved the table for a two-top on Valentine's Day a couple of years ago a month in advance. I even called several days ahead of the dinner to confirm said reservation and the kitchen table. Now worries.

Come to find out, it probably tipped somebody off.

When we got there, unfortunately, they had our reservation, but no mention of the kitchen table. Odd, and peculiar I thought and I kind of would have appreciated a gesture from the kitchen given that I confirmed the reservation myself.

Imagine my chagrin when moments after we were seated at our normal table, a four person party shows up and is seated at the kitchen table.

We got indelicately trumped.

Like you, it marred the meal and the overall experience.

reporter said...
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silverbell said...

We were just having this conversation at work today. Someone had this experience at a downtown restaurant over the weekend. In an ideal world, diners would understand that they have the table for the course of their dinner, they haven't rented it for the night (unless, of course, they really did). It seems unfortunate to punish the restaurant for rude diners, but I guess I do that every time I elect not to go somewhere again after being seated next to howling kids (but it was an elegant place! after 9PM!). Is that the same situation, I wonder? I expected the restaurant to approach this table and ask them to consider the other diners. Perhaps your restaurant could have said something to the lingerers like "I'm so glad you enjoyed your time here. Please understand that we have other diners who are looking forward to enjoying their time as well...." Yikes. Maybe not.