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The preferred seating system

The preferred seating system is a hybrid of two systems. The system gives restaurants the flexibility to make the most of business without the losses associated with a strict reservation policy.

I believe the best way to get butts in seats is a hybrid of two systems — we call it Preferred Seating. Here's how it works:

  • Guests who call ahead are told that the restaurant does not accept reservations, but that it uses a Preferred Seating system. This usually establishes a positive rapport with the caller, and shows your interest in accommodating your guests.
  • The host explains that when the party arrives at pre-scheduled time, their name is placed on a list to be seated at the next available table. They are given priority over walk-in patrons.
  • Depending on the number of names on the Preferred Seating list, the level of expected covers and the estimated turnover time for a particular meal period, the host may suggest an alternative arrival time to the caller. We used a Preferred Seating form that allowed four "Preferred Seating" reservations for each fifteen minute time period.

Typically, guests are seated within 15 - 20 minutes of their "Preferred Seating" time. At peak times this can drastically reduce the waiting period. While the Preferred Seating system is no panacea, it does help to streamline the flow of guests, increase cover counts, and reduce the negative impact of "No-Shows" because no tables are held awaiting a guest's arrival.

It also allows flexibility. For example, a Preferred Seating list group may desire a cocktail in the lounge before being seated. In these cases, there is an opportunity to immediately seat a walk-in party.

As with all reservation policies, the most important issue is to make sure the customer understands the system and has realistic expectations. The chances of this improve dramatically if the system is explained clearly and succinctly. We wrote a customizable Preferred Seating Policy containing a formal script to read (or be memorized) by all employees who answer the phone. You can also download a sample Preferred Seating list form, and an explanation card detailing the Preferred Seating system that you can keep at the host/hostess station.

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