Managing a reservation policy is a difficult and often stressful undertaking. It requires delicate diplomatic skills and unlimited patience. These aren't traits you find in the typical 18-year old assigned to the front door.
What kind of policy should you use to ease the process? Should you accept reservations or operate on a "first come, first serve" basis? This is a difficult question that leaves many restaurant operators in a quandary.
Accepting reservations often means accepting a "no-show" rate as high as 50%. No-shows make the orchestration of guest seating in the dining room much more difficult. A host or hostess must weigh the risk of seating a "walk-in" guest versus holding a table for the "reservation" patron who is late. This situation is worsened by the appearance of a half empty dining room when you're quoting a 45-minute wait.
In addition, the word "reservation" suggests a guaranteed seating time. This is rarely the reality. Often, a 7:00 p.m. reservation will actually be seated at 7:15 p.m. or later, depending on the table turnover. Failing to meet guest expectations as agreed in a pre-booked reservation can lead to disappointment, which can quickly evolve into resentment or even anger.
First come, first served?
When you don't accept reservations you may convey an attitude of indifference or worse. A "first come, first serve" policy usually conjures up images of a long wait in a crowded bar or kid-filled lobby. And after a long wait, it's difficult to resurrect the gracious atmosphere and conviviality which characterize an enjoyable dining experience.
Truth & consequences
An additional down side to both of these options are guests who become quite vocal and outspoken about a seating system they don't understand, particularly if they've had a cocktail or two during their wait. Guests can become demanding and linger near the hostess station trying to bribe, intimidate, manipulate or wear down your employees. Explanations, no matter how true or reasonable, usually fall on deaf ears.
There is, however, an alternative to both of these policies. It's one that leaves you and your staff some flexibility, and helps ensure that you keep butts in seats. It's called a Preferred Seating System. Read more for details on how the program works.