Good Food Blog
In line for a letdownPosted at 11:30AM, 02 October 2008 by Stuart Walton - Food and wine writer
"Could I book a table for two this Friday evening, please?", "No, I'm afraid not." "Oh, you're fully booked?", "No, we have a no-booking system." This has happened to me three times over the past year, and looks set to become more common in the years ahead. All three places were new venues.
No-booking policies negate everything that a restaurant should stand for. Why would you make a special trip to somewhere that may not be able to seat you for an hour after you get there, if at all? How long do they expect us to wait, and in what circumstances?
Having an aperitif or three in their bar area might suit both sides, but standing in a line, hungrily waiting for other people to hurry up and finish, isn't what eating out is about. It makes the whole enterprise akin to the folly of going to Fortnum and Mason for afternoon tea without a booking at the height of the tourist season, when static throngs wait in line while others idle over the last of their coffee. (And Fortnum's will let you book , by the way.)
For the no-bookings restaurant, it's all so easy. They don't have the bother of running a register or taking customers' calls, and if things go wrong, it's not their fault. A highly esteemed London eatery told me the best policy was to get there at the start of service and ask nicely. So we pitched up at 6pm, and were then held in the bar for the better part of an hour. In this case, they had got us to spend money on pre-dinner drinks for 45 minutes, when we might have been prepared to go straight to the table.
At a gastropub in Brighton, we arrived at the start of service, and were told the staff were still eating their own food. We were banished to the bar, and were told somebody would come and get us. After the requisite three-quarters of an hour, we ventured towards the eating area again, and found the place already half-full.
An astonishing amount of customer goodwill is being wasted by this laziness
An astonishing amount of customer goodwill is being wasted by this laziness. If a place can rely on turning away eager hordes every night, they're laughing. But what happens on rainy Tuesdays during the Crunch , when at least some of those empty tables might have been occupied by punters staying away because they don't see why they should chance it?
It could be that this is the revenge of the restaurant trade on all those delinquents who didn't call to cancel bookings when their circumstances changed, or those businesses that used to reserve tables at restaurants across town for the sake of being able to offer an important client a choice. As with all such sweepingly punitive systems, though, it doesn't discriminate. The honest customer is the loser.
My advice now is, if they won't let you reserve a table, don't go. They are telling you loud and clear, after all, that your custom is expendable.