Are Restaurants That Don't Take Reservations Shutting Out Certain Guests?

Categories: Food Fight

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Photo by Troy Fields
Cotivare has been doing well in spite of being known for long waits due to a no reservations policy.
Recently, my editor posed a question: Why don't some restaurants that clearly get a lot of business take reservations?

I explained that individual restaurants likely have different reasons for that choice, but that it's becoming an increasingly popular option. First come, first served.

She went on: But could that be keeping a whole segment of the population from dining there. Young people are much more likely to wait a few hours for a table than older people, she reasoned. Young people stand in line for concert tickets or video games. Why not dinner?

While I can't personally attest to seeing a younger crowd at places like the uber popular Coltivare, which hasn't taken reservations since it opened, instead opting for a waiting list policy, I do think it's an interesting question. Though I get uncomfortably hungry, I have no problem waiting upwards of an hour if I know the end result (an awesome meal) will be worth it. My parents, on the other hand, would rather restaurant-hop until they find a shorter wait.

In January, restaurateur Ken Friedman--famous for his opposition to taking reservations at his restaurants--wrote an article for Food & Wine in which he explained the reasoning behind the decision not to take reservations at his most popular eatery, The Spotted Pig in New York City:

"When you don't take reservations, people have to wait for a table; they go to the bar and hang out. As every restaurateur knows, you make much more money selling a drink than you do selling a plate of food...You also eliminate another big problem: no shows, which there's no good way around."

It makes sense to keep people waiting at the bar. If I have to wait more than ten minutes at a restaurant with a decent bar, that's where I'm headed, and I'll buy one of those overpriced drinks to sip while I wait. And honestly, I'll enjoy it. Friedman's plan is a good one.

Not taking reservations means you don't have to hold tables for parties who may not show up, and the diners who do show up are likely to buy more drinks or to patronize surrounding bars while they wait. Everybody wins, right?

Friedman does acknowledge a downside, which is essentially the same thing my editor mentioned:

"There's a certain segment of the population, like 'old' people my age--I'm well past 21--who would never go to a place where they can't be guaranteed a seat. For example, I would never wait an hour for a table. But I made an exception recently for Franklin Barbecue in Austin. We waited for over two hours. It was torture--my legs hurt, my back hurt, I'm starving, I start to feel faint. It was a taste of my own medicine."

This story continues on the next page.

Location Info

Coltivare Pizza & Garden

3320 White Oak Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Roost

1972 Fairview St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Oxheart

1302 Nance St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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32 comments
paval
paval topcommenter

Restaurant owners are totally free to make or unmake their reservation policy as they want. 

However there is a cue theory that states that one cue in front of 9 registers in a supermarket is faster than people cueing in several lines. If you apply this to restaurants, a cue in a no-reservations restaurants is probably still faster than if you take ten reserrvations at main dinner time 8pm and all guests with reservations are there but most of the 6pm tables have not left yet. Having one wait cue would actually avoid people getting angry as it would be first come first serve. 


I personally most of the times go to a restaurant and want to eat as soon as possible, because I go there hungry. I am not a patient person either. I hate waiting and will only wait if there is a bar. I would never wait for a chain restaurant for instance (If i even eat there)


As for the reservation policy being ageism, it can also be seen as discriminatory towards non-patient people like me, but both old people and myself have other options and we will have to live with those if we do not want to wait in the hip restaurants. 





LaurenK
LaurenK

While I prefer being able to reserve, restaurants should do what’s best for them—reservations are a client service, and if a restaurant does better without providing that service, then how can I complain? 

I do wish these restaurants did more to accommodate those waiting for a table, however. I have suffered through hour-plus waits at Coltivare and Liberty Kitchen, at it is humanly impossible to find a seat OR get a drink. The bars are not large, and most are full of people who have opted to eat at the bar vs. waiting. It seems  like it would be a win-win for these places to offer more space for waiting people and hire someone to circulate and bring drinks to people. At Coltivare we usually walk down the street to Onion Creek because it’s possible to obtain a drink there—which is really just lost business for Coltivare because we’d happily hang out there and wait if you weren’t standing sober in a cramped hallway being bumped every 6 seconds.

I don’t think it’s ageism to not offer reservations—just because certain demographic groups prefer not to wait doesn’t mean they’re being discriminated against. I do think it would be nice if restaurants offered special arrangements for people with disabilities, however. I wonder if hostesses would accommodate the disabled if they called ahead and asked for a reserved table?

nevadarob20
nevadarob20

The restaurants in this article and a lot of Houston restaurants that do not take reservations are extremely small. If you have a restaurant that seats 40 or so people you need to have as many asses in seats as is possible in order to stay in business. It is not about ageism, which is a ridiculous implication, it is about economics. When you take reservations you agree to hold a table for your guest. So if everybody in Houston wants to eat between 7 and 8 you have to hold tables starting a 6 - 6:30, thus not allowing the restaurant to function at its highest profit point.Not taking reservations also causes guest who want to eat at a specific restaurant, to come earlier or later to avoid the longest of wait times. This in turn allows the restaurant to stay busy from open to close, something not a lot of restaurants that take reservations can't say. If you are fortunate enough to have a bar in one of these smaller establishments, more power to you. There is nothing sinister in wanting a successful business, in fact its kind of the American way

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

Big thumbs up to all restaurants that do not accept reservations. When you accept reservations and expect a table to be turned in time to meet the next reservation, you are basically saying "our patrons come here to eat and leave, cause we have to turn tables to make money cause our costs are so high to maintain this place. Don't expect a dining experience evening here like you had in that little bistro in Dijon. Expect to be greeted, served and presented with a bill. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here."

rogerscorpion
rogerscorpion

NO! A restaurant is open to make money. Period. I'm 62. If I have to wait 'too long', to suit me---I go elsewhere. I don't blame the establishment. They don't NEED my business. Simple. I'd like to try it---but I understand. They aren't hereto make me happy. I have more issues with places that don't let you park in their own parking lot.

Elizabeth Anne Hamilton
Elizabeth Anne Hamilton

Depends on the wait. We usually don't decide to go out until we're hungry and we aren't waiting 2 hours to eat.

Kelly Mathena
Kelly Mathena

Why wait? After you put your name on the wait list they text you when your table is ready. Why not go anywhere you want for 2 hours and come back. Even my 75 yr old cousin texts.

Lori Ella Dawson
Lori Ella Dawson

Too many restaurant choices to wait anywhere....won't do it.

Anne Loyacano Calbert
Anne Loyacano Calbert

I'd rather risk turning away potential customers than to miss out on a hefty bar tab patrons may pay by waiting. My husband and like to sit at the bar before a meal anyways, so if we have a reservation we arrive early enough for a few drinks prior. If it's a celebration of some sort, with a large party, I won't go anywhere without a reservation.

Aldo Aceves
Aldo Aceves

That would be unfair to the customer. Restaurants should be able to fill open or cancelled slots.

mfsmit
mfsmit

In many cases. it seems that if taking reservations benefits the restaurant, they take them. If it doesn't, they don't. Restaurants benefit from taking reservations by getting better predictability of how many covers they'll serve on a given night, and I'd bet that parties that make reservations tend to spend more per person than walk-ins.


If a restaurant consistently fills all their tables, then taking reservations is a net cost to them. (Remember: it DOES cost money to maintain a reservations book, virtual or otherwise.)


Either way, the vast majority of my restaurant spending is at places that take reservations.

Alex Alphons Keller Spuler
Alex Alphons Keller Spuler

Owners should know what is best for their business, personally I like to be able to make a reservation

Kathy Stabe
Kathy Stabe

I don't mind waiting when I'm with a small group, but when I want to get my friends together to go out for my birthday or something, I won't eat somewhere that won't let me reserve a table. It's not just "older guests."

Andy_P
Andy_P

Hell no - I want a reservation.   Usually dealing with a hungry/thirsty woman and why on god's green earth would I want to exacerbate that situation?  Maybe kids in thier 20's with nothing to do and nowhere to be want to wait an hour and a half for dinner, but I wouldn't wait that long for 3 iron chefs in my kitchen. 


There's plenty of good restaurants in this city for me to spend too much for dinner on, if they don't want my business, there's a plethora of other phenomenal options.  

Ryan Mathes
Ryan Mathes

We often don't go places that won't take reservations because the size of our group means the wait would be very long.

tinyhands
tinyhands

What's the point of accepting reservations if you're not going to honor them? Every time I've made a reservation here in Houston, I've had to wait between 30-45 after my reserved time before being seated. The lesson is that whether they accept reservations or not, anyone who runs a restaurant is an @sshole.

Peggy McClard Antiques
Peggy McClard Antiques

No reservations policies are a problem for me. As a disabled person, I can't stand and wait. I can walk into a restaurant without the aid of a wheelchair but I can't wait for a table. Bringing a wheelchair into a restaurant crowded with people waiting for tables is difficult and the wait is painful. That is why I haven't yet been to Coltivare.

Nicholas Cowen
Nicholas Cowen

Just require a credit card when taking table reservations, a cancellation or no-show fee would discourage the act.

JMTexas
JMTexas

I believe its OK to wait for a table if the wait is 30 mins or less (typically the time you would invest to leave an establishment and drive to another in the hopes of no wait). Beyond that, however, I would not stay. Even if a nice bar was available, chances are with a wait of longer than a half hour, it would be already packed and, you got it, wait for a drink and please, don't even ask for the luxury of a seat or 2. Worse than that, wait outside you say, in HOUSTON?!?! Dinner better come with a shower as an appetizer in this city. If your resaurant is successful enough to generate >30min wait times I cannot believe that even cancelled reservations/no-shows would not be immediately replaced by walk-ins. It seems that this 'no reservations accepted' poilcy has some roots in this trendy 'restaurant of the people', 'farm to table', bearded and tattooed hipster movement in an air to proclaim, 'we're not pretentious...we're bringing this back to nature, man'. Eh, no thanks. With all that's not guaranteed in life I take some solice in knowing I'll have a table for two waiting for me at 6:30...right when I reserved it.

edith-bourdain
edith-bourdain

Tell us what you think? I think that there is not one piece of original reporting in this entire boring blog post. I forced myself to read it because I was hoping to learn something new about the no-reservation policy here in Houston, but all I got was writing from other publications (Washington Post, Houston Chronicle). Is this what counts as reporting now at the Houston Press? I know it is difficult to actually interview people, but you'd be surprised what you can learn when you do, and your (dwindling) readership would probably appreciate it. 

erichenao
erichenao topcommenter

Take a party of six or more. Almost always guaranteed that they will hold a table, as long as the party arrives all together. We did it for Roost about a year ago.

paval
paval topcommenter

I am certain that the restaurants not taking reservations do exactly the same. Once you are done eating you get a check and are allowed to leave. Specially if they have a lot of people waiting.

rogerscorpion
rogerscorpion

I spoke against reservations earlier. I will say that, in the case of large groups--you DO need reservations. It is like catering. Otherwise--forget about reservations--& I'm 62,before someone accuses me of being young.

rogerscorpion
rogerscorpion

@tinyhands I used to WORK at Ruggles. Theyhad a non-existent reservations policy. Their intention was to make you wait @ the bar---to create an 'energy in the room'. We weretold that, in training. If one of the owner's (Bruce Molzan) dropped in---you waited longer. Zagat even talked about their non-existent reservation policy. 

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