How To Handle Reservations (And Those That Skip Them)

What Are We Talking About?

The issue of handling reservations, particularly “no-shows”, has been popping up in the news in recent months. Chef Ludo LeFebvre (of The Taste notoriety) has begun “selling tickets” to dinner; much like a show or concert, your attendance is pre-paid. Even the concept of Groupon and other deal-purchase sites include the concept of guaranteeing that you’ll purchase food, since you’ve effectively prepaid for it. Some restauranteurs have taken to shaming those who flake on reservations, either publicly on Twitter or privately by calling them in the late hours to see if they’ll still attend to their reservations.

Who Should Do This?

The concept of taking reservations purely depends on the type of restaurant you run. If you’re a protein shake place, reservations would not fit your “in-and-out” style, but taking orders in advance would work. If you don’t have seating at all (such as a food truck or a carry-out place), or have an abundance of seating for your normal customer load, reservations wouldn’t make much sense.

How Do I Start Handling Reservations?

There’s two lines of thoughts on how to handle taking reservations, and it depends on how modern and technologically savvy you and your customer base are.

  • If you’re technically astute and your clientele know their ways around a web browser or a smartphone, you may want to look into a program such as OpenTable or Foodspotting.
  • If you’re lower volume and/or your clientele wouldn’t be that technically savvy, a simple appointment book would do.
  • In either situation, consider the space and time requirements for a reservation, and don’t overstep your means. If you can only sit 25 people, don’t take a reservation for 25 people unless you make them aware that they’ll be shutting down the restaurant (at that point, you can charge them accordingly).
  • Get an idea of how long your patrons traditionally spend by taking metrics. If you usually have customers for 60 minutes from being seated to leaving, you may want to buffer a reservation for 90 minutes; people making sure they can be seated may want to enjoy eating for longer.
  • Once reservations are set, make sure the customer’s needs are met, but not at the expense of other customers. If they need a table for 10, and you can only sit 20, don’t put them in the middle and limit yourself to two parties of five on either side.
  • Once the party arrives, make sure to make adjustments. If the party was for 10 people and seven showed up, you can condense and make room for three more. If 13 showed up, you may be able to squeak in an extra bit.

Never…

  • … call out a customer for missing an appointment; while some chefs have gotten notoriety and applause for it, they’re largely celebrity chef who can lose one or two customers for public shaming them and build their personality.

Be Careful…

  • … and avoid reaching beyond your means. Scheduling two large groups at the same time is a recipe for disaster made for a 1980s sitcom.

Definitely Try…

  • … and inquire if the reservation has a special meaning. If it’s a birthday party, you may have certain rules about bringing in outside cake, or you may be able to help set up a surprise. If it’s a proposal dinner, you might be able to work with the groom-to-be and hide the engagement ring in a dish.