A reader wrote to tell me about her negative experience at a downtown St. Paul restaurant last week before the NKOTB concert. She says her party of six dropped in on a nearly empty restaurant around 5:30 p.m. and at 7:15, were rudely told they had to give up the table for another party with a reservation.
I contacted the restaurant owner and heard two conflicting stories: the owner says the ladies were informed that, without an advance reservation, they could only seat them with a time limit. The ladies say they had not been informed of the limit.
I didn't witness the incident firsthand, so I can't say where the blame lies, but it brings up a few good points about how an unpleasant experience like this might have been avoided.
First: Whenever possible, make a reservation. This is something, admittedly, I don't do enough, but it's worth remembering that one of the biggest challenges to restaurateurs is knowing how busy they're going to be. If restaurants had the luxury of knowing exactly how many diners would show up each night, they'd be able to order and prep food and schedule staff far more efficiently. For customers, this translates to lower costs and better service.
If you don't have a reservation, don't expect to be seated--even when the dining room is empty. The restaurant may need the tables shortly for reservations on the books--who hasn't been annoyed to show up with a reservation and be subjected to a long wait?
That said, it is the host's responsiblity to communicate this information politely: Either that they are unfortunately unable to seat the party due to existing reservations or, they'd be happy to serve them as long as they comply with a time limit.