Should Restaurants Accept Reservations?

This topic is getting many more comments than I expected, so I’ve copied all related comments from the Pigeon thread to this post. Feel free to continue in the comment section below. Everything below is from the comments on the other post:


Mobie says:
My husband and I ate there last night. The food was AMAZING! We had the beet salad, which was interesting but had too much orange ginger vinaigrette on it. The beef cheek bourguignonne melted in your mouth and the reduction sauce complimented the root vegetables nicely. The flat iron steak was cooked to perfection, lean cut but very tender. It was full of flavor. The only complaint was the long wait, it took us 1.5 hours to get seated. If you have to wait, you can get a drink at the Doug Fir Lounge.


Bigfoot says:
Mobie,
We tried to have the same experience. We arrived well before 7:00 PM and were told that there would be a wait of 1-1/2 hours to eat at the bar. If we wanted a table, we were told that we couldn’t be seated until after 10:00 PM. We tried to make a reservation for a later night, but with only 4 in our party, were told that the policy was only to take reservations for 5 or more.
This Portland trend of “no reservations” has gotten out of hand. I’m all for making a night out at a great restaurant a slow, enjoyable affair. Waiting in the cold or at a nearby bar is not a slow, enjoyable process. If we all refused to patronize these places, they would change. BTW, anticipating the concerns over no-shows and lost revenue, I’ll gladly put a 50$ per head charge on my VISA (applied to the meal if I show) in order to ensure the owner makes a profit.


Glazarus says:
Mobie,

Is that $50/head or .50/head? Lots of restaurants, not only in the Portland area, have no-reservation policies.


Mobie:
Glazurus,
I think your $50/head or .50/head question is for Bigfoot. I did not make that suggestion. I am well aware that many restaurants in PDX do not take reservations.


Bigfoot:
Mobie,
It was $ 50.00 per head. That’s what my dentist charges if I fail to show for a scheduled appointment. It isn’t as much as she would make were I in the chair, but it does cover some of her cost. Seeing as how some of these “no reservations” places can cost as much as a dental visit, I still don’t think it unreasonable to ask for them to reconsider this policy (even if it is now a nationwide trend, sigh).


Brian Spangler:
What a lot of customers do not understand, is that busy restaurants that accept reservations will not sell as much product as they would if they didn’t accept reservations. Restaurants that accept reservations have to charge more for the product in order to achieve the same profitability. Small restaurants with limited seating, such as Le Pigeon (25 seats?), that charge $20 for entrees would have to charge $30 minimum for the same entree if they chose to accept reservations. Why? People with reservations are generally late and stay longer than walk in customers, which means you end up serving less customers per shift. You also have to hire additional help when you take reservations (host/hostess, etc.) which means additional payroll costs, worker comp insurance, etc.

My comments are not directed at any post in particular. I here this complaint a lot and I wonder what people want from small restaurant owners in Portland… good food with convenience at inflated prices or good food at a reasonable value sans the convenience factor? If I took reservations, I would definitely raise my prices by at least 25%.

Brian Spangler
Apizza Scholls


Food Dude:
Thanks for your comment Brian.
Years ago, I think it was Zefiro that started requiring a deposit for reservations. As I recall, it was $50 a table, for large groups, or special nights, such as New Years Eve. I was thrown at first, but after thinking about it, understood. It is amazing how many people will make a reservation, and then no-show. How hard is it to make a phone call? I’ve heard of people making multiple reservations around town, so they can decide at the last minute what they feel like eating. It is no wonder that so many restaurants or going to computerized reservation systems like Open Table, that allow them to keep track of these idiots. For these reasons, I understand why restaurants, especially smaller ones won’t take reservations. If they are busy, why leave a table open for even 5 minutes? That is just throwing money away. With the margins they work on, turning tables as quickly as possible is the name of the game.

As I was thinking about this issue, I was reminded of one of my pet peeves from my days living in more major cities. I’d make a reservation for say, 7:30, and arrive on time, invariably to be told that I would be seated in 45 minutes. Used to drive me crazy.


mczlaw:
People with reservations are generally late and stay longer than walk in customers, which means you end up serving less customers per shift. You also have to hire additional help when you take reservations.

Brian: Any data to support this? I have my doubts and believe you are setting out a false dichotomy (reservations vs. lower prices). What about the idea of a deposit? What if it is also made clear that after 15 minutes tardy the reservation (and deposit) is lost? How about large parties? And, as a way of balancing the interests of the restaurant owner with members of the dining public who may lack the ability or inclination to wait out in the elements (or in the bar down the street), what about mixing the house–part for reservations, part for walk-ins?

I sympathize with owners of places with severely limited seating, such as Gabe (29 seats including the bar; he is, nevertheless, taking reservations for larger parties), where a no show can be a big problem. I also tend to think casual dining spots, especially small ones, ought to get a pass on taking reservations (though not for the reasons you give, but rather b/c tables tend to turn more quickly).

In any event, even if your assertions are true, the flaw in a flat no reservations policy is that the establishment loses a big chunk of its potential clientele, visitors who can’t wait and those who won’t wait, as well as the good will of those turned off by this policy.

Overall, I am convinced it is against the restaurant’s long-term best interest to maintain a strict no reservations policy. Scott Dolich, whom I admire as one of the best business minds in the trade, recognized this and scrapped his no rez policy after a year. Peter Hochman at Alberta St. has maintained a mixed house rule from day 1.

FD: places that take reservations, then don’t honor them, need to be called out. It’s not like they are (or, at least, should be) doing triage. It’s that bullshit “we’re so hot, we can act like dicks” attitude that prevails among flash in the pan places destined to fail.

–mcz


atlas:
Brian,

“People with reservations are generally late and stay longer than walk in customers, which means you end up serving less customers per shift.”

interesting assessment… perhaps true at your pizzeria, but that is a fairly broad brush stroke.

Would the public prefer “…good food with convenience at inflated prices or good food at a reasonable value sans the convenience factor”… Well, for many I think dining out is convenient and in part the point of it. I understand why you don’t reservations but becasue of these examples I guess I find your post to be bloated and humorously defensive.

I think the truth is you’ve no concern for that part of “service”… the wait is simply part of it. Nevermind that it is the one consistent complaint regarding Apizza Scholls, you have no impetus to change or address a major source of customer dissatisfaction with your establishment. Why would you? As FD mentions with a place like yours ” turning tables as quickly as possible is the name of the game.”

Unless I plan on eating at 5, I avoid places such as yours, simply because the notion of arriving at 630 or 7 to wait a measurable time is very unappealing to me.

I like reservations. I think it is a courtesy to the guest. I also would support the idea posed of a deposit for places such as yours or Le Pigeon… would that ensure your profitability? For one person, figure one of your pies at 22, a salad at 9, a shared appetizer at 4, and two gls of wines at 12… 46 per person. Call it 50 a head. Tell your adoring public that to ensure your affordable prices if they want reservations they need to deposit 50 per person. Until that desired yet improbable day, since I don’t frequently dine at 5, I guess I’ll be missing out on the famous Hawthorne pizzeria. sigh.


grapedog:
Once again, we see the difference of opinion from either side the restaurant owner/patron line. Is it the patron of the restaurant who should be humble and appreciate the fact that the restaurant owner has invested money in a business and is willing to share his/her culinary creations with the public for a price? Or, is it the restaurant owner who should balance business savvy against personal opinion, putting up with a flow of customer demands in order to keep the business healthy? Does the restaurant exist for the customer or vice versa?

Personally, my time is too valuable to hang around waiting for a table at any restaurant. I have stated before that I would be happy to commit dollars to a restaurant as part of an agreement that I will show up at a certain time, expecting that a table will be ready for me within 15 minutes of my reservation time. If I don’t show up, the dollars stay with the business.

Mr. Spangler’s comment about customers with reservations typically staying longer than walk-ins is interesting. Is turning tables quickly the only goal of Apizza Scholls? Is this yet another classic “rule” of the house that one must not dawdle, they must eat efficiently and move along for the table to be occupied for someone else? What’s next, a drive through window?


naomi:
I think this thread is very interesting. I really like the positive and constructive nature of the discussion.

In my opinion, if a restaurant is big enough- it is nice to have it mixed. At clark we mostly hold the main dining room for reservations, and the back dining room is mainly for walk-ins. That way we fit as many different needs in as possible.

I do want to comment on Brian Spangler’s point: I agree that many people do not show for reservations or are VERY late- (I’m speaking from a large amount of personal expereince). At clark we have talked about a per person fee for not showing up, but so far I don’t know of any restaurants in town that do this, and we’ve been afraid people would freak out, and not book the reservations in the first place, if they thought they would be “locked-in” in this way. However, we do do this for parties over 10, or on special occasions.

in my thinking, small places cannot afford to do reservations, not just because people don’t show up, but because of un-predicatable turn times…- If a table is in a hurry, and they get a beer and a burger, you have the table back. If you are taking reservations and your table (that you thought would be staying until 7)…was in a hurry leaves at 6, and your next reservation comes in at 7- you have to just leave that table open- and it sits empty that whole time. This is a lot to loose (even for a bigger restaurant), So I totally agree that places that aren’t as fine dining, or are very small, probably don’t benefit for taking reservations…(they are busy and don’t need to). It isn’t to be a pain in the ass, it is because they cannot handle the loss of revenue, (Which we all appreciate- in the delicate world of eating establishments; is paramount..it has to be.) I say go to those sweet smaller places when you have the time to wait, appreciate that they are so busy- (or we would loose them!!!-)- It’s not personal, it’s business- Sorry. When you don’t have time to wait, pick a place that takes reservations. When you make a reservation, please please come within 15 minutes..and try your best to understand that as hard as we try to predict turns..(at clark we give 2-2.5 hours)- sometimes a table sits and sits and sits.- We do our very best to get them up and out, and if something happens that we weren’t expecting- we all (I assume) do our best to remedy the situation.


pdxeater:
It’s funny that naomi brings up clarklewis, because it is the one restaurant in town that I got totally burned waiting 2 goddam hours to be be seated for a reservation our party of 4 showed up 10 minutes early for! I didn’t expect to be seated promptly because it was Sat. night and our rez was for 8, but I didn’t expect to get totally jerked around either. After the first hour, I was ready to leave, but we were with out of town guests who really wanted to eat there, and we kept being told the host that “they felt our pain” but didn’t have a table for us. When we passed the second hour, I begged to be seated at in the bar area so we could eat and I wouldn’t explode. We ended up with food in front of us at 10:45. No apologies, either. It pissed me off so much I vowed never to return, even though I am a big fan of morgan’s cooking. from this consumer’s point of view, I much prefer a restaurant to be honest and just not take reservations because they can’t be bothered (for whatever reason) then to be treated like you’re not VIP enough to get the table you had a rez for.


Bigfoot:
This really is an interesting conversation. I’d love to see it continue, although it involves many places other than le Pigeon. Naomi, when you start taking deposits for a table, I’d love to be the first to hand over my VISA. I really appreciate mcz’s comment over the loss of potential customers. So many businesses fail to do this and most eventually fail (yes there are plenty of exceptions to that).


naomi:
pdxeater-
My sincere appologies for any wait at clarklewis. We do our best, and when something out of the ordinary happens..we do the upmost to compensate. Should your expereince have been otherwise, I do hope you would have spoken with a manager, so we could offer up some solutions.

-Naomi


Brian Spangler:
I regret that my comments were taken a different way than intended. I simply was giving my view on the reservations issue, based upon working in the restaurant industry since I was 18 years old as well as being the customer at many non-reservation places (which is why we always eat at the bar) . I stand behind my statement that most reservation holders are late and dine longer than walk in customers. You don’t have to believe me at all, I am just giving you one view from the business perspective. I was more interested in hearing responses from customers on this blog to tell small restaurant owners, such as Kim and I at Apizza, what is more important to them… convenience or price? Kim and I care very much about the customer experience, but as many who have been to Apizza can verify, is that our space is too small to handle the amount of business that we have been blessed to receive. We are doubling the square footage of Apizza by making it roomier, adding additional seats, adding a designated waiting area and to have the ability to accept reservations for larger parties. We are not doing this to sell more product, because we are already at our maximum capacity for the quality that we wish to produce. We want to make it a comfortable, enjoyable experience for our customers as well as our family. We never expected to be as popular as we have become, but we are still learning how to best address our situation. 20 years in the industry has given me a strong idea of how to best run our restaurant, but we are not foolish enough to beleive that we cannot always learn.

Brian Spangler
Apizza Scholls


ted:
What a great thread, and another reason this site is such a fabulous resource for anyone interested in food and in particular the food scene in Portland. I truly appreciate restaurant owners like Brian and Naomi sharing their insights on food and different aspects of the industry(such as reservations or strictly walk-in ). While most of the time I avoid places with strictly walk-in policy, I have to admit that places like Apizza make the wait sooo worthwhile. (Brian, keep up the great work) Nothing is worse than the great small place growing and losing the edge, which I happily doubt will occur at Apizza.

As one who will post rarely but reads the site eagerly and often, thank you to all of the posters and reviewers; your opinions and comments are informative, often very humorous, and very appreciated.


apollo:
I would prefer convenience over price personally. Let me make a reservation, hell, charge me 50 bucks if I am a no show or late. I just can’t stand waiting without reservations. 15 minutes is OK, but more than that and I will go someplace else. Reservations make it easy for somebody like me, and I would gladly pay more as long as the food was good enough.


Jill-O:
My dining parter and I hate waiting, so we either make reservations at places that accept them (and we, luckily, have never been burned), or we go out early – really early like 6pm or before. I have eaten at many places in town that early and I have to say it often translates into better service (because it is rarely crowded at that hour anywhere in town) from both front and back of house.

I understand that most folks like to eat later in the evening, but it is a choice one can make when you really want to eat at a certain place. And hey, if the place serves wine/beer/drinks, you can have a leisurely drink or two and then order food if you don’t want to eat your meal that early.

If I owned a restaurant and took reservations, I would definitely make it clear that after 15 minutes (and no phone call saying you will be there very soon), your reservation is toast. I think that the Simpatica guys charge your card for making a reservation for dinner – if you don’t show, for whatever reason, they allow you to apply that credit to another dinner…but they don’t refund it. That seems fair to me.


Sir Loins:
The problem with dining in Portland, in my view, is that when things do go wrong—really wrong, in pdxeater’s example—too often the folks who seat and serve customers act as if nothing has happened.

As in pdxeater’s case, if you make a res., show up early, and wait 2 hours to be seated, the ridiculously long wait should *at least* be acknowledged by the people who seated and served you. In pdx’s situation, either a free round of drinks during dinner or desserts on the house afterwards would’ve been appropriate, and probably would’ve salvaged some good will.

Restaurants at every level have bad nights, where everyone is in the weeds. Most folks who dine out regularly understand this. Luckily for me, experiences like pdxeater’s at clarklewis aren’t the norm. But when they have occured, it’s been a very rare occasion that the server even said or did a damn thing about it.


Chicen man:
What Brian’s comments, and the many that followed, touch upon is the tenuous balance between the diners experience & the business’ need to turn tables over.

The worst possible result of this dynamic is to take reservations, then push the diners out of the place regardless of whether there are customers to take the turned table, or whether the seated table is continuing to purchase.

An egregious example of this is CiaVito. The reviews on this site substantiate my own repeated experience there – literally being pushed out the door, even to the point of unfinished drinks being removed from the table. None of the 3 times this happened were there any customers waiting for our seats, and we were still in an “ordering” frame of mind.

I would much rather wait at a place without reservations than place a reservation and be treated in such a brusque and unprofessional manner. We make choices based on a variety of factors, including reservation policy and service/treatment – the latter having much more lasting impact than the former.


sidemeat:
Because of the pressure to ‘turn and burn’ I try not to serve on Friday or Saturday night. I have, recently even, been told by owners to drop a check on a table while guests are still eating. Some servers prefer this style of service, thinking of making a few more bucks on a given night. Owners and managers adopt this style of ’service’ because, at the end of the night, the numbers look good. It is short-sighted and in the long run, bad for business. Guests that do not return do not show up on a spread sheet, and so are invisible to some.


Brian Spangler:
Well put, Chicen. It is a very delicate balance between the customers right to enjoy the experience they are paying for, but also to keep in balance the restuarant’s need to break even and hopefully pay of some outstanding debt on a good night. In the last two years of operation here at Apizza, we have never said anything to a customer or stripped the table of all wares to hurry a customer unless they had finished all food and drinks, bill had been paid up for a period of time and were continuing to stay seated. Actually, I can only think a hand full of occassions where it was neccessary to do so, but when some are given an inch, they will definitely take you for a mile. Once, we asked a table to leave 45 minutes after the bill had been paid and no additional food or beverages had been ordered, nor were being consumed. Keep in mind this was on a Friday night and the waiting list was huge. Another time we asked a woman if she would mind waiting at the bar for her guest, so we could seat another party, as she had sat at the table waiting for her guest for an hour, while other guests were patiently waiting for a table. These examples are extreme, I acknowledge, however there are many smaller examples of “camping” that happen very frequently that can add up over the course of the evening, that will either send customers to another restaurant or possibly keep them away for good. A delicate balance indeed.

Brian Spangler
Apizza Scholls


sidemeat:
There is a line, or a couple of lines, between ‘camping’ and enjoying a meal at leasure. If you can see a line at the door, and you have long finished your meal, you might be camping. Is it a stupid question to ask why, oh why, EVERYONE thinks that 7:30 on a Friday night is the only time to dine?


Sir Loins:
Man oh man, campers are the worst. In a town of small-scale restaurants, it hurts everyone — waiting customers, servers, and owners — when a table puts down roots after their meal is over.

These same folks are also often the fussiest, the loudest, or the most obnoxious patrons in the house.


JDG:
[grapedog said:] Is it the patron of the restaurant who should be humble and appreciate the fact that the restaurant owner has invested money in a business and is willing to share his/her culinary creations with the public for a price?

Man, I hope there was a tinge of sarcasm implied here, or at least some hyperbole. Any establishment that would expect humility from me as a patron is not going to retain my business. I’ll gladly be — and always am as long as it is returned in kind — respectful of a business owner and their employees for their skills, and (mostly for smaller establishments) the financial risks the owners take on, but humble? No sir.


Bigfoot:
The culinary arts are clearly arts, but running a restaurant is not just about art, it is a business. If an owner determines that she can pay the staff and PGE by not taking reservations, then she should. In the process she has decided to lose the business of those of us who refuse to wait instead of reserving. That’s her right and ours. Of course, if/when a qualified competitor sets up shop and takes away enough business, then she would need to rethink taking reservations.

Our “job” as consumers is to decide what things we refuse to accept (for me it is no reservations policies, for others it may be surly service). Not patronizing a business is part of the invisible hand that “controls” the market and gets attention much faster than blogging.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Food Dude says

    I think there has to be a balance. I completely understand why a small restaurant wouldn’t take reservations. One large table not showing up could really make an impact on an evening’s take, and when you have a crowd waiting at the door to get in, it would really hurt to have the table sitting empty. However, in larger restaurants, it doesn’t make as much sense. I really like it when some tables are reserved, and some are saved for walk-ins. This way, if you are planning an evening revolving around a show/concert, you will be assured of getting a table and being on time to your event. I’m not sure if Carafe takes reservations, but I am sure they must have to deal with this all the time. Pascal?

  2. Cuisine Bonne Femme says

    Ok, I wasn’t going to comment, but this topic is one of my pet peeves, so:
    My policy and thinking behind this is simple.
    1. I can understand casual places and very small places not taking reservations, from a logistics and business perspective. I’m fine with that. However, from an ex-restaurant employee perspective, not taking reservations for large parties seems very onerous for the staff and other diners. A large party or two that are unplanned for can really cause all kinds of service problems, kitchen delays, etc.

    2. As for higher end dining (outside of very small places), I really feel that no reservation policies are uncivilized and amateurish – making people wait for such a long time in a crowded bar or on the street. I think that is just horrible and crude and not how I approach dining at all. Not that I won’t still eat at those establishments (I have), I just make sure to skip those places when the three occasions that I make reservations are called for (special nights, nights where I have to be someplace at a certain time, and for large parties). And places that have trouble handling their reservation systems– well those places probably have all kinds of front and back of the house issues too. So, if the restaurant doesn’t care that they are missing me as a customer, then we are in simpatico, as I don’t really care that I’m not eating there – there are lots of great places to eat that do take reservations. (I’m thinking one place in SE in particular – a place I have skipped at least 6 times due to the no-reservation policy).

    3. Oh manners! I can understand though why so many restaurants are loath to take reservations due to the bad habits of the dining public. I think this might be especially true in such a casual city as Portland where the dress-up policy for some diners is a clean fleece pullover and teva sandals with socks. No shows, late shows, more or less people in the party that was reserved shows – yep, this seems to have become standard practice for many. So, charging a credit card seems appropriate.

    Heck though, I still send handwritten thank you cards, so that tells you where I am coming from.

  3. brett says

    Yogi Berra would enjoy this thread — “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”

    For what it’s worth, not taking reservations is a surefire way to take your establishment off the list of Friday night/Saturday night choices. Why risk a long wait? There are plenty of places that do take reservations, and I’ll be headed there.

  4. Food Dude says

    a patron:

    By the way – according to the poll on this site – about 85% of your readers think restaurants should have reservations. What do you make of that?

    I’m really surprised. If anything I expected it to be lopsided the other way.

    Thanks for your comment and welcome to the site.

  5. nate says

    I may be just about the only person on this thread who doesn’t own, operate, or work in a restaurant who holds this view, but I’m all for a no reservations policy. I think it’s purely a business decision. If you can pack your restaurant every night without taking reservations and turn more tables in the process, more power to you. You can spend the additional profits on better or more adventuresome ingredients, more money for your staff, lower prices, or a trip to the Bahamas for all I care. If a third of the restaurant-going public won’t step into your place because you don’t take reservations, so be it. As long as the food is good and the tables are full…

    I’m not usually one to cite laissez-faire capitalism, but this is a perfect example of the free market at work. There are places in town I will wait for an hour or more because I feel the food is worth it. There are plenty of other places where I won’t because it’s not. Another deciding factor would be the environment in which I have to wait. When I wait at Yoko’s or Lauro (two places I find myself waiting a while from time to time) there’s a nice bar to hang out in. If I have to wait outside or in a standing in a small entryway subject to gusts of freezing air every time the door opens, I probably won’t hang around very long.

    One reason for this attitude is that I do tend to be something of a spontaneous diner. I like to make my dining decisions based on what I want to eat (and what environment to eat it in) at that very moment. I like the fact that when I decided I’m in the mood for Mediterranean food (or pizza, or sushi) I can walk into one of the afore mentioned restaurants and know that everything’s first-come, first served (I’ll admit that I do also occasionally relish the thought that I’m eating great food that a lot of fellow foodies are too snooty to wait for).

    Of course, if there’s an occasion where I need to eat on a schedule or don’t want to wait, I go someplace that takes reservations. There are plenty of those too…

  6. a patron says

    Reservations please.

    I am a frequent restaurant patron in Portland. For me, eating out is about the food. I cook well at home and therefore enjoy the treat of going out and exploring the creative options here in Portland. Sadly, there are a number of restaurants which I would love to return to, but really can’t stand the wait without a reservation. In part this is because I don’t want to stand for more than an hour (I like my wine seated and with dinner) and also in part it is due to my metabolism, “crashing” without a meal is really unpleasant. (BTW: I have never been more than 5 minutes late for a reservation, always cancel via telephone if I change my plans and try to remain aware of the line. Perhaps this is because 20 years ago I worked in a restaurant).

    In terms of making good business decisions I would think a restaurant owner would not only care about seating everyone that walks in the door -but also about the reviews. We patrons read reviews in Portland Monthly, WW, or on websites such as this, talk to each other, give arm-chair reviews, suggest restaurants for friends to try, or avoid, etc. I always tell people about reservation policies and most of the people I interact with stay clear of those that don’t take reservations. We lead busy lives, and would rather spend time at the table than in line. Seems you might be able to entice a whole new crowd of people if you offered reservations for at least some of your tables, doesnt it? Surely this would also apply to people travelling here from out of town, as concierge’s know where to get their patrons in for dinner. These people talk with their out of town friends too….

    I agree with an earlier suggestion that restaurants have both reservation and walk-in options.

    By the way – according to the poll on this site – about 85% of your readers think restaurants should have reservations. What do you make of that?

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  7. a patron says

    correction – oops, looks like the stat is 79% (not 85%) – still a high number and yes surprising to me too.

  8. Food Dude says

    Kevin, I try to mention reservations, usually “reservations recommended” if they take them. I’ll try to be more consistent.

  9. KevinS says

    My usual dinner companion has a disability which involves downing lots of presription medicines every day. We have to take into account the
    timing of food and medication. It doesn’t have to be exact, but it’s best not left to chance. So, reservations are a must. “No reservatiopns” and
    “reservations for parties of X or more” don’t work.

    FD – BTW – I don’t recall that your reviews routinely cover the restaurant’s
    reservation policy. If I’m right, would you consider adding that – maybe at the end where you have the address, phone, hours, etc?

  10. Bigfoot says

    Guys this discussion is fun. It does seem that many of the no-reservations places are today’s “hot” spot for the “in” crowd. Crowds standing outside tend to reinforce an exclusive aura. There are exceptions I am sure. As to no-reservations being a good business decision, think again. A full house now doesn’t mean that it will be full in a year or two when other places are new and “hot.” Developing a loyal customer base, by treating them with respect will go a long way to keeping the lights on for years to come.

  11. onetontemplebell says

    The thing that always kills me about Portland is that with a few exceptions I never wait more than 10 minutes for dinner seating, even when I walk in, but I often wait three or four times that long for brunch seating. People have this odd double standard I don’t understand. Why does waiting 30 minutes for a table for diner cause people to call for the heads of the staff but I see lines of people waiting happily out side any decent brunch place. I will wait an hour to eat at Le Pigeon, for me the food is that good, but only Simpatcia’s brunch is worth waiting even half that long for. Is it something they put in that free coffee they give you? Should I take up that habit to handle the wait?

    Ok, rant over. I feel a lot better now, time for a nap.

  12. Sir Loins says

    onetontemplebell,

    I’ve lived in Portland about 15 years now, and can say that it’s a weekend breakfast and brunch town like none I’ve ever seen. It seems that there are as many folks waiting in lines at 9:00am as there are at noon.

    Unless you pick Elmer’s, Pig & Pancake, or some other similar large joint, you’re gonna wait a while for your morning meal. Folks here love to go out for breakfast!

  13. atlas says

    I don’t much “do” brunch so I may be off here but I think the deal with brunch is that for many people it is the one time they eat out the most…

    So I suppose the shear number of people vying for a table is greatly increased not to mention it seems that many people stick with their one tried and true spot

  14. brett says

    (I’m thinking one place in SE in particular – a place I have skipped at least 6 times due to the no-reservation policy).

    I thought of that place immediately – never been there, for that reason.

    The thing that always kills me about Portland is that with a few exceptions I never wait more than 10 minutes for dinner seating, even when I walk in, but I often wait three or four times that long for brunch seating.

    I’ve noticed the same thing. You can’t go anywhere for brunch without waiting – Tin Shed, Gravy, etc. I guess people are less likely to know they are going to want to go to brunch. That’s why I’m partial to the Nitehawk or Joe’s Cellar — perfectly good no-frills breakfast, and cheap..

  15. Food Dude says

    atlas: I don’t do brunch for the same reason. I’m not a morning person, so I’ll be dammed if I’m gonna stand in a long line in front of some place with average food (like mississippi ave) in the rain, because there’s no comfortable place inside. I will, however, slip quietly into Zells at 130 on a Thursday after the lunch crowd is gone.

    As far as other meals go, I guess I’m the opposite of most. I don’t mind waiting, as long as there is a comfortable place to stand/sit.

  16. jc says

    Not a comment, more of a question:

    “Kim and I care very much about the customer experience, but as many who have been to Apizza can verify, is that our space is too small to handle the amount of business that we have been blessed to receive.”

    It seems to me that Brian and Kim had exactly the same issue before they relocated to Hawthorne…of the four times I tried to eat at the Scholls Public House, I was only successful twice. My question is, when the new space on Hawthorne was acquired, did you make any attempt to address the mismatch between your capacity and the increase in business that a move into town was sure to generate?

  17. Brian Spangler says

    JC,

    Unfortunately, we did not have the money to pick exactly what would be the best case scenario for the volume of business that we were anticpating in Portland. I will tell you and all a little history of how we came to be in Portland that will maybe give some an idea of just how risky and expensive it is to own a restaurant, or any small business.

    In Scholls, we never thought that we would gain the attention that we did for the pizza. I mean, who would? Kim and I lived a few miles away from the original location that was to most people, in the middle of nowhere. You had to drive 20 minutes in any direction to find a grocery store, etc. But, many people lived out there and we thought we could be a solid addition to the community and generate enough business for us to live well. 2-3 months after we started making pizzas, we appeared in the FoodDay article about pizza, which brought everyone in the world to Scholls, so it seemed at times. It was chaos and many in the community reported the traffic and parking issues to Washington Co. 8 months after buying the previous cafe that was located in that space, we received a letter from the County that we could be fined up to $1,000 per day if we did not address the traffic and parking issues.

    We hire lawyers, we got State Land Use involved, etc., and in the end, Wash. Co. wouldn’t help us with a solution and our lawyers told us to get out immediately. So, here we were, stuck in a lease, still owing money to the café owher and having to move our business, if we wanted to survive. Meanwhile, Kim had been living on credit cards (we did not pay ourselves for the first year), so that we could make the business succeed, because used all of our life savings to put a down payment on the business and give a good cash flow for the first 6 months.

    We applied for a loan and searched in Portland for a turn-key business, so that we could open immediately and continue to bring in money to pay our lawyers fees, outstanding debt to the owner of the cafe as well as continue to pay the lease on the building in Scholls. The only thing available in our price range and that we could move into, open up without city red tape or any construction was Surabaya. No, not big enough, but it meant that we could maybe find a way to exist without filing for bankruptcy. Luckily, the space next door went under and we had a clause in our lease that gave us first option with the landlord. We are now, finally growing to an appropriate size, yet still going into debt.

    We have not finished paying off Scholls Public House (far from it) we have not begun to pay of the purchase of Surabaya and we are taking cash that should go to either past debt to expand and make it better for our customers and staff. This does not mean that we will still be able to serve everyone that will want to dine here. We can only make so much at the quality level that we refuse to fall below. We are doing the best we can, while still adhearing to our dream. Who knows, people may stop showing up tomorrow and we could still loose it all, but at least we made the best out of it.

    Brian Spangler
    Apizza Scholls

  18. nicolepdx says

    It would be really nice if a “walk in only” place would accept phoning ahead to be put on the wait list. And obviously, if I’m not there when the table is ready, you give it to the next person on the list. This is especially the case for busy breakfast places. I live in N/NE and it would be great to call the Tin Shed or Gravy for example (although the last few times I’ve been there, we waited FOREVER once we finally got a table for very mediocre food) when we’re heading out the door and walking/biking over. I know it would require someone to answer the phone and write the name down, but it does seem like a easier way to manage walk in traffic. It would be nice to know before I head over that the wait is a least an hour, that I’m on the list, and can be leisurely about my pace. This is the main reason that I don’t go to these places — I’m not willing to stand out on the cold rain for over an hour for breakfast. But, I guess there are plenty of folks in Portland who will, hence the lines.

  19. Diner says

    I make reservations at Carlyle, Giorgios, Fenouil, etc. I have never had to wait for seating. I think making reservations helps both the restaurant and the guest at high end places. The restaurant can ensure adequate staffing to ensure personal attention by knowing in advance the requirements for the night. The guests are then rewarded with exceptional service. Afterall, even in our personal lives, it is appreciated when you take the time to let a friend know you will be dropping by.

  20. mczlaw says

    Brian:

    That’s a fascinating story that I had never heard before–and it demonstrates that nothing is ever black and white, or as simple as it seems. Having looked at the food service industry from several angles, it is clear that the balls it takes to get into the biz cannot be overstated. I admire all who pour their hearts and wallets into it.

    On a personal note, the one thing you didn’t mention is that before you started the original pizza joint, you were a humble bread baker who made some pretty kick ass rye bread. I always loved Olive Mountain and talking with you at the Market about the fickle nature of rye. Making a living as a bread baker, though, is surely even more difficult than running a restaurant.

    –mcz

  21. Kim Nyland says

    making a living as a bread baker, though, is surely even more difficult than running a restaurant.

    mczlaw …Damn skippy it is…the wood fired brick oven made it even harder, yet led us here :)

    kim @ apizza

  22. says

    I’ve always wondered why more restaurants don’t do what Three Doors Down used to do (and may still): the waiting list reservation.

    1. you call ahead and get on the waiting list
    2. they tell you about how long the wait is, and when to show up
    3. you go back to whatever it is you were doing, but then show up at or before that time. You know that wait time calculations aren’t a perfect science, so you also know you might not be seated immediately, but you also know it won’t be an eternity, either
    4. if the time comes and they call your name and you aren’t there, however, they immediately move to the next name on the list and it’s back to Ramen for you, Mr. Tardy-Pants.

    In many ways, it’s the perfect compromise between the business interests of a restaurant and the convenience of its patrons (as grapedog put it, above): restaurants fill and turn ‘em just as fast as any no-res joint, while customers get the assurance of knowing that they’ll sit within a reasonable amount of time after they arrive. The restaurants get the buzz only a crowd around the door can give, and their customers are happier and easier to please once they site, since their blood pressure hasn’t been rising over the course of an hour long wait in the street.

    So why don’t more restaurants do this?

  23. sidemeat says

    That Three Doors Down policy sounds pretty good. It won’t work for everyone in every situation but it might be a foundation that you could build upon. Tonight I had a reservation for 15 people in my section, repeat guests, very nice folks.
    They called ahead two hours before to confirm. All is well, right? They end up being a party of eight.They had met elsewhere for cocktails prior to dinner. Total for a supposed 15 top? Six drinks, seven appetizers, six entrees and two coffees. Again, very nice people, very generous tip. But the restaurant turned away other people based on that reservation. I am also reminded of a recent experience, (different restaurant) Reservation for 14, Friday or Saturday night, they called five minutes before to say they’re running late, come in a half hour later, and all they ordered was coffee and dessert. Any table is a crap shoot, but the bet becomes larger wih large parties and reservations.
    I like the 3 Doors idea, and any party larger than 10 or so becomes a private dining event and some menu and guest count things get figured in advance.
    Many years ago, at my first serious restaurant job, we would have people lined up in the sun, traffic crawling by, waiting for the place to
    open. Some days we would open the doors 5 minutes late, my manager explained, ‘everyone driving by thinks how good this place must be if all of these people will stand in line just to get in. you can’t buy that kind of advertising’. Twenty five years later and it’s still there.

  24. lexuh says

    Having worked in various roles in fine dining restaurants both here and in the DC/Baltimore area, I’ve noticed that Portlanders seem loath to wait in line for places. I’m sure it’s partly due to the climate, but I think it also has something to do with a general disdain for the hot, hip new club and the associated aura of exclusivity.

    At the risk of painting our town with too broad a brush, I think we Portlanders tend to be non-conformist and contrary. I was suprised when I first moved here and found people sniffing in disdain at the idea of waiting in line to get into a new nightclub. Back east, my experience had been much like sidemeat’s, but I don’t see it as much here.

    With the exception, of course, of weekend brunch. :)

  25. jc says

    Brian and Kim

    I wholeheartedly agree with mczlaw’s comment. Thanks for giving some insight into a part of the food business that most of us rarely see…

    jc

  26. Chambolle says

    “(we did not pay ourselves for the first year)”

    You pay yourself now? That sounds dreamy. We had it written into our (useless) business plan, but that is so in the past.

  27. one swell foop says

    I couldn’t imagine a place like Le Pigeon beginning to take reservations and maintaining the volume they have. A no show 12 top would put a damper on the night for everyone. While they may get $50 a head for the ones who didn’t show, that table would be sitting empty with hungry people waiting for a few minutes at least. No good.

    I wholly support the idea of allowing a charge per person on my card based on the restaurants average prices and number of courses, but I think it would only be workable at places that are larger and higher volume. They would be better able to absorb the potential lost business from people being offended at putting a deposit down on a table. People would stop making reservations in droves initially. I’ve worked in a number of fine dining places and am trying(as yet unsuccessfully) to work my way into the industry here in Portland, so I understand how it works and why this system would helps. Frank Thingamabob and his wife, who eat out twice a year (their anniversary and her birthday ) would not be so understanding. While it is unfortunate, it’s true that a majority of the dining population has never worked day in a restaurant, and there will be those who have that disagree with the policy.
    I hate to stick my neck out like this on something so hard to prove, but I agree with Brian Spangler’s comment that reservation tables tend to stay longer. If you make a reservation it’s probably a more important dinner to you than it is to someone who drops by to see if they can get a table. You’re probably more inclined to make a night of it, hell even close the place down. Who cares that you got there at six on a thursday or friday night, you’re the diner, paying for expensive food even. There’s a good number of people that feel fully justified in taking however long they please, particularly when they feel as if they paying a large price for the privilege.

    Since that whole thing might not work, how about something based off a comment in a Bourdain article I read? He wrote in a bit on do’s and don’ts of dining out that if you no call no show on a res a couple of times at the same place that you might get blacklisted and be unable to get a reservation there, or anywhere nearby for that matter. Get a few places that share a clientèle together and have a little black book(or a little black database rather) of repeat offenders for no call/no shows, and perhaps a second category for those that like to camp. It is better to see a train wreck in your seating chart sooner rather than later after all. (I’m not suggesting totally denying these blacklisted people tables, but arranging them in such a way that it has less of an effect when they don’t show again).

  28. says

    one swell foop: I know restaurants that use Open Table can easily track no-shows in house. Not between restaurants, but it’s a start. A friend of mine works the reservation system at one of them, and if she’s closed to filling up, and someone that has no-showed calls, she’ll usually tell them they are full. Too easy to book the last tables and not have to deal with them.

    For the record, I’ve never skipped on a reservation. Just bad freaking form. However, I’ve met people that make reservations at 2-3 restaurants, and then decide which one they want to go to when they get together. Ugh.

  29. unclesally says

    fyi, le pigeon’s reservation policy, as per their website:

    “Le Pigeon accepts reservations for parties of 2 or more
    at one of our three communal tables beginning at 5 PM
    everyday that we are open.

    We do not accept reservations between
    6:30 and 7:30.”

  30. pdxyogi says

    I understand all the risks and losses restaurants suffer from taking reservations. To mitigate that I’d be willing to make a deposit I’d forfeit if more than 15 minutes late or don’t show. By the same token, I’d expect equitable compensation if my table isn’t ready within 15 minutes and my party is on time.

    What a pain large parties can be, as sidemeat pointed out. They stay twice as long as smaller parties. From a customer’s point of view I hate them, and take measures to make sure am not seated nearby. They tend to be loud & obnoxious, acting as if the place is their private dining room.

    I’d love to go to Lauro, have never been, and the sole reason is their no-res policy.

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