According to the New York Times, more and more restaurants are starting to experiment with a no reservations policy.
Always a hot topic (just see this post for a trip down memory lane). The NY Times article says,
…it is decidedly premature to claim some grand paradigm shift in reservations policy. For the most part, for waiting-in-line to work, “you need a big place and a high-traffic neighborhood,” said Ed Brown, the Ed of the 100-seat Ed’s Chowder House on the Upper West Side.
Fatty Crab, on Hudson Street, the forerunner of Fatty ’Cue, hasn’t taken reservations since it opened in 2005. “With our low price point, that was a necessity to stay in business,” Mr. Camac said. For restaurateurs, there is a side benefit, he said: “The good news is that if they want to dine at 9, they show up at 8, and we know we’ll have them for an hour of drinking at the bar.”
They bring up something I’ve never considered; the overhead required for a busy restaurant to have a reservation system.
The easy button for many restaurateurs is OpenTable.com, which allows diners to make reservations 24/7 online. “The average restaurant spends $1,500 to $2,000 a month on OpenTable,” said Mr. Brown, of Ed’s Chowder House, adding that restaurants like his pay a setup fee, monthly fees and a fee for every reservation.
In addition, a serious fine-dining experience requires reservationists “12 hours a day, seven days a week,” Mr. Brown said, “a minimum of three people making $30,000 apiece per year plus benefits.”
“Add to that yearly payments of $20,000 in OpenTable fees,” he said. “So by having no reservations, that restaurant saves $125,000 a year.”
Furthermore, while no-reservations restaurants can reach as many as four table turns a night, two may be the maximum for restaurants that take reservations, Mr. Brown said. “So for them, often the only way to cope with increasing costs is to keep charging more money.” That, in turn, can price a restaurant out of its market.
Ouch. That’s a lot of pasta.
As an aside from the same article, according to Tim Zagat of the Zagat guide, the average age of their citizen-reviewers is in the 40s and average household income, he said, is $158,000.
Yay for the common man! That explains SO much about the Zagat guide.
Jeff Shultz says
Having not checked out the Zagat Guide, but approaching the mid-40s with an income approximately half that… what does that explain about the Zagat Guide? Is it a bit high end in what it reviews?
Food Dude says
The ratings are skewed toward people with larger incomes, not the common man.
I don’t think much of the economics of having a reservation system that are quoted in this article carry over outside of Manhattan (as well as the quoted average income of a Zagat reviewer). I’d be curious what the cost is to the the handful of Portland restaurants that are on OpenTable.com.
It’s also interesting that Ma Peche is the first restaurant cited in the story — Manhattan Chowhound and other chatter is that it is likely to only be 1/3 full on a weeknight with no problem getting in on the weekend.
Food Dude says
Actually, I was surprised to find 60 restAurants now on open table
I like the 3-Doors-Down reservation policy. Call ahead and they’ll put your name on the list. I think that is an extremely reasonable half-way point.
This is touched upon in the article, but only briefly, and I think it’s an issue that should be considered more seriously in the reservations vs. no reservations debate. Obviously, the “you have to be somebody” reservation policy that used to be in vogue is not a good one, but booking tables ahead of time is a very useful tool in creating a pleasant restaurant environment. A few no-shows aside, properly managed reservations ensure that food comes out on time, that people aren’t (regularly) seated drunk & cranky, and that servers and cooks aren’t frantically running around any more than they have too. Managing reservations isn’t easy– it’s kind of an art, in fact– but I think it’s a skill that more restaurants need to cultivate.
Accepting reservations is a service that restaurants provide to their guests. Taking reservations definitely impacts the number of turns that a restaurant can expect from a table – lowering profits and driving up prices. Going to no reservations is definitely a good idea from a restaurant’s viewpoint. Especially since having a reservation usually gives the guest a sense of entitlement rather than appreciation that you are saving a table for them that could have been used more efficiently. I’ve had guests show up early and be upset that “their” table wasn’t ready and waiting for them!
Choosing to frequent a restaurant over any other is a privilege the guest provides to the restaurant. Not taking reservations definitely impacts the amount of time the guest usually has to wait, i.e. undetermined. Going to no reservations may be a great idea to the restaurant money wise but for a guest is sucks. And for a kitchen, it’s worse. If I’m planning and know I have 200 covers (and factoring in walk ins) I can handle it much better than “let’s wait and see”. Topaz makes a good point as well. I have neither the time nor inclination to wait an hour when instead I can be quite sure I have a specific time and table.
Time is money for your guests too, restauranteurs. And if I have to spend an hour waiting for a table, no matter how “special” the food may be, I won’t be staying. I agree with a poster above who like the halfway point of allowing a guest to call in and be placed on the waiting list. That helps. But no reservations at all will make me much less likely to choose your establishment. Just sayin’.
I absolutely agree. With only a couple of notable exceptions, a “no reservations” policy means no patronage from us. There are too many great alternatives in this town and our time feels valuable enough that this is not something we choose deal with. I can certainly see why from a restaurant’s perspective, a “no reservations” policy might really help the bottom line. However, it’s extremely customer unfriendly (unless you enjoy sitting around for an hour waiting for a table). Thanks, but no thanks.
Rick Hamell says
I’m on the other side of the coin. I don’t like reservations. I realize that means that I might not get to eat at certain places, but we make such last minute decisions that trying to get a reservation is near impossible anyways. If I really want to eat somewhere particular, I’ll just need to go in off hours.