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