Should a restaurant hold a table if you're late?
October 12th, 2010
12:30 PM ET
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We figured that Chef Ron Eyester's litany of complaints about restaurant customers would ruffle a few feathers, but it was especially interesting to note which of his pet irks inspired the most passionate responses, both pro and con.

4. “You know what happens when you’re late for a flight? You miss it! You know what happens when you’re late to the movies? It starts despite the fact that you’re not there. Why am I obligated to hold your table when you’re late? Oh, you hit traffic. What’s that? – I’ve never heard of traffic."

Some folks were sympathetic.

"99 times out of 100, the restaurant doesnt want you to wait any longer than you do for a table. It's a basic philosophy of making money. The reason you wait for your resi is because the person before you was late or because the person before you takes the concept of "Leisurely Dining" a little too seriously. Restaurants typically give about 2 hours per reservation, and no, the waiter isn't permitted to ask them to leave (although, we do employ some pretty interesting tactics)." - Robert

"You should respect a restaurant's time and pains in setting up your table just like we try our best to respect your plans post meal. If we have leeway, we will try our best to accommodate you and save the table. But breezing in 15 minutes late, believe it or not, can compound alongside other tables who were stuck in traffic – whereas other people bothered to make time for said traffic." - Samantha

Others, erm...less so.

"It seems very hypocritical to be upset over a paying customer being held up in traffic, yet find it unreasonable for them to be put off about a reserved table not being ready on time." - Justin

"If the chef is going to start complaining about customers being late for their reservations because of unexpected traffic, then he opened up the door for the customers to complain about the other side when the restaurant wastes their time (and makes them late for whatever else was on the agenda for the evening) by not having a table available at the reserved time. The difference is that the customer is paying for the privilege.. the chef is being paid." - Aloisae

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Robert

    I must say though, and this DOES happen, Damned be those of you that book reservations at two or three restaurants for a busy Friday night just to "Make your decision then and not now..." and not call and cancel the restaurants you decided not to enjoy. Damn you people to hell!!!!!! Ok, drama aside. Be empathetic. How do feel about being stood up. How would you feel if your date was going to give you money and stood you up. How would you feel if your date was going to give you money, you had other attractive dates waiting to take you out and give you money (but you had to say no, well, because you already had plans....) and stood you up. Yes, it is exactly like that. Be kind.

    October 14, 2010 at 7:12 am |
  2. kevin

    i am a "king" an when my pheasants call for a table for me to sit an eat, i expect to come when i please. and eat when i please,, so please take note.. "your king"

    October 14, 2010 at 7:00 am |
  3. SixDegrees

    If restaurants are so overbooked that holding reservations is a real problem, the recession must be over.

    October 14, 2010 at 3:23 am |
  4. OrlandoMag

    Anyone who votes anything other than "you snooze you lose" has never worked in a restaurant, and even more specifically never worked the front of the house. If you're busy and at least half of the party doesn't have the respect to show up on time then you have to move on. That could potentially be $100+ that goes into the restaurant that otherwise might not. It's a lean economy and the restaurant business model works on guests sitting at the tables, not letting it sit empty for someone who can't show up on time.

    October 13, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  5. akindafoodblog

    I have definitely called to let a restaurant know when I was going to be late. I've also had restaurants call me 15 minutes before my reservation to be sure that I was still coming. That made me a little bit frazzled to think I was supposed to be there early. Even though it was one of my favorite restaurants we waited almost an hour with a reservation to be seated.

    http://akindafoodblog.wordpress.com/

    October 13, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  6. Dion

    Wait – so restaurants can't wait for you but yet I've spent upwards of 2 hours waiting for a table?! (15 minutes, a few more, on it's way, people are leaving = all lies.)

    If you have a reservation and have indicated you are running late (aka not playing ding dong ditch with reservations) why can't they wait?

    Why do they also insist on "everyone" being there to seat your guests? I'm sorry my husband is parking our car – I would like to get settled. Apparently thats too much to ask.

    October 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  7. Truth

    Given that most people carry cellphones, going fifteen minutes late, the table should be held. Any more than that with no call from the patron, the restaurant shoul doffer to someone else.

    And you will usually notice that it is almost always the liberals who run late. Typical me-me-me attitude of the party of hate.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:40 am |
    • justbenice

      way to throw a political mud ball into a conversation about dining reservations. Get a life.

      BTW – 15 minutes is plenty for a restaurant to wait. Think how much this would cost a busy restaurant in the course of a week. How many times per week do you think people never show up for their reservations?

      October 14, 2010 at 6:26 am |
  8. Mad Russian

    Do you know why so many American restaurants fail? Simple, it's about customer turnover rather than longevity. In Europe, where most people don't go out to eat that often, they do everything they can to keep you in the place for hours at a time. I was a big fan of this chef's work on Top Chef but I'll have to admit he's a bit of an arrogant arse after reading his thoughts. Congratulations, you did great on a reality show but worry more about your restaurant than just about getting back at the customers that annoy you. I live in Atlanta and was going to reserve a table for my wife and me for a nice evening, looks like I'll be going to another restaurant and or cooking on my own again. As for tardiness, traffic happens, why not hold a table for about 10 minutes at most and 15 if they call to let you know they're running late? Yeah, I guess that customer service idea still doesn't need to apply to real life.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  9. Shannon

    I think a few minutes should be okay. I had a reservation tonight at a local restaurant that I live 20 minutes from. I left the house 40 minutes early but it started storming so hard as soon as I got on the interstate that I couldn't see the road in front of me. I ended up being 5 minutes late when I arrived and the parking lot was full so I had to circle around it and park in ANOTHER business' parking lot. It ended up making me 8-10 minutes late once I was inside. If they gave away my reservation because it was storming like hell and their parking lot was full, I'd be pretty upset. I completely understand the reason they don't want you late, but a few minutes late should be okay. Shit happens.

    October 12, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  10. Josh from Textaurant

    This could be a solvable problem if there was more communication between the restaurant and the patron. With a waiting list/reservation solution like Textaurant (http://textaurant.com), the patron could get in the line remotely, then receive a notification when their table is almost ready – eliminating the need for them to wonder/worry. Also, they could use the system remotely to delay their arrival if they are stuck in traffic. Problem solved, from both ends!

    October 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  11. Fiona

    Fifteen minutes is the MINIMUM that a restaurant should hold a table. Thirty minutes is asking a lot, though I have had a well-managed restaurant hold a table for me for that long. I'd put the reasonable hold at 20 minutes. Since it often takes at least that long for a server to come and greet my table when I go out, I don't think 20 minutes is going to gum up the reservation works.

    Since this particular can of worms has been opened - customers being late to arrive and restaurants being late to seat - how about restaurants that don't honor their promise to get you out in time for the theater? I've had that experience in NYC - reserving and confirming an early table at a place known for pre-theater dining. Arriving five minutes early for my reservation. Reminding the hostess that we had theater tickets. Being seated and ignored from half an hour, despite alerting the captain that we had a schedule to keep. Having that delay escalate through the meal, to the point where we had to run out of the place to make the curtain, leaving part of our meal untouched. No apology or anything from the restaurant manager or the server.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  12. customer

    If they make me wait for a reservation I will be late the next time. This applies to everything, restaurants, meeting a friend somewhere, and dr's offices. Theres no point in me getting somewhere on time if I know I'll have to wait around, I'll show the same respect that was shown to me.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
    • Fiona

      Funny you mention doctors' offices. I was kept waiting for 40 minutes at a specialist's office, at which point I questioned the receptionist and was told the doctor would be another half an hour. The chart on the wall that notes how late the docs are running showed that he was "on time." I asked why she had not said something to me, as I was sitting not five feet in front of her desk. No response. I told her I had things to do, walked out, and phoned later to reschedule. When I finally saw the doctor, he apologized, graciously, for the delay (that rarely happens, in my experience). I think you get more respect from people by refusing to be pushed around. If you've ever had a restaurant host try to seat you at the most uncomfortable and undesirable table in a dining room with plenty of empty ones, you know what I mean. people will try...but you don't have to roll over and take it.

      October 12, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  13. Caroline

    I've worked in resturants on and off for over 20 years, and there are a couple of ways to approach this. When making a reservation, the reservation policy should be made clear at that time, ie: "We hold a table for x amount of time before giving it away" or simply ask. Calling if you are going to be late usually holds your table, not forever but long enough. If you arrive on time and are not seated with in 5-10 minutes, the resturant should offer an honest explanation and a complimentary drink. I have in the past had to ask a long lingering table to vacate because of a reservation, and again, I explained the situation and offered them a complimentary drink at the bar. None of this is out of the ordinary, it is basic common courtesy on both the customer and the resturant. BE NICE!

    October 12, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
    • customer

      I think the only way to get free stuff is to be angry and rude, not nice. I have NEVER gotten anything free from a restaurant for an inconvenience, NEVER. And Ive been inconvenienced many many times. I've never gotten anything free because Im too nice and act like its not a big deal. Being nice to the servers gets you no where 99% of the time.

      October 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
    • Veggiehead

      Why haven't you been my server? I've dined in some top-notch places, and I have never been offered a comped drink or coffee or ANYTHING to make up for being made to wait for a reserved table (or for any other screw-up on the part of the restaurant). The only time I was offered anything free was in a pizza-based Italian restaurant (bare wood tables, salad bar, etc.), when I quietly pointed out to the manager the cockroach that was calmly sashaying across our table. I was told there would be no check for the meal and that we could order dessert on the house - the unsaid plea being, "Please don't say anything about that major health violation!".

      October 12, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  14. Reserved:

    They should have a time limit – 15 to 20 minutes where a late party can still make it to their reservation. Most people waiting for a table are willing to wait that long, and chances are that other tables will open up around that time too, in case the person shows up for his reservation. If he calls and says he's on his way, get an approximate time from him and hold his table until then.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  15. deathbydonuts

    It goes both ways. I understand why this chef was mad about customers arriving late, and that's understandable, but what about the reverse: customers who are on time, but restaurants have no tables and the customer has to wait 15 minutes (or longer) past their reservation to get a table?

    October 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • Agreed

      Exactly right. If you make the reservation and still have to wait, they need to be lenient with when you show up. If they want you to make the reservation not a minute late, they need to have that table open and ready as soon as you get there.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
    • WinchLock

      I couldn't agree more. If a restaurant can't honor your reservation, then they should immediately find you alternate seating or at an absolute minimum offer some sort of discount.

      October 13, 2010 at 11:45 am |
      • robot chop

        if you are sitting at a table after you have finished your meal jawing and having a good time (going out is fun after all) guess what? you're probably making someone who has a reservation wait for a table. get real folks. good restaurants are busy and in demand. managing the seating chart [reservations] for the night is kind of like benig an air traffic controller dealing with a bunch of planes that are doing whatever the hell they want to. it's ignorant to blame the restaurant, balme your fellow diners. and if a restaurant is really good, they are way booked up, and will only wait for you for so long. it is a privilege to eat at the best restaurants.

        October 13, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
  16. Tyler

    When I read that article earlier I thought to myself, "he should at least give them 15 minutes or so".

    I would say that 15 minutes leeway is plenty (many restaurants do 30 minutes), but I think a combination of 15 minutes free and if you're going to be any later you give them a call is the most reasonable policy.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
    • robot chop

      the core issue here is this: the vast majority of people are unable to put themselves in someone else's shoes. have some empathy for you fellow humans, and look at this thing from all angles. the other diners, the service staff, the kitchen staff, etc.

      October 13, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
    • shoos

      Depends on if it is a Monday night or a Friday night. I don't think they have to hold your table. It's not like you paid $500 to hold the table, its an honor system. There shouldn't be any guilt by the restaurant to seat others waiting and there should be no anger. It's just dinner.

      October 14, 2010 at 6:49 am |
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