If You Have A Reservation, How Long Can a Restaurant Keep You Waiting?

March 26 2009, 11:39 AM

Years ago, I worked at Jax Fish House Denver as the hostess. It was my job to smile at the bachelors, make sure any couples expecting children got their tables quickly, and keep the reservation book. Most nights, the latter task required little more than checking off a two-top for a designated hour, or coordinating with the servers to set up a 10-seater. But every once in a while the evening would get complicated. A large party would linger longer than expected. Or Jax would throw a themed dinner with a seating every two hours. Inevitably, diners would stay too long, and it would become impossible to turn the tables. On these nights, when parties with reservations arrived promptly on the hour, I'd have only bar stools for them. That's when I would begin pacing. Did table 3 have its bill? Had the older couple put in a dessert order? I needed to know what dining times I was up against, because my unwritten policy was that no party with a reservation should wait longer than 15 minutes. 

Just as I would hold a table for a party running 15 minutes late, I expected the same courtesy of them. But after a quarter of an hour, I'd be in trouble. I'd have to explain the situation to the manager, and she'd have to buy the table-less group an appetizer. If in another 15 minutes the table still wasn't seated, she'd have to go in for a full round of drinks, or perhaps a bottle of wine, costing the restaurant some money. Yet, despite my tension about the 15-minute rule, I respected Jax's standard of compensating missed reservations with food and drinks. It prevented disgruntled-diner scenarios and a possible lost customer. I appreciate it even more now. On numerous occasions, diners have written in to 5280 complaining of well-known restaurants that made them wait an hour or more for their reserved tables without free food or drink. An hour or more? That hardly seems fair, and were I the diner, I'd probably ditch the restaurant altogether. But then again, patience has never been my virtue. So I wonder, how long should you wait for a table you've reserved?

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