Friday, June 13, 2008

Sorry, No Reservations

I had previously written about the difficulties in booking a table at some restaurants in Melbourne. I'm simply not organised enough to book so far in advance. When I ring up Afghan Village during the day, it's probably fair enough that they are full. But Shira Nui is just notoriously hard to get a table at. Even when I do get a table, they literally kick me out right on eight. I booked Bistro Guillaume for next Sat three weeks ago, and again was told that I need to leave by 8pm. So I'm not sure whether I'm delighted at the No Reservation policy of Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons.

On the one hand, the benefits for unorganised people like myself who rarely plan things more than a week in advance, it means that I have a chance to eat that restaurant whenever I choose. But the no reservation policy obviously has its massive downfall as well. When I went there last week, by about 7:30pm, the bar part had completely filled up with patrons waiting for a table. Even ex-sports stars like Chris Johnson had to wait patiently.

With a no reservation policy, to guarantee yourself a table at such a popular place, you have to pretty much be at the restaurant by 7pm. This is fine if everyone can make it at this time and you like to eat early. But what if you like to eat at 8pm, well tough luck. You just have to wait in line, and since there is no defined time for how long other patrons will take with their meals, your wait could be 30 minutes, or 2 hours.

The beauty of making a booking is that you are guaranteed a table, provided you're not incredibly late. The down side of that is that everyone else also books, usually before me. This means I have to not only wait a long time to eat at a particular restaurant, I have to be so organised and get all my friends to agree on a time and date and stick to it. That's the hard part. We planned on going to Vue de Monde and Rockpool Bar and Grill Melbourne so many times, only to be told that it was booked two weeks out. Finally, I booked those two places with two months advanced notice. I'm still trying to get organised enough to book Tempura Hajime and The Press Club. Even when I rang the Press Club a month out, they told me their Saturdays were fully booked for another 3 months. What the?

So after weighing it all up, what's my final verdict. As much as I complain about it, I still want to be able to book at a restaurant. If I want to eat somewhere that night, I want to be guaranteed that I will eat there, unless there is some major disaster. I don't want to turn up and end up being disappointed, especially if it was a special occasion. No reservation restaurants have their place. They work well in crowded areas with lots of other restaurants I think. I wouldn't mind waiting for a particular restaurant with no booking, but if it took too long, I could just go to another restaurant close by that was available.

What are your opinions regarding not having reservations at a restaurant? Do you like it or loathe it?


  1. Good weighing up of issues, Thanh. (I've just written about it too in a not-yet-published context.) I think the no-reservations thing is a pain in the neck. If a place is popular it can have the courtesy to help customers or go play with itself, in my opinion. But at the same time, the 'be out by 8pm' thing is just rude. Restaurants that are so in-your-face about wanting people's money (cos that's what turning your table is about) have forgotten the value of a satisfied customer.

  2. Unless I'm making a spontaneous visit to a high turnover Asian venue, where the wait is rarely long, I want to book. I will not wait for an indefinite period for a seat. I also do not want to be told when I book that I have a window of 90minutes within which I have to squeeze in the experience.

    Melbourne has more great places than I can possibly afford to visit more than once a year, so those who will not accept a reservation, can bugger off and enjoy the fawning of the slavishly pretentious. They will not get my custom.

    I don't care how much hype they've had. As a Queen of Spin I am immune to following the pack...I'll save my dosh and spend it overseas on even more great dining adventures. >_<

  3. Hi all
    The no-reservations thing is the way of the future, so get ready to get use to it...especially for more relaxed dining.
    The out by 8pm thing is that yes someone else has gotten in before you and has a 8pm or 8.30pm reservation and the restaurant has offered you the table BEFORE the prebooked reservation. Any restaurant worth their salt would not strictly double book its tables, it just doesn't work that way. For more info see my post
    Happy eating

  4. Try and unpopular night and it's a lot easier to get in.Also restaurants that book out a longtime ahead often have drop outs on the day -it can be worth rocking up - Lau's is a case in point.
    On one hand I want to pop out around the corner for a casual meal. On the other if I'm traveling up to town to eat with friends (who've probably booked a baby sitter) we want some certainly.I don't want to sit for an hour or two waiting for a table or wandering the streets with a cold wind whistling up my trouser legs. Horses for courses I guess. As far as being booked out at some places, that will change as we dip into recession. There is already talk of bookings down 10%. One restaurateur says that in the CBD suppliers' business is down 10% which means restaurant business is down 20-25%.

  5. I prefer to book. If I go out for a spontaneous dinner, then I'll go somewhere casual where I know I'll be able to get a table. Otherwise, if I've planned to go somewhere to eat - I actually want to be able to eat there without having to wait for an indefinite period.

  6. Duncan, the get-out-by-8pm thing is getting really popular now. Quite a few times when I wanted to get a table at 7pm, they would tell me I can either come at 6pm (too early for my liking), or 8pm, which means the meal might finish really late, which doesn't suit some people. I agree that it is a blatant push for more revenue and it doesn't satisfy me, the customer, at all.

    Sticky, I see that you are clearly of the "I want to book" attitude. I know that when I go to Asian restaurants, I sometimes don't book either because the turnover is just so fast. So I'll rock up to yum cha or a cafe and just wait for a table. But those tend to be more casual dining experiences where I don't mind too much where I eat.

    Jack, I just read your post, very interesting indeed. I wouldn't mind if I was told that I need to come at 6pm or 8pm if I got to stay as long as I want and it was the restaurants way of ensuring quality by not having as many people in the restaurant at one time. But with both Shira Nui and Bistro Guillaume, I have been explicitly told that I need to leave at 8pm as the table is booked for another customer. But I really want to eat there so have begrudgingly accepted this condition.

    I do like your tip of being waitlisted. I never thought about that. I'm going to try that trick next time.

    Ed, I think rocking up and waiting for dropouts is fine if you aren't too fussed about where you want to eat. But like you said, you'd want some certainty if you had booked a baby sitter for example.

    Agnes, we totally agree. If it's a casual dinner, its fine to not have a booking, but otherwise, I want to book.

  7. There is an art to plotting the seating and flow of custom through a restaurant, staggering guests and rostering staff accordingly. It is the traditional form of service as was the norm in the great hotels of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It seems to have been forgotten or cannibalised by the rising costs of running a venue.

    A great many years ago I ran the reservations book (Maitress D'Hotel) for a very large restaurant in the suburbs. When I started there were people queuing outside the venue for seats for over an hour and my first instinct was to change this.

    It required having extra hands on deck both front and back of house just during peak times, careful rostering of waitstaff (Commis de Rang) and having short shifts of casuals as runners used in the traditional sense, clearing tables, serving bread assisting waiters etc in peak times.

    Also impactful was staggering bookings in 10minute intervals. I also always made sure that there were a couple of tables that were not booked to allow for walk-ins and people could be waitlisted for cancellations.

    I moved waiting diners into the bar and facilitated them with menus there to peruse, so that by the time the entrees were ready, they would have moved into the restaurant. In my time there was never a wait of more than half an hour.

    I think that you will find that in the better restaurants overseas, this traditional model is still being used.

  8. The way I first read your description was as if some restaurants were using a 'sittings' policy. I don't mind if a table is prebooked for a certain time, so I have to leave before then. It's when it's about turning tables in a rigid way that I get grumpy.

  9. Ed, your right, business is 'soft' at the moment. There is a distinct trend in Melbourne restaurants that when it gets cold, it will be quiet for a couple of weeks, then pick back up. This year the cold snap has correlated with all this talk of economic decline and hence people are being a bit more cautious. It will be back within the month I reckon.
    Thanh, I think the thing to remember here is that GA&S has been set up to be a casual drop in kind of place, just like Agnes and Sticky are refering to, just because it is the new-talked-about-place its crazy busy. You need to be a bit tactical to get a spot at GA&S on a Friday or Saturday night. I dined there right when it opened, on a Friday night for 8 people and we sat down at 7.30. The trick was that 2 of the party arrived at 6.30 popped there name down said it was for 8 and most people would be coming at 7.30, then lingered over a drink until that time. It was that easy. With the time to plan the restaurant could shuffle where they put other smaller groups so to create the larger space. When you just turn up wanting to eat immediately they need time to create the room. Its kind of like tetrus sometimes you just have to wait and plan abit to get the 'line'. The differnce with chinese style restaurants is that they are setup for larger groups so its more common for these spots to open up quicker.
    I feel another Restaurant rules piece coming on... ;)

  10. Sticky, eveything you wrote sounds like very good practise. All restaurants should do things like that to make the customers wait shorter.

    Duncan, at Shira Nui, they definitely said they had two sittings and I could pick one or the other.

    Jack, I understand that GA&S are targetting a more casual atmosphere, so I too don't mind going there expecting to wait. I didn't have any trouble getting a table as I had read your review and some of us got there early to snag a table while others arrived a bit later.

  11. Jack, I think it's a bit worse than the seasonal dip. I gather that suppliers' are already applying a credit squeeze and the people who fell behind last year may slip over the edge. It's a widespread downturn across most small businesses inc. restaurants.

  12. Maybe they don't want to reserve for a 'prick'?

  13. Who are these cowardly anonymous trolls that keep popping up? The real pricks obviously.

  14. Anonymous, there you go again, not playing nice and being silly. I will have to start moderating your comments.

    Ed, most of the Anonymous comments are from one friend. Occasionally, some Anonymous comments are from other friends, but they're related to the post and not just silly crude stuff. I've spoken to this friend that I like his funny comments, but when it is just silly and crude, that I will have to moderate them if he keeps posting them.

  15. Mr Fat Do and ed,

    If you cannot dig my comments then you two are bigger communists than the Chinese.

    My comments are crude but valid. Some places simply refuse reservations and entry to certain types of people especially ones with foul mouths and aggressive eating habits.

    Rings a bell does it T Do?

  16. Maybe.......and just maybe, the Melbourne restaurant community has been circling photos of you with a caption that says: DO NOT LET THIS MAN INTO YOUR RESTAURANT - HE IS AN AMATEUR FOOD BLOG DORK WHO WRITES TERRIBLE REVIEWS.

    You never know!!!

    Their may be a photo of you're ugly mug in every kitchen in Melbourne by now!!!

  17. Anonymous, hahaha, if only I was so famous. Unfortunately, I suspect my photo is only in your restaurant.

  18. No Thanh,

    You are not famous!!! You are an idiot!!!

    I truly did circulate your photo to about thirty head chef/slash owners of fine Melbourne establishments!!!

    I personally know of one chef who drew a speech bubble next to your face saying "I eat cock"

  19. Anonymous, why do you feel the need to call me an idiot. Do you feel superior doing that?

    Well if those fine establishments can be bothered wasting their time with such petty games rather than trying to refine their restaurant, good on them.

  20. I get confused Thanh as to whether these are friends messing around or real trolls.

  21. Ed, this Anonymous person is definitely not my friend at all. As far as I know, he has worked in the food industry for twenty years. Apparently, thirty head chefs know me now. I only thought you could get that form of notoriety by being a real reviewer. Who knew a blogger could hold that much power? I've read your articles about people in the industry not liking blogs, but this is first hand experience. I didn't know that the hatred ran so deep that I would be insulted for giving my opinion.

    I asked Anonymous on the Anonymous Commenter post whether he actually valued feedback as that's what bloggers do. Or would he rather not ever knowing what goes wrong to stop diners going to his establishment. I'm still awaiting an answer.

    He actually submitted a profile on the readership survey that you can read here.

  22. What a plonker. He's just winding you up.

  23. I will use my ID from now on to avoid confusion between myself and our new friend Anonymous who now brings great life to what was otherwise a dead blog.


    I will provide trolling support when needed but I feel our new champion can handle it very well.

  24. Yeah I know Ed. Too much time on his hands.

  25. Yeah too much time just like the silly fatty author of this blog. Rings a bell?

  26. Or maybe he has too many comments feeds. LOL!

  27. Thanh,

    Chef's do appreciate constructive criticism and occasionally customers can point out things that we often overlook!!!

    However, after reading many of your nonsensical reviews of some fine Melbourne institutions I will without hesitation say that no chef or restaurateur in Melbourne would learn or listen or any critic or opinion that you may have about there food or their restaurant!!!

    Oblivion, I'm glad you like my work!!!

  28. Ed,

    You're the plonker mate!!!

    I'm not winding Thanh up at all. The photo has been sent and it really does say "I eat cock" in a speech bubble next to his wide face

  29. I would very much like to visit this restrauant.

    Can you recommend me a place that is TRULY good?

  30. Oblivion!!!

    This is for you, not for thanh!!!

    My top 5 restaurants in Melbourne right now in no specific order!!!

    1. Cumulus inc.
    2. Rumi
    3. Long grain
    4. Warung Agus
    5. 312

  31. Thank You.

    I have been to Rumi and 312.

    We were invited by friends who has $350 voucher and the four of us went over it. And it was just for lunch.

    Great experience.

    Another great and expensive place I went to for lunch with our clients was Grossi Florentino. Fantastic also. Only on that occasion did I go back to work later half pissed!!!

  32. Oblivion, you failed to mention that you hated Rumi, whereas I just disliked it. You bagged the food, the prices, and me, for suggesting that we go there. You also made that silly joke about "Rumi for more" and are still using that joke a year later.

  33. Fat and Stupid Do,

    Don't put words in my mouth.

    I never said I hate Rumi.

    It just wasn't a good experience for me on that occassion. Whether it was just a bad day at that place.. I don't know.

    I will try out those other places our Chef friend mentioned above.