Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bookings Or No Bookings, That Is The Question

The debate over whether a restaurant takes bookings or not has again resurfaced due to a torrent of new hip restaurants that don't take bookings but yet still managed to creat a lot of buzz amongst diners. I have waxed lyricals previously about restaurant bookings and their pros and cons.

My final verdict at the time was

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.

I still believe what I have written previously, and the latest article in The Age about no reservation restaurants back up what I thought, that no reservations work well for casual dining where there are a cluster of choices.

Some may see these no-reservations restaurants with their mostly youthful crowds as yet another sign of generation Y's inability to commit to anything, not even a restaurant. Yet it does seem that Melbourne's ever-widening embrace of more casual dining - and the fact inner-city restaurants and bars tend to gather in entertainment clusters - lends itself to a less structured night out.

Others have also blogged about the exact same issue, as all diners are faced with the decision of whether to wait for a table at a no reservation restaurant. Jackie wrote a post that linked to another opinion in The Sydney Morning Herald where Jordan Baker basically said that restaurants didn't take reservations because they can. The reply from Neil Perry to Baker's article shed some insight into how a restauranteur feels about the situation and gives another point of view.

It is all very interesting reading and I think at the end of the day, people's wallets speak the loudest. If by not taking reservations, a restaurants business decreases dramatically, I think they will change it. But as long as they are still able to attract patrons who are willing to wait, they can continue to not take bookings. I know that at times a no bookings policy works in my advantage and at other times it doesn't. Therefore, there is certainly room for restaurants without bookings in the Melbourne food scene. Now I just wish I could get into Cumulus Inc.

What are your opinions? Any horror no booking stories or positive experiences to share?


  1. I think no reservations policies are the best thing since baked eggs.

    I am Gen Y to my core and I proud of it. I am lucky beyond comprehension that I have disposable income to spare and eating out is a something I do weekly, rather than a special event that occurs once a year.

    Restaurants that take bookings cater to a different type of eating. They also confer a level of responsibility on the diner; the attitude seems to be "since we were nice enough to reserve you a table, you had better order big". Waiters do not take kindly to booked tables only ordering mains. Or only having a glass of wine rather than a bottle. When I go out I want to eat and I want to catch up with friends. I don't want a waiter hovering at my elbow attempting to upsell me bottled water, sides, entrees and desserts; I don't want my napkin folded, chair held or conversation interrupted by "How's everything here?" .

    I don't understand why people keep writing articles railing against no reservations policies. Like you point out in your article, no amount of yelling, screaming or angry article writing is going to change the policy of any restaurant that is full 6 nights a week.

  2. Thanh, you have tapped into one of my pet hates!

    Just came back from Malaysia, where booking a table is virtually unheard of since there are so many eateries everywhere, but also because restaurants will do all they can to squeeze you in, even when they seem packed out (its an Asian thing).

    But back in Melbourne, I am irked by no-reservation places. Breakfast at Babka in Brunswick St is one of my favourite ways to start the day, but its hard to convince whoever I'm planning to eat with that its worth standing in the queue for half an hour to get a table when there are other places nearby.

    In a way, I think no-reservations joints suit couples and the inner-city crowd, for whom it is not too difficult to go somewhere spontaneously. When you live further out in the burbs as I do, or want to organise a group of people to accompany your dining experience, it becomes a more involved process to eat out. There are a few restaurants around town that I've longed to try - Bar Lourinha and DOC Pizza spring to mind - but have not due to the logistical problems brought on by an inability to ensure a table. It is the height of frustration to organise a group of diners to meet at a certain time at a place I've recommended, then have to stand around waiting and perhaps not get a table at all. Thus you want a guarantee that you'll get a table before you undertake this process.

    Ah, nice to get that off my chest.

  3. Anna and Christopher, thank you for both your contrasting and valid contributions.

    I personally believe that no booking restaurants do have a place and if you don't like it, you don't need to eat there, simple as that.