Dinner reservation for Marissa, party of 5.

imageCommencement weekend in a college town means a lot of things, like unexpected traffic, parties and a surge in no-show reservations in area restaurants. You see, it seems that to many graduates picking a restaurant and keeping a reservation is akin to selecting and committing to an undergraduate major – they simply can’t do it.

This past weekend was our first experience at Lark + Lily with the no-shows which unfortunately define graduation weekend in this area. Continuing with the academic metaphor, it was a fail. We had two parties of five no-show that night, which is a lot of wasted real estate in a restaurant the size of mine. This occurrence has prompted me to evaluate our reservations procedure moving onward. Before I move forward, however, let me share with you how events such as this have been managed in my experience as a server in another restaurant.

When I worked at Yono’s in the late 80s and early 90s, our policy was to require a deposit of $20 per person to be paid when the reservation was made. When the guests arrived we would give them “Yono’s $” which they would then apply to the check at the end of their meal. We learned that this was necessary because deducting the deposit from the total of the check often resulted in a gratuity which did not reflect the actual total of the bill. Example: a table of 10 runs up a tab of $500 but having paid the required deposit of $200 they receive a check with an actual total of only $300 due, which they tip 20% or $60 on instead of $100. I don’t know what system Yono’s is using currently, but those Yono’s $$ worked out very well for everyone back in the day.

As for us at Lark + Lily, while our formal policy has been to accept reservations only for parties of 5 and larger, we’ve tried to be accommodating to smaller parties, taking a name and requested dining time in an unofficial capacity without actually calling it a reservation. As a diner, I understand the appeal of knowing that a table will be available for me when I arrive, especially in an area where parking may require a few minutes effort.

Thanks to Marissa, (the name on one of the no-show reservations) we’ve made some tweaks to our reservation policy. Effective immediately we will be requiring a deposit for parties of 5+ during commencement season. This includes the upcoming flurry of high school graduations in the next few weeks. I’ve also advised staff that should an expected party be more than 15 minutes late without the courtesy of a phone call, that table is no longer considered reserved. Does this seem unreasonable?  What are your expectations as a guest or your experiences as a hospitality veteran?

Marissa may not have grasped the concept of basic good manners during her years in Albany as a student, but this alumna appreciates the lesson she taught me.  Time for us both to graduate.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Dinner reservation for Marissa, party of 5.

  1. CT

    This makes complete sense. Having worked in a restaurant and has to deal with these same issues during graduation season and many other holidays it isn’t fair to the workers, the owner or the other diners. Good luck with the new policy and hopefully people will learn the courtesy of canceling a reservation.

  2. -B

    How about some automation here? A fairly basic reservation database would allow you to track guests, most simply by phone number. You can flag no-shows and if they try to make a reservation in the future, bring up that issue. There are flaws with using phone numbers for tracking but I’d be surprised if other restaurants aren’t doing something similar. I realize that as this is reactionary vs proactionary you’re still left holding the bag, but it only affects customers who have no-showed in the past and lets you bring up the issue with them one-on-one. The deposit is entirely reasonable but I’d be concerned that the inconvenience will turn good customers away — and imagine the show that’ll ensue when someone makes a reservation, is told they need to make the deposit, doesn’t, then shows up anyway to a full dining room expecting it to still be good. The kind of entitled person who would do that will not leave quietly.

  3. As a fairly frequent restaurant customer, I think this is very reasonable. I think people don’t have a clue regarding reservations. The devil is in the details, by the way, and your staff will have to make it very, very, very clear what the rules are and be able to politely deal with people who blow up. It probably would be prudent to have printed copies of the rules that are given out when the deposit is received, or electronic copies of the rules that will be sent when the deposit is received. At any rate, the idea is that you have written rules where people can see them and that staff can easily point to when things get heated up. I hope it resolves your issues and helps keep your tables filled!

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