I was inspired by my recent restaurant experiences in and around Bristol, to explore that dreaded question when walking into a restaurant “have you booked?” I personally think I am pretty well qualified to delve into this “hot topic” considering my 20+ years in hospitality and also my endless meals out in Bristol and further afield. I fully intend to see it from both the customers point of view and delve into how it makes them feel but also put my operators hat on and see why, in some instances some establishments have a very strict regime.
My recent experiences
As I mentioned I have had some live and recent experiences of just ‘being totally crazy’ and just walking into somewhere even if I haven’t booked. I so live life in the fast lane, I know. I have to say that over the years I have certainly had more bad experiences than good experiences. Speaking to other food lovers on this very subject I took comfort in that I am not alone, nobody wants to be the freak after all.
So today (Saturday February 15th) after getting laughed out of Pasta Loco when asking for a table, I know you’re all laughing at me for even trying to get a table there on the off chance someone might have actually cancelled but life is all about taking risks. We walked up Whiteladies Road, and headed directly to Bosco Pizzeria who always deliver the goods without fail so we were confident of the same usual experience.
We walked in to a fairly quiet restaurant as it was before 12.30pm and were greeted by a happy smiling person who said the dreaded words…”have you booked?”. Now correct me if I am wrong! If I had booked surely the first words out of my mouth would be, “hello. I have a reservation.” So why not wait for me to make the first move? Anyway back to my story, the manager after doing his best car mechanic impersonation informed us that they are fully booked but we could sit at the bar or the counter. Happy days as I love a counter seat, mainly as you can see everyone, so my hobby of people watching is much easier perched at a height. The restaurant in the front section had 28 covers free! It’s important you remember that number ok?
Now I must give credit that both the food and service was exceptional as usual and we had a great time so no complaints there whatsoever. However we witnessed plenty potential customers oblivious to the “have you booked” rules. During the hour we were enjoying ourselves 14 customer arrived and were sent packing even though only one table of four arrived while we were there. So back to that number, can you remember? I won’t bore you with the workings out but once we left our perches and paid the bill there were a total of 36 free covers!! So why refuse these customers??
Why have a booking policy?
If it turns customers away and makes them feel intimidated why have a booking policy at all? I understand that restaurants like to know how many people are coming so that they can equip themselves with stock and workforce. Roughly the % of bookings stays the same so most restaurants can predict how busy they will be with “walk ins” which is a good formula if executed correctly. I am also convinced, that certain restaurants like the kudos of being fully booked and being able to turn people away with that smugness so much, that they have actually taken the time to train staff to do the smug face.
If you are running a restaurant, here is how to solve the biggest issue to hit the country since Brexit “have you booked?”.
- Train the staff to do whatever they can to squeeze you in even if you don’t have some free covers. What if your bookings don’t show? You are chasing money out of the door by having the wrong staff dealing with the bookings.
- Have a percentage of your total covers for walk ins and let people know? That way you will not have empty tables while you wait for the so called bookings to walk in.
- You decide the time not the customer. That sounds harsh I know but opening at midday and booing a table at 1pm is just a waste of a table which can be filled. Tell customers what time slots you have and if you’re good enough they will work around it.
- If you cannot squeeze a table in then tell them you will book a table now for them so they can come back and you will get them all a drink and actually engage and thank them for making the effort. Remember the customer who feels aggrieved may not come back again.
Come on restaurants, don’t under estimate how it makes people feel when the staff almost laugh at you with that smug look and almost seem happy to not get you in. I like to think it’s not people being lazy its just a training issue. You are leaking cash.