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Restaurant Rage


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Fucking, fucking, fucking restaurant booking policies.

Four weeks out, on a fucking Tuesday and the River cafe will only offer a two top from 1900-2100 or 2100-2300.

Seven O'clock is too bloody early to eat in London. Half the bloody table will still be at work. Similarly, 9-00 is too bloody late for civilised humans to eat, enjoy the meal and still get home before midnight on a schoolnight.

The economics of two sitting dining are brutally bloody apparent but why do we put up with this irritating shite?

The thing that really pisses me off is that I suspect that these rules apply only to poor bloody civilian punters.

Every time I try to book a half decent restaurant these days they try to shunt me into a 7 or 9 slot even when booking months ahead. Yet, when I used my PA to book restaurants I could always get a table for a bunch of grinning fucking corporate wolverines any damn time I liked and at 4 minutes notice.

They should change the irritating fucking "How do you get a table...?" section in the OFM and just for once have three ordinary, unnamed, non-corporate foodlovers try to get a bastard 8.30 two top anywhere in the fucking Metropolis... any time.... ever.

I once asked the bookings drone at the Wolesley when, exactly, I could get a mid-evening two top any time in the next year. They said they could only do 7 or 10 at for the next three months which was as far out as they were prepared to take bookings.

I'd rather stay at home and cook - but is this really the way the London restaurant industry wants to go - like NY or LA, a pointless fucking grubby buck scrabbling extension of corporate entertaining or organised Sleb fellating?

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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7 and 9PM are good times in NYC. Try 5:30 or 10:30! Then again 10PM is probably prime time in Madrid, San Sebastien and Barcelona. Nevertheless, though the customs may be different I know from whence you speak.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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It's all about staggering arrival times... and thus cooking times... I'm sure you'd complain even more if the restaurant let everybody in at 8.30pm and then struggled to cook the entire room's meals at the same time...

Granted.

Yet I never seem to get this problem with an old school French or Italian neighbourhood restaurant. There are red sauce tratts all over London, groaning at he seams every night - you'll have tables packed and a 22 person hen night whooping it up in the corner - yet you can walk in of the street and the staff will build a bloody table rather than turn money away.

Admittedly we're talking about a different level of dining experience but the maths are the same. I've worked kitchens and greet and seat and I know the tensions between the needs of front and back of the pass and I know what can and can't be done.

The point is, because of that experience I know that the only reason a bookings person needs to behave that way is if they don't want a certain type of customer or if they want them less than another type.

No-one benefits when the kitchen gets slammed by incompetent FOH but that's not my point here.

What's really pissing me off is organised rudeness to certain sectors of the audience and a policy of inequity.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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It's all about staggering arrival times... and thus cooking times...

No it's not. It's about doubling turnover.

And by the way a Mr John Fenn recently passed away in Lagos and has left an unclaimed estate of £3 million, I can transfer it to your account if you front me £25K.

Yours sincerely,

Barrister Zoticus.

Edited by Zoticus (log)
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Interestingly, when I finally did get a table at the Wolsely it was absolutely full of bored, lost looking tourist couples who'd obviously been booked in by their hotel concierges.

I reckon there's a hierarchy on the bookings desk.

I reckon they shunt civilians into sittings as far out as they're stupid enough to book. Bookings originating from businesses will spend more and probably represent more repeat business. Bookings from an individual concierge similar. Bookings from PR co's and slebs constitute a positive commercial benefit and are prioritised top.

In terms of numbers, by far the majority of two-tops wanting a reservation in a name, West End restaurant are going to be out-out-of town, one time visitors - probably ordering the second cheapest bottle on the menu and anice salad for the lady to push round her plate.

In strictly commercial terms it makes sense to treat two tops badly.

The problem is that there's no way of communicating that you're serious about food, are going to spend a few bob and are likely to reward decent treatment by returning.

For me it's a clear misrepresentation to refer to this sort of behaviour as a 'hospitality' industry.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Speak to most restaurateurs and they'll tell you that punters will book for 7.30pm and 8.30pm and then all roll up at 8.00pm anyway. This sort of booking policy is partly damage limitation against customers who think they should be able to get what they want when they want it and fuck everyone else. Same principle as taking credit card numbers as a protection against no shows. All the sort of behaviour that we as caring and aware types never exhibit ourselves of course and we rightly feel unfairly penalised as a result, but that's the reality.

My last meal out was at a more than half decent restaurant (albeit outside London) and we got a table for 8.00pm with no problem.

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Interestingly, when I finally did get a table at the Wolsely it was absolutely full of bored, lost looking tourist couples who'd obviously been booked in by their hotel concierges.

I reckon there's a hierarchy on the bookings desk.

I reckon they shunt civilians into sittings as far out as they're stupid enough to book. Bookings originating from businesses will spend more and probably represent more repeat business. Bookings from an individual concierge similar. Bookings from PR co's and slebs constitute a positive commercial benefit and are prioritised top.

...The problem is that there's no way of communicating that you're serious about food, are going to spend a few bob and are likely to reward decent treatment by returning.

For me it's a clear misrepresentation to refer to this sort of behaviour as a 'hospitality' industry.

So do you think they pre-tipped? Anything like that work maybe?? I'm so not an expert, just wondering. I know I've been on business vacation like trips where everything that moved had been tipped in advance and the island frogs were primed to sing for us on demand. Coquis in Puerto Rico.

Edited by K8memphis (log)
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You could alway book a table for six to gain the time slot of your choice and then when you arrive tell them the others can't make it :hmmm:  I've seen it happen.

I've done it - it works. I've also pretended to be my own PA - it works.

But it feels wrong. Stupid bloody adolescent lying is lowering myself to the same level as the restaurant.

There is some behaviour - asking for confirmation calls or credit card details in advance on big tables - that's an obvious and arguably legitimate response to poor behaviour by customers (actually, let's just analyse that for a second. What other business has the unmitigated cods to punish its customers like children for poor behaviour).

But as far as double sittings and deprioritising couples, that's entirely started and perpetuated by the restaurants. That's responding to nothing more than commercial pressure.

Now you can argue that that's all that matters in a business but I'd have to respond that things are not so cut and dried in a business based on the hospitable treatment of guests.

The thing is, surely the restaurant industry of any metropolis must be disproportionately dependent on couples dining.

If couples get treated badly and it becomes apparent that going to a restaurant is a pointless thing to try on a date then surely people are going to find other ways to entertain themselves.

So in fact, it's not responding to commercial pressure, it's the ultimately self-destructive influence of pure greed.

Actually, there's a far more unpleasant future developing. Yesterday I tried to book lunch for two at the River Cafe. They apologised and said there was no hope on Thurs or Fri because they'd be dealing with a special offer the Guardian was running. A cut price special menu for readers.

Couple this with the fact that restaurants are already booked up for Valentines night, some are offering 'Valentine's Week' bookings and all are offering shite set menus and restricted sittings.

I reckon London restaurants are only going to bother opening to the general public on designated days. They'll offer a restricted prole menu, canteen style, mop the place out once hoi polloi have gone their smelly way and reopen to the discerning and rich for the rest of the year.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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You could alway book a table for six to gain the time slot of your choice and then when you arrive tell them the others can't make it :hmmm:  I've seen it happen.

There is some behaviour - asking for confirmation calls or credit card details in advance on big tables - that's an obvious and arguably legitimate response to poor behaviour by customers (actually, let's just analyse that for a second. What other business has the unmitigated cods to punish its customers like children for poor behaviour).

Like any business , when a client breaks a contract, it fucking hurts in £££££££.Restaurants aren't punishing guests they are just trying to protect themselves.

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You could alway book a table for six to gain the time slot of your choice and then when you arrive tell them the others can't make it :hmmm:  I've seen it happen.

Couple this with the fact that restaurants are already booked up for Valentines night, some are offering 'Valentine's Week' bookings and all are offering shite set menus and restricted sittings.

I reckon London restaurants are only going to bother opening to the general public on designated days. They'll offer a restricted prole menu, canteen style, mop the place out once hoi polloi have gone their smelly way and reopen to the discerning and rich for the rest of the year.

Add the abominable attitude at Christmas to this list. Two sittings and a limited menu with the most simple dishes "cooked" shabbily.

Oh yeah, and 12.5% service charge automatically slapped on for parties of over six people who will be booted out unceremoniously when the bell tolls.

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Like any business , when a client breaks a contract, it fucking hurts in £££££££.Restaurants aren't punishing guests they are just trying to protect themselves.

Granted.

And when I turn up a restaurant and say 'I'm sorry, it was me pretending to be my PA and we're not six we're two' I haven't been lying, I've been protecting myself from being treated like a second class customer because I'm not perceived to be as profitable as another.

Each side is as morally wrong. I just think it's time restaurants and customers began to treat each other like grown ups.

This situation is a ridiculous impasse. Restaurants treat us like cattle because it's financially rewarding, we don't complain enough and they've had their fingers burned by other customers.

Customers behave shabbily towards restaurants - sometimes because they are rude or know no better but, and I'd say increasingly, because -their booking policies are increasingly out of line with the needs of normal humans*.

If I want to go out for a simple dinner I now routinely have to take out reservations with three restaurants (the first that will give me a 7.00, then another that later offers me something better finally cancelling both because I'm on the waiting list of a third). That can't help anyone trying to run a bookings desk but most people I know now do it. At least I religiously call in the cancellations.

Like any unmediated standoff, there is nothing you can do will change the behaviour of the other - you just end up protecting yourself - and that means escalation.

I'm sure you treat your customers well. Probably better than some of them deserve. And I don't propose to stoop to lying to get tables. That means both of us can occupy the moral high ground.

I think more people - restaurants and customers - should step back from this. It's the only grown up thing to do.

On the other hand, I don't think that opening a debate about precisely how shitty the behaviour of successful London restaurants is can do any harm :wink:

*This is an extract from the booking confirmation email I received from the River Cafe....

Dear  Tim Hayward

 

Thank you for making a reservation for 2 people at 19:00 until 21:00 on XXXXXX Feb 2007.

 

In order that we may hold this table for you, please complete the form below and return it to us in the week leading up to your reservation, by midday on the day at the latest.

....

If you have any queries please do not hesitate to call, or alternatively, visit our website at www.rivercafe.co.uk where you can find a map,  wine list and recent menus.

 

We look forward to seeing you.

 

Please fill in the following details and return to us in the week leading up to your reservation.

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

Confirmation E-mail

 

I would like to confirm the following reservation.

 

Booking Name    :

Booking Date    :

Booking Time    :

No. Of Guests  :

Telephone      :

Address        :

_______________________________________

 

Note that they already have all my contact details from the email on which I requested the booking. In what world is that a reasonable way to communicate with a customer?

Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Tim,

I’m with you but why have you only gone for the second most irritating aspect of this ? I care less about the 19:00 vs 21:00 and more about the: “and your money only buys you two hours, chum, after which, drop what you’re eating before we run you out of the joint like a common pygmy.”

I know I talk and drink more than most but two hours is cutting it fine and, even if it weren’t, I still can’t shake that nagging sense that I’m eating under constant time pressure. Given that, of my 120 minutes allocation, 20 minutes is spent up front waiting for someone to bring the menu and 20 minutes is at the end waiting for them to convert my request for the bill into actual payment. and the whole thing combines to make any fine evening out feel like MacDonalds customer processing with slightly better upholstery.

Actually, no, the even worse thing is being offered a table for ten thirty knowing that they’re being smug about how popular they are but that, having offered and accepted such a booking, they’ll resent you from the moment you arrive and strive to have you off the premises by quarter past eleven.

Actually, no again, back to bill payment. That’s the absolutely worst, worst thing. Ask for the bill, “yes sir”…wait…wait…ask again “yes sir”…wait…it comes…try to pay but waiter who brought bill has now fucked off…try to find another…wait…get another waiter…waiter takes bill and payment card away…waiter goes on holiday with it…wait…waiter returns…etc etc…

Great thread BTW, showing the completeness of e-gullet as a resource: it’ll let you vent spleen and then show you how best to cook it and where the hottest place is for spleen right now.

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Agreeing with Gareth, to some extent. I understand that they're trying to fit in two sittings, and most of the time (unless it's a special occasion or a particularly good meal of itself) that's fine with me. What really galls me is that if you're going to impose time limits, then the service should reflect that. Being hassled to eat quickly and then waiting forever to pay the bill isn't a great combination.

I also know that waitstaff aren't responsible for the booking system & time constraints, but then any decent resto should be able to co-ordinate efforts.

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where the hottest place is for spleen right now.

more like the hottest place for (potty) mouth.

I blame Ramsay, seems like people can't discuss food now without excessive use of the F word. So different from the home life of our dear Queen.

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Which is it in a nutshell.If the public decided overnight that they wanted something different from restaurants, then we would change or die.Unfortunately Tim, there are enough people out there who accept the situation as it is, so it pesists.

and of course, if the system has to change, then prices would change aswell.It's a tricky balance between giving the guest what the want, making a profit , and feel you are being fair.

Restaurants are a very funny buisness. :biggrin:

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Which is it in a nutshell.If the public decided overnight that they wanted something different from restaurants, then we would change or die.Unfortunately Tim, there are enough people out there who accept the situation as it is, so it pesists.

and of course, if the system has to change, then prices would change aswell.It's a tricky balance between giving the guest what the want, making a profit , and feel you are being fair.

Restaurants are a very funny buisness. :biggrin:

I notice that few restaurant seem to be trying the obvious 'market forces' solution of putting up prices to cover losses made by unused covers or no-shows.

If what people are saying about two tops being less profitable is true, I'd rather the RC charged an honest £10 surcharge for a two top rather than sticking us at either end of service and making us fill out a sodding questionnaire.

Hell, in a just world, a decent restaurant could even fill up the no-shows and dead tables with walk-ins.

I don't think there's an answer to this. I'm just pissed off that restaurants up here seem to have lost track of the fact that they're here to offer hospitality to guests for a reasonable consideration.

They are not here to allow us in if we fit their spreadsheet and process us like a commodity.

And even if you argue that large businesses need to treat us that way - I can't see that we should go down without a fight

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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in a just world, a decent restaurant could even fill up the no-shows and dead tables with walk-ins.

I doubt the people milling around Hammersmith backstreets of an evening would be drawn in by the promise of monkfish with spuds at £28 a pop.

The River Cafe can be forgiven for being a tad awkward at the booking stage given its peculiar locale. It cannot be forgiven, however, for its shameless money-grubbing and shoddy treatment of anyone who's not Jude Law. (Anyone care to estimate the profit margin on an £11 cup of zuppa di castagne?)

As previous posters have noted, the answer would be that we all stop going. Unfortunately, Londoners still seem to believe that awkwardness equals exclusivity -- look how much milage The Ivy gets out of being impossible to book, even though it's dead easy to get a table. The non-sleb visitors seem not to mind getting pushed into crappy time slots because they only really visit on special occasions, so the palaver (and expense) involved is simply confirmation that they're mixing with the beautiful people. It's all designed to inform the casual visitor that they're interloping above their station.

Some may consider this as proof that food quality remains a minor concern for the average London restaurant customer.

(Within walking distance of the River Cafe there was a little Italian place opened by the same people who run the highly-rated Snows on the Green. It did honest Tuscan cooking with well sourced ingredients at decent prices, with mains from the specials board topping out at about £15. It lasted six months.)

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"Highly rated Snows-on-th-green" - Who highly rates it, I have never once had very good meal there - not terrible but very very average!! The owner is a nice guy though!

If a man makes a statement and a woman is not around to witness it, is he still wrong?

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