Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To Wait or Not to Wait?

Seeing stories about yet another round of lunatics early adopters waiting in line for the latest and greatest iPhone reminded me of an article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago about the trend of NYC restaurants not taking reservations. The gist of the article is that many restaurants, citing the expense of maintaining a reservations system, are foregoing reservations altogether.

This is nothing new in the realm of casual dining – nobody expects the Pancake House to hold a table for your Sunday morning carb-binge. However, the article claims that more upscale places are ditching reservations too. As much as I don’t like it, I can’t blame ‘em. In NYC, the hottest restaurants will never run out of customers willing to wait for a table. And if those folks wait while knocking back $14 cocktails at the restaurant’s bar, all the better.

Still, while I may understand this trend, I don’t like it. Exhibit A: while visiting our old NYC stomping grounds over Memorial Day weekend, Lindsey and I visited Torrisi (click here for Lindsey’s full writeup), a hot new Italian place in Nolita, right across from my old apartment. Boasting no more than 20 seats and serving only a prix fixe, multi-course meal, this place doesn’t turn tables over quickly. Easy enough if they took reservations, but Torrisi is first-come, first-served.

Our meal at Torrisi was great, but we had to plan our night by ear because we didn’t know whether we’d get a table, and how long we’d have to wait. That meant making a backup reservation at a nearby restaurant, going to Torrisi, and canceling the backup once we were told the wait would be an hour -tolerable since we were with good company and in a city where a wine bar is never too far away. Still, another restaurant (sorry, Pulino’s!) lost out because Torrisi doesn’t want to bother with reservations. On that same weekend, we tried to get into Wilfie and Nell, another hot new restaurant, and ended up eating at our backup because Wilfie and Nell was a standing room only affair.

On the other hand, though we waited around for our table at Torrisi, it’s quite possible that if they did accept reservations, we wouldn’t have called far enough in advance to get one. It’s up to you to decide which of these is the lesser of two evils, but personally, I prefer the predictability of having a reservation.

I can’t see the no reservations trend making its way to Atlanta. In our sprawling metropolis, people aren’t going to drive 45 minutes to a place like Rathbun’s with no guarantee of getting a table. In addition, my theory is that reservations help lock a diner into a restaurant, making it more likely they’ll show up for their reservation instead of seated in a competitor’s place or on their own couch. In other words, Atlanta’s restaurants can’t rely on walk-ins alone.

So fear not, Atlanta foodies: “No Reservations” is likely to remain nothing more than Anthony Bourdain’s way to remind you that your desk job sucks.



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