Five Questions Every Diner Dreads

Categories: My Rant, Sietsema

zemptydining room.jpg
An empty dining room can sometimes be the hardest to secure a seat in.

Normally, I've received sterling service at NYC restaurants. But even the best front-of-the house experience can be improved. Here are five innocent-sounding questions that sometimes go awry.

Do you have a reservation? - Often it's hard to plan your dining adventures very far in advance. So you get into the habit of going to popular places spontaneously, and maximizing the chance you'll be seated by arriving ridiculously early or ridiculously late. But show up some places at 5 p.m. ready to eat, and the greeter looks perturbed that you have no reservation.

He scans the empty room three or four times, as if invisible guests were already at their tables. Seating charts are consulted, and the reservations book checked again and again, often accompanied by clucking noises. You have in this greeter's eyes committed a crime by deigning to come in without first securing a reservation. Finally, you are tentatively seated in the most unsatisfactory table that can be found. As you complete your meal around 6:30 p.m. or so, the room is still yawningly empty.

Yes, it is necessary for employees at the door to determine if guests have a reservation or not. But if they don't have one, does that preclude making them feel welcome? After all, their money is just as green as someone's who reserves months in advance. Maybe greener, because it's those fringe-hour guests who increase the potential number of covers per evening that a restaurant can do.

Can I take your coat? Not everyone is as free-spending as restaurateurs would like. Prices have soared, so that the little bistro on a side street in Brooklyn that used to be a bargain with $15 entrees now wants $25 for them. And the average meal that was $50 not too long ago, including tax and tip, is now nudging $75. Eating out can be an economic stretch.

So, being asked for your coat may make you think of how checking it means you're on the hook for an extra $5. And forces you to make sure you have the proper amount of cash on hand, in an economy that's increasingly cash-free. Coat checkers don't take debit cards.

But there are other reasons to dread this question. The rules surrounding who gets tipped for a coat and who doesn't are complex. For example, if the greeter takes your coat, you're not supposed to tip him. If the person who grabs your coat is employed mainly as a coat checker, yes you must. If a waitress takes your coat, and it turns out to be your waitress, then no - except you probably should add a little bit to the table tip, but then how will she know?

In addition, some of us like to keep our coats with us. Maybe we have personal items in the pockets, or even contraband. Others simply like to keep their coats because they haven't warmed up yet, or want to use their coats to soften a hard chair. But many restaurateurs don't like to see bulky winter coats hanging from chair backs, so disapproving frowns ensue. Sometimes the request "Can I take your coat?" is repeated by another employee.

Have you been here before? This is the siren song of the short-plate place, and it inevitably leads to The Lecture, which can occupy tedious minutes, especially with upselling embellishments.


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