A few weeks have passed since the restaurant world’s hot button issue du jour revolved around the supposed “tyranny” of tasting menus, where the writer Corby Kummer accused chefs in the February Vanity Fair of killing the liberty in the ¡a la carte restaurant experience. It was an intriguing accusation and one many diners understood. Yes, we love to choose what we eat. Ultimately, it disappeared as most of us food writers advocate for the chefs to follow their creative license. If the chef wants a tasting menu, have a tasting menu. Nobody forces Spielberg to make a comedy for his next film or convinces Belichick when to blitz. They might listen, but they don’t have to (unless you’re the big boss of course).
Now the focus has shifted from what is on the plate to getting the opportunity to sample what is on the plate. Instead of talking about tasting menus, we’re wondering about how we can even get a table to experience the tasting menu.
The question about reservations in restaurants is certainly not a new one. For decades, restaurateurs and diners have debated this question with the never-ending vigor usually reserved for issues in the House and Senate. Should restaurant accept reservations? Should they accept some reservations? Should they be walk-in only? Should they have a call-ahead list? The list goes on. The real answer is by trial and error, each restaurant is unique and will find the “correct” reservation system over time, or they will have to shutter. That answer for Restaurant A will differ from Restaurant B. There are so many factors, from foot traffic to cuisine genre to size of restaurants that make it so there is no “correct” formula as much as we’d all love one.
It’s economics for the restaurants. It’s psychology, too. It’s sociology. It’s logic. It’s math. There might even be some astronomy thrown in too (nights with the full moon differ from nights with a quarter crescent…).
This constantly simmering question recently hit a boiling point when the (terrific might I add) Los Angeles restaurant Red Medicine started tweeting the names of no-shows on its Twitter feed. That’s right. A restaurant started going so far as to actually revealing the names of the diners who never showed up for their dinner reservations. The idea mainly is: “So, Frank Anderson and your party of 4 at 7:30 last night, what were you doing while we were losing money?” How do you feel now Frank? (more…)