Ask the Critics: What Should I Do If My Reservation Isn’t Honored on Time?


Anna S. asks: I really hate it when I make a reservation for a specific time, arrive at the restaurant on time (after having reconfirmed my reservation as requested), and am then told, “Sorry, the table’s not ready.” I have no problem with waiting five or 10 minutes, but when it hits 45 minutes, my blood starts to boil. How should I handle this?

Dear Anna: I can sympathize with you completely because the whole point of making reservations is to avoid having to wait. I’m not sure if there’s a clear-cut way to handle with the situation you’ve described, but here’s what I would do if I were in your shoes.

I give most restaurants a 15-minute window after my reservation time before I get antsy. If the restaurant is worth its salt, it should offer you a complimentary drink while you’re waiting after that time period. If they don’t, I think you can actually ask politely, saying something like, “I am disappointed that I still have to wait for my reservation past the confirmed time stated. I wasn’t planning on drinking anything at the bar, but if the wait is going to be longer, I don’t mind doing so if you’ll comp the drinks.” A good restaurant should do so.

If you’re refused, however, you have two choices. You can gamble and tell the restaurant you’re leaving, which might entice them to spur into action. Or you can wait it out. Generally I’m in the waiting-it-out camp because I don’t want to have to go searching for another place to eat. If your wait is still longer, though, I think the best response is to write an email to the restaurant’s manager the next day, detailing your complaint and why you’re dissatisfied with the service and how you were treated.

Email is more efficient than calling since it provides you with a written record, and it’s better not to harangue the management the night of the conflict (if they’re so busy they can’t get you your table on time, they don’t really have time to deal with a fight — always best to deal with conflict with a clear head, no?). If the restaurant is smart, they should offer you a discount on your next meal or simply remove the charge for dinner from your credit card. If they don’t apologize or do anything, well, that’s pretty shitty of them. Who knows, the manager might have been off the night you visited the restaurant and a trainee who doesn’t know protocol as well took over. So when dealing with conflict, it’s important not to yell or be overly angry. Do not blame the person directly. Remember, it’s much easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar. Just don’t tell that to the owners of Yelp.