Good Restaurant Reservation Etiquette Is More Important Than Ever

Whether you use the apps or make a phone call, remember these four rules for making restaurant reservations.

Restaurant worker checks diner's vaccination status
Photo: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz / Bloomberg via Getty Images

This story is part of The New Rules of Dining Out. Read the rest here.

At their best, restaurant reservations benefit both the customer and the restaurant: Diners get peace of mind knowing they won't have to awkwardly linger before being seated, while advance bookings guarantee sales ahead of time. Thanks to the rise of online reservation platforms like OpenTable and Resy, it's easier than ever to snag a table, but whether you use an app or make a phone call, good customer behavior is nonnegotiable. As of this writing, many restaurants are limited to a fraction of their capacity and simply cannot sustain the financial losses of no-shows, late arrivals, and gratuitous table-lingerers.

Mark Strausman of Mark's Off Madison in NYC says that while reservation apps make life smoother for guests, they have also made it easier to double-book tables or repeatedly no-show.

"It's just one more example of digital convenience making it easier to forget that there are actual humans behind the business," he says. With many restaurant workers reporting entitled customer behavior at an all-time high, it's essential that diners re- think their role at the table. Here's how to make your next night out better for your favorite restaurant.

1. Be an Early Bird, or a Night Owl

Consider dining at less conventional times, like 5:30 p.m. "If a table has four seats, the restaurant needs to make two turns for the math to work," says John Winterman, co-owner of Francie in Brooklyn. "Dining earlier (or later) allows restaurants to maximize their revenue."

2. Get Your Party Together Before Checking In

There's a reason for that policy. "Diners are occupying the table for longer while they're waiting," said a host at an Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan. "If that happens three times in a night and people were hanging out for 20 minutes each waiting for friends, I would have lost 60 minutes of business, which could be enough to flip a table."

Did You Know?

If you're seated on time but before your party arrives, the clock starts when your butt hits the seat. One host says, "If half your party is late, it doesn't mean you all get to sit longer."

3. Running Late? Communicate

Some hosts give away tables after 10 minutes, while others have longer grace periods. If you're running late, always call the restaurant so they have time to make other arrangements and not lose business. Remember: Your reservation begins at the time you first reserved—not whenever you show up.

Did You Know?

Some reservation apps penalize no-shows: On OpenTable, for example, if you are a no-show four times in 12 months, your account is suspended.

4. Don't Be a No-Show

If you can't make your reservation, it's important to call the restaurant and let them know with as much notice as possible. Pre-pandemic, guests waiting at the bar might have helped make up for no-shows, says John Winterman. "But in the current climate, a lost reservation is just that: lost, irretrievable, irreplaceable."

Did You Know?

It's not just rude to flake out on your table; depend- ing on the restaurant, no- shows can cost operators hundreds of dollars in lost revenue each night.

The Apps Face Off

The OG: OpenTable

With 31 million monthly users, it's the largest reservations service in the U.S. The service charges operators a fee of $1 to $1.50 per diner seated.

The Disrupter: Tock

Founded by Alinea Group's Nick Kokonas (and recently acquired by Squarespace), Tock doesn't charge restaurants per guests seated. Deposit-required reservations cut no-shows to less than 1%.

The Upstart: Resy

This New York–based app doesn't charge operators cover fees and has a no-show rate of only 3%.

The Newcomer: Seated

By dining out or ordering from restaurants that use Seated for reservations, guests earn rewards to redeem as gift cards. It's a compelling model we're keeping an eye on.

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