Why Do So Many Restaurants Not Take Reservations?
Ken Friedman—the poster boy for the no-reservations trend—reveals his thinking and tells why he'd never choose to wait for a table.
To a restaurant owner, quiet is death. Unless you run a Michelin three-star kind of place, you don't want quiet. You want loud. You want busy. You want people bumping into each other. Because it means people are having a good time and spending money and they'll want to come back. How do you achieve this? With a busy bar scene. When you don't take reservations, people have to wait for a table; they go to the bar and hang out. As every restaurateur knows, you make much more money selling a drink than you do selling a plate of food. You buy bottles of booze, open them, pour them and sell them for many times more than what you bought them for. You also eliminate another big problem: no shows, which there's no good way around.
That was my idea when I opened the Spotted Pig in New York City: I wanted it to feel like a bar and taste like a great restaurant. Originally, I didn't even want to have a host, but thankfully, Mario Batali told me, "You're gonna need a host—maybe two."
We weren't the only ones who figured this out—Momofuku Ssäm Bar—also in NYC—was a pioneer in creating a spot that feels like a bar, but is run like a restaurant, and a great one at that. Restaurant owners from other cities would come to the Spotted Pig and say, "Wow! This is packed like a sports bar—but they have a Michelin star. I want some of that!"
Sure, there are downsides to not taking reservations: There's a certain segment of the population, like "old" people my age—I'm well past 21—who would never go to a place where they can't be guaranteed a seat. For example, I would never wait an hour for a table. But I made an exception recently for Franklin Barbecue in Austin. We waited for over two hours. It was torture—my legs hurt, my back hurt, I'm starving, I start to feel faint. It was a taste of my own medicine.