Waiting Game

Waiting for no-shows leads┬áto a table deposit requirement…


These days on busy weekends visitors are getting used to the being asked for a credit card or cash deposit in order to hold tables for parties of six and more.

A waiter’s job is waiting. If he is not waiting on a guest, he certainly is waiting for some guest. Waiting on tables is waiting and waiting and waiting, a waiting game. Most guests do arrive on time for their reserved table, but there are always some who are untimely.

Restaurants, unlike dentists, doctors, lawyers or courthouses, do allow a reasonable amount of time for their clientelle to show up. At those places, where I worked over more than a quarter-century, we always allowed half an hour or more leeway for the guest to get to us at the restaurant. We always believed their excuses of heavy traffic and parking situations.

Some customers arrive twenty minutes early, others forty five minutes late. All early or late arrivals have the potential of causing havoc to the well-planned evening at any restaurant. It is hard to get a handle onto the ups and downs in the different waiters’ stations. At Triples, we pool our resources and our tips. Such does help to level out the typical “peak city” and “death valley” syndromes, which are common waiters’ dis-eases. While one waiter waits for his guest to arrive, he uses his time to help the ones who are busy. The teamwork usually pays off in form of happier guests and better tips.

We always used to take any reservation by name, time, number of guests in the party and a local phone number whenever possible, until one day. I still remember working this race-weekend and frantically trying to rearrange much of the seating. Last minute reservations had been made during the afternoon, just prior to the evening’s expected dinner madness. In addition to the reservations made days ahead of time we also needed a table of fourteen, a table of eight, a table of twelve and a ten-top. We got it all set up. Two off-duty waiters were called in. These new reservations, the four large groups were all race fans attending the Indi 500 car races at the Laguna Secca raceway.

These four large tables were for seven thirty. However, none of the four tables arrived by eight o’clock. By then we already had turned away dozens of walk-in customers. By eight o’clock we still attempted to hold these reserved tables. Eight thirty and nobody had shown up. Now, it was getting too late to sell the still reserved seats to anybody.

The two wait persons, who had interrupted their personal plans to come in and help out, left understandably unhappy. Their presence was no longer needed.
For three of the four no-show-tables we had phone numbers from local hotels. Our manager left messages at the hotels for the people under whose names the reservations were made.
By ten-thirty we knew more: The group of fourteen had by then had an enjoyable dinner over in Carmel. The eight-top had dined on Cannery Row. And the twelve-top had decided to eat at a Chinese restaurant. I got to talk to the lady who made the reservation for the twelve-top. She was not only very polite and friendly, but talkative, bubbly on the phone as well. I could not help but instantly liked her voice and her straight forward attitude. Listening to her was melting much of my negative thoughts — about her “the-no-show-host” — like margarine exposed to sunshine. This woman admitted freely that each of the six couples in her party had made one or two reservations, all over town. When it was time to eat, they were able to pick from a medley of truly fine restaurants. Quoting her: “We had a Smorgasbord of restaurant menus. We had French, American, California, Japanese, Thai, German, Italian, Greek and some more!” Uneasy in my skin, I asked as friendly as I possibly could “Why would you want to make all these reservations?”
She explained that the year before they had no reservation at all. After the races her group was unable to find a place to eat anyplace in Monterey. Therefore, this time they were prepared. Trying to put myself into her shoes I had to say, “Yes ma’am you have a point there.”

She told me, “Yes this time we had choices…” yet regardless, as time came to eat dinner, nobody in her party liked their existing selection of restaurants. Her group was right then meeting at a gas-station vis-a-vis from a Chinese restaurant. Spontaneously all decided for a variety of Szechwan and Mandarin cooking. It was excellent. This lady obviously liked food. She described not only the enormous number of dishes brought to their table, but also in detail each item the twelve had ordered by name, taste, texture and price. Her portray of dining at the Chinese-place made my mouth water. She certainly did not leave any detail out. This woman even mentioned the leftovers which she and her friends planned to share the next day at the track. I listened to her waterfall of words. My ears were burning. All I heard were positive happenings for her. How could I be angry with her?
She was all the way upbeat praising this area, the race, the scenery, the weather and everything. I listened, for my station was empty too. I also listened for my gut feeling told me that this lady on the other side of the phone was genuinely telling me how great a day and dinner she had had. I waited to hear the full scoop of the potential guests’ story. When she took a break talking I asked her, “Why did nobody call us to cancel?” She assured me that one man in their group did call from his cellular phone. She was very sorry if he did not call us. She apologized many times. For truly, they had such a long list of restaurants to call. Maybe he overlooked one, us? Maybe the phone was busy? Maybe he dialed a wrong number? Therefor she, the lady I talked to, promised to make up for any inconvenience. She asked me, “What do you want me to do?”
But how could she make up for all the missed business of the night? What was I going to tell her? There was nothing I could do but say, “Next time, you are in town call me, let me take care of your reservation.” I added to it, “And please if you cannot make it, would you personally give me a jingle?” I thanked her for telling me what happened and wished her a nice stay in town and a great time one at the tracks!”
I was deep down still a little angry, not so much at her but the whole situation. But what good would it have been to let her know such. On the other phone our manager found out similar facts about the other reservations and he was upset. I heard him yelling into the phone with one of the no-show-customers on the end of the line “Don’t you dare talking to me this way. If I could possibly do so, I would be suing you now…!”
I know these things happen sometimes. The number of incidents where guest made reservations all over town without showing up have taught not only me but several local restaurant owners a lesson.
These days on busy weekends visitors are getting used to being asked for a credit card or cash deposit in order to hold tables for parties of six and more. From the guests who guarantee their table with a credit card number we have not had one no-show yet in over four years.

The security deposit for such tables does wonders. It helps on busy nights. Instead of waiting for customers unsuccessfully we are able to concentrate on waiting on the guest in our stations.

Getting back to the lady who had talked my ear off that night with the no-shows, she surprised me. She happened to keep her word. Six month later she had a wedding rehearsal dinner at Triples. Over the following years she brought us a sizable amount of parties. What I did not know then, was that she had an influential job at a law firm in San Francisco and many friends in the immediate surrounding of the Monterey Bay.

Thinking back, I clearly remember that I was tempted to interrupt her flow of words. I, at one time, wanted her to listen to my bottled up bad mood and frustration about wasting just another night with waiting. Lucky me, I was biting my tongue. Looking back today, my patient listening to her point of view, paid off.

by helmut schonwalder