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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cranky, party of 5?

A reader writes:

My husband and I are continually annoyed and puzzled by the fact that so many Portland restaurants will not take reservations. We would gladly give a credit card number to hold the reservation (like hotels do) so that if we no-showed, we would get charged.

Today I called a place to try to make brunch reservations for five (we have out of town guests). Here's how the conversation went down:

Restaurant: We only take reservations for six or more.

Me: Well there are five in our party, would you make an exception?

Restaurant: Hold on. [Checks with someone.] No, we won't make an exception.

So we're going somewhere else. We've tried to figure out a financial reason for the no reservations rule and are both stumped. The above-referenced restaurant is going to lose $100-ish for saying no?

I don't care how Portlandia fabulous a place is, with an almost 6-year-old child, there is no way we're going to wait 30 minutes for a table when we can go somewhere else that will take a reservation or seat us right away.

I'd be curious what your readers had to say.

Comments (27)

Respectfully, why did you not make reservations for six, with poor dear Aunt Martha getting a case of the vapors at the last minute?

The above-referenced restaurant is going to lose $100-ish for saying no?

No, they'll fill the table with someone else. They don't take reservations because they don't need to. I also have young kids so I totally sympathize, but this is a market-driven thing. When a restaurant goes from "no reservations" to "reservations accepted", you can be sure that business has dropped off and they're looking to make things easier for their customers.

For us, we save the hip Portlandia places for date night, when the kids are at home.

with an almost 6-year-old child, there is no way we're going to wait 30 minutes for a table

Ding ding ding, you just answered your own question. Not allowing reservations discourages families (read: people with young and potentially disruptive kids) from coming, because people with young kids can't afford to idly wait around for 45 minutes. No reservations policies are "no families with kids" policies, just hidden under a different name.

One of our favorite brunch restaurants doesn't take reservations for smaller parties. I have seen people waiting with small kids and it isn't pretty. From what I have seen it's a mixed bag out there in terms of reservations in this town. On a Friday or Saturday night we tend to avoid the "no reservations" places like the plague because waiting 30 to 45 minutes isn't fun. Many places we patronize do their reservations through Open Table, and it's great because you can see if they have any tables available, they let you pick your own time, and you don't have to wait on hold. I think restaurants do themselves a disservice when they don't take reservations, and dining out with young kids is challenging enough without the wait.

No reservations policies are "no families with kids" policies, just hidden under a different name.

Not necessarily; if a restaurant is popular enough, having a first-come first-served policy makes sense. It might even be better than having empty tables at 7 pm because two parties called at the last minute and weren't going to be able to make it until 7:30.

That said: If I'm going out for a nice dinner, I want to be able to make a reservation, and I'm not going to hang out on the street or in a vestibule for an hour waiting my turn. Others might feel differently.

Reservations are just one thing to consider: price, noise and (unfortunately) service are three other things.

Pdxlifer said it exactly. What is UP with all the scrupulous morals, when we're in PORTLAND...? I think the writer of the email has not lived here long enough, or else has lived here way, way too long.

But if one MUST stick to the morals, (kudos), here's another idea. Make a reservation for six, show up with five, and announce upon arrival that you are ordering a take-out entree for a sixth person, who will consume it as leftovers from the fridge the next day, for reasons that don't require explanation. You pay to feed six people, just staggering the space-time continuity factors a little, which makes it exactly the same for the restaurant's convenience and bottom line, while helping minimize the screaming routine from the childrens' juke boxes.

I have often said, "Only people that have WORKED in a restaurant should be allowed to EAT in a restaurant".

Maybe I should modify that to, "If you like to critique a restaurant's menu, location, theme, prices or policies, BUY and OPERATE one for two years FIRST".

I see a magnificent opportunity for the cranky reader to show us how it should be done... at a profit.

I agree it's annoying and I'm totally with the original commenter and will not wait in long lines to eat in one place when I can usually throw a stone and have my pick of 5 others.

I figure these places do it because they think it makes them look more desirable to have long lines of people waiting 45-90 minutes desperate to get in.

Remember, here in Portlandia it's all about perception.

It's called 'turnover".

With a line or sign-in arrangement, tables sit empty for only a few minutes between guests. Menu prices can be lower but they make it up on volume. With a reservation system, tables sit empty longer between guests even without no-shows. Menu prices are likely to be higher to compensate for the lower volume. There is also more time for cooks to do fancy kitchen magic with each plate. The mixed system deals with the problem of larger parties having to wait extra long for the scarcer large tables.

There is nothing new about these differences between fancier places and more proletarian places. These restaurant practices have been common all over the US at least since WWII. People who are familiar with them just know that they need to pick different places for different sizes and compositions of groups. In other words, it's normal. It is not news. If you made it to adulthood without learning this, it can only be because you enjoyed exceptional privilege. You are spoiled. Get over it.

We didn't take reservations for anything but large groups when we owned a restaurant. Leaving your credit card number doesn't matter, we couldn't charge you if you didn't show. To many people were no shows and wouldn't even call to let you know. I understand why many don't take reservations. First come first served is my opinion.

Regardless of whether we are eating out with adults or with our young child, I refuse to wait an hour to eat simply because a restaurant will not honor a reservation.

Many of the 'most amazing ever Portland restaurant's' that won't take reservations don't stay hot forever...and don't last.

I don't buy that it's strictly about revenue. It's also about being too cool for school.

It's one thing if a place has a nice bar to sit and wait. It's another to stand hovering in the rain.

I feel like we're teetering on the "No one goes there anymore; it's too crowded" punch line.

If there are long waits, people obviously like it. Doesn't mean you'll like it, but someone else likes it. Look at Pok Pok -- that place routinely had 1.5 to 2 hour wait times. Absurd, right? Who would wait that long? And yet, they routinely had 1.5 to 2 hour wait times. Wife and I finally got there at 4:45 to eat with the early-birders, and you know what? I would wait 1.5 hours for that.

Some of us old timers on the west side remember the inevitable, long lines for the original Crab Bowl and the Original Pancake House. Doesn't have anything to do with this article, really. I'm just reminiscing.

I was waiting for someone to mention Pok Pok. It's one of the very few restaurants we go to. We just wait until there are six-person opportunities, just a couple times a year, with visitors, family, etc, and then we make a reservation and go early and have a slather of a feast, hit on every taste bud, please some tastebuds we didn't know we had, and then be very, very grateful. And pray the guy makes it, and never, never goes out of business.... Prior to religious gatherings at Pok Pok we used to go to Taqueria Nueve...Ah God, it felt like I was watching Ghandi getting assassinated in the Ben Kingsley movie, when we pulled up to eat there one day a few years ago and found a note on the door. (Something like.."We closed, today, unexpectedly, and forever").. What????!! One of the busiest, most popular, most feasty-fabulous restaurants in town just closed? How?

Expanding to open a new branch in the Pearl while weathering an endless recession, probably. And maybe people there knew too much about food and not enough about interest rates. Still makes me want to cry.

This is Oregon. We do conservations, not reservations.

Go buy an island. Live there.

Have you tried using Open Table to make a brunch reservation? Also, I hear that the new Jamison restaurant in the Pearl is doing brunch, takes reservations, and is right next to a great park with a water

here is a link to brunches in PDX that take reservations this Saturday, FYI:

Pok pok is overrated. There I said it.
Between the snooty, hipster waiters and long waiting period, I'll have my mom's yakisoba noodle anyday.

No one is forcing anyone to wait outside in the rain. Bar seating? Well, it's a money maker if you are drinking at the bar. But if you're just waiting and sipping water, then that's lost space that could be making money. You can always go some place else. That's the beauty of the Portland dining scene...there are tons of great options. Why would a restauranteur take on the administrative hassle of reservations if they are jam packed without them? If you want to go to the hot place, then be prepared to wait. If you don't want to wait, then have an alternative in mind. Or maybe send someone in advance to put your name in. It's so simple. No whining required.

Portland restaurants are over rated....

Hey Jack it definitely says something about the demographic of your readers that restaurant policy is a topic of interest.

I've never in my life made a dinner reservation. Nor ate with a party that had one.

Lid for every pot I guess.

First, I won't wait more than 10 min. for a table. Ever. I don't do lines.

Second, I can't figure out why and how so many parents take their young children out to eat at restaurants. I don't understand why and how so many young people (under 40ish) eat out so much anyway. Weekends, weekdays, work days, school days, none of it makes sense. Are all these parents wealthy? It costs a lot to eat at restaurants compared to eating at home. And kids are out in adult environments in bars and pubs and more sophisticated places late at night. The kids are tired, other diners are annoyed, and the parents are oblivious. What gives? Who is gaining from all of this extravagance unknown to previous generations? What are children learning about life, money and entitlements? When anyone tells me young parents struggle financially, I just don't believe it anymore. Can anyone explain this phenomenon?

I recall from my days waiting tables that families with younger kids meant, more likely than not - smaller bills, more fuss, lower tip, and more clean up. Just saying...

It seems to me that "no reservations" means fewer "undesirables".

Undesirable types:

1) Families with misbehaved kids who make a mess, disrupt other diners and employees (ever seen a kid on his way to the bathroom totally oblivious to a waiter with their hands full of steaming hot food?). The parents are as bad, they can't focus on menu reading or making decisions, think little Sally is so cute ordering herself, never mind that the waiter can't hear her and she takes several minutes to spit it out. And the "can we have the special with ketchup instead of sauce, no carrots and chicken instead of fish?" Never mind the huge mess in a 5 foot radius around where the brats sat. These kids take a seat where an adult would have ordered a full meal and a drink or two. It is about dollars per seat.

2) 50+ year-old's. The entitled generation. "Can we split an entree?" "Can we have separate checks?" "No desert for me, I'm watching my weight" "May I have hot tea?...excuse me, may I have more water in my tea?...that looks good, may I have a cup of tea too?" "Oh, you work here so you have to listen to our super interesting and detailed stories" "Can you add meat to the vegetarian special?" "No, we don't need anything else but plan to sit at the table and visit for another 45 minutes even though the line is around the corner"

If families and old people have it together enough to wait for a table, they are probably the exception to the above and are welcome. Self selection is better than a sign that says "no kids or boomers".

Nolo, I concur that children 6 and under don't really belong in restaurants. Take-out is the best solution when they are young. Older children are a different story. Restaurant meals are an excellent opportunity for parents to actually converse with their kids, instead of hounding them to set the table/wash their hands/ quit spilling the milk/load the dishwasher/load the dishes in the most space-conserving way, etc, etc, nag, nag, nag...

Restaurants are also an important way for kids to experience food that is likely to be more varied and interesting than their parents' efforts, making them more likely to have a lifelong interest in food.
The restaurant industry supports a whole class of people, some of whom are also parents who like to eat out once in a while too, aren't necessarily themselves model parents, and don't have a monopoly on model children. Kids making a mess at a restaurant now are future adult restaurant patrons, and they and their parents deserve some tolerance.


"Undesirables: 50+ year-old's..." (By the way, no apostrophe for pluralization, your brilliance.)

50+ is the "entitled generation?" You must be off your barely post-pubescent rocker, there junior! Love the adorable characterizations you invent, though. I'm sorry some grown ups hurt your feelings somewhere along the line. But some day you may have to deal with adults. God, I can only imagine how you must dump on your poor parents.

Oh, and "desert" is a dry and arid place. Not an after meal selection. What are you doing on this blog, anyway?

I have a 9 month old that my wife and I take out to eat at restaurants. Want to know why we do that?

1) We lack the time & energy to prepare a nice meal.

2) When you're in the house all day, it sure is nice to get out.

3) We lack the time & energy to prepare a nice meal.

Now, my child isn't old enough to order anything from a kiddie menu or anything... so there's no additional cost there. We bring her food.

We do tend to feed her when we go out and I make sure everything-baby is cleaned up. I do that because I know the individual cleaning up probably wasn't thinking he / she was going to have to clean up anything more other than our plates and such.


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