In response to a recent comment on my previous blog, I'd like to share some thoughts on the issue of restaurant reservations.
At my restaurant, the reservations department is the first point of contact with our clientele. As such, we put a lot of effort and thought into making sure it's a positive experience for the client. We situate our department in the center of our offices, and we have four people dedicated to answering calls during the day. During the busy season, we'll have as many as six people doing this job. We maintain such a large department because we do not want our clients to have to wait too long, and we do not want anyone's call to end up in voicemail. Le Bernardin is a luxurious restaurant, and we're compelled to deliver superior service on all levels, starting with a client's first call.
When we hire staff to work on the phones, we make sure they have a lovely personality and can handle stress well. We receive hundreds of calls during the morning rush (from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and it can be challenging to keep a cool head. We also conduct intensive trainings and hold regular meetings to ensure that we maintain a certain level of service.
To give everyone a fair chance for a table at "prime time," we open the reservation book only a month ahead of any given date. If you're booking for a weekday, it will be easier to get a table for dinner at 8 or 8:30. The weekends are obviously more difficult. Our room is designed to comfortably and attractively hold a certain number of guests; to exceed that would be to diminish the quality of everyone's experience. We have a limited number of tables, and cannot add to that number. For example, we cannot seat more than 15 tables of two. To balance the energy in the dining room, we add in some tables of four. We understand the frustration of some of our callers when they cannot get a reservation, but it is not because of elitism or arrogance. It’s just a matter of supply and demand. We also have a strict reservation policy: We ask our clients to confirm their tables to avoid no-shows and to give the opportunity to others to enjoy the restaurant. From an economic point of view, we cannot afford to lose tables at the last minute when we have the staff ready to serve, and highly perishable food in the house.
There is no "magic trick" to getting a table at Le Bernardin, or indeed any highly-sought reservation. Sometimes, if you haven’t been able to reserve in advance, you can get lucky by calling the restaurant on the day before or the same day for a possible cancellation. But really, the best option is to call the first day of the month when the books open for the following month so that you'll have the best possible selection of available dates and times.
I am interested to hear from other restaurateurs on this topic. How do you manage your reservation departments? How do you handle meeting a demand that goes beyond what you are able to offer?
Jordan Horoschak — Houston, TX — February 27, 2007 7:49pm ET
Martin Slavin — San Rafael, CA — February 27, 2007 11:08pm ET
Bobby Chandra — London — February 28, 2007 8:28am ET
Jordan Horoschak — Houston, TX — February 28, 2007 10:32am ET
Eric Ripert — New York — March 1, 2007 4:36pm ET
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