The Not-So-New Trend of No Reservations


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Half hr wait at 7:45 on a Saturday? @hi_lo_diner has a hit on its hands!

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I spent a lot of time waiting for a table this month. I do it for you, of course. I do it for my gig reviewing here at Minnesota Monthly. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for this job, I’m not sure I’d ever go to a restaurant that didn’t take reservations.

I hate to call it a “new” trend. Around here when Tilia opened in 2011 without reservations, that quickly became the place to wait for a table. I waited there for almost 90 minutes once, although with its fantastic beer selection and welcoming bar, that 90 minutes felt more like 45. This month I’ve waited at Mucci’s (40 seats), Handsome Hog (66 seats), and Hi-Lo Diner (70 seats). Add Revival and Saint Dinette to the list of no-reservation spots in town.

Mucci’s was 30 minutes on a Wednesday night at 6 p.m., Hi-Lo was 30 minutes on a Thursday night at 6:30 p.m., and Handsome Hog was 80 minutes on a Saturday night at 6:15 p.m. Mucci’s and Hi-Lo was with our two kids as well, which was a true exercise in their patience.

Why do restaurants do this? A lot of reasons. If you can’t make a reservation, you can’t not show up for a reservation. No-shows cost restaurants money because successful spots are in effect turning someone else away from that seat. And it’s hard to fault the restaurants: we are lining up at these spots, we are packing the places with more diners than would eat there if there were reservations.

New technology has made waiting a little easier. All of these restaurants use iPad systems that will text you when your table is ready, and show you the queue so you know how many people are in front of you in line.

But it’s not very hospitable, is it? What hospitality is there when you have to stack up near the entrance of a place, or wait outside until you get to enter the temple? Isn’t there a middle ground here—maybe make people put down a credit card for a reservation and then charge no-shows? Maybe allow some reservations?

When you have kids, you’re already paying a babysitter to enjoy a night out at a great restaurant. Now you’re also paying to wait. This mostly seems to be a young person’s game, I don’t know a lot of people over the age of 45 willing to wait in line. Someone help me understand why it makes sense to have a restaurant designed to be welcoming and pleasurable and an escape to the diner—but then makes you line up and stand there for more than an hour?

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