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Why Do I Have To Wait For A Table At A Restaurant?

waiting for an empty table

If you have found this article, you can probably relate to having to wait for a table at a restaurant.  You arrive at a restaurant, you see open tables, but you are told that you will have to wait to be seated.  This is incredibly frustrating.  If the table is open, why wouldn’t a restaurant want you seated in it and spending money?  It obviously shows a lack of professionalism on their part and their complete lack of respect for their guests.  It is almost enough to make you want to turn around and go home.

After spending the better part of two decades in the restaurant industry, I can give you the answer that the hostess guarding that empty table won’t.  This is the honest reason, not some canned explanation written by someone sitting in a corporate office.  It will give you an advantage over everyone else in the waiting area to not only get that table, but also have the best dining experience possible once you get there.  With this little secret, you can watch the smoke coming out of the ears of those in the lobby with a devilish grin because you know the real reason that table is sitting empty.  You can amaze your friends, woo your dates, and impress your boss with this little piece of knowledge.

I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this.

I could be blacklisted from my industry for sharing this trade secret.

My boss could fire me for passing on such sensitive information.

I am going to tell you anyway, because I think this secret needs to be shared with the world.

Are you sitting down for this???


The table itself is one of the smallest factors in your dining experience.

They aren’t holding you from that table because of a lack of empty tables; it has far more to do with what is happening behind the scenes.  There are two reasons this could happen.

1) If it is a restaurant that takes reservations, they could be holding it because of the reservations that are about to arrive.  Did you have a reservation?  If not, the people who did have a reservation will have priority to receive that table.  This is similar to a Doctor’s office not canceling your appointment because someone else who didn’t have an appointment demanded to see a Doctor.

2) Some part of the restaurant is not capable of handling another guest at that moment.  You probably have a table at home in your dining room, but it will not guarantee you a great dining experience.  If all that was needed was a table, we would all carry folding card tables around and eat at the finest restaurants every night.  There are servers, bartenders, cooks, dishwashers, and any number of other humans, who like all humans, can only do so many things well at one time.  The restaurant knows when one of these humans has reached their limit and by making you wait 5-10 minutes for that table they ensure that the limit will not be exceeded.  This means that you and all of the other guests they are responsible for can enjoy a quality dining experience.

That probably was not the big secret you were expecting, but it is the truth.  I sat down to write this after reading a one star restaurant review on one of the big review sites that began with, “we were told we would have to wait for a table even though we could see an open table in the dining room.  After asking to speak to a manager, we were seated right away….”  They then proceeded to explain how the server took too long to get them drinks, the kitchen took too long to make their food, and how they would never return.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if they would have received the experience the restaurant wanted them to have by waiting for that table.  I also wonder how many other tables had their experience ruined because this extra table was added to an already overworked kitchen and wait staff.

I know some of you are ready to comment about how the restaurant should have been more prepared.  I will address this at length in the next post.


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About David Hayden

David Hayden is the creator of The Hospitality Formula Network, a series of websites dedicated to all aspects of the restaurant industry. He is also the author of the book Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips and Building Your Brand With Facebook.

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