Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reservation frustrations

Restaurants and staff take monetary hit when diners fail to show

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Miles Gould of The Grove.

MAUREEN SCURFIELD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Miles Gould of The Grove. Photo Store

Making reservations at a popular restaurant is a privilege, not a right.

But lots of Winnipeggers abuse it -- and that can lead to frustrated restaurant owners, servers who don't get the tips they rely on, wasted food and other diners being turned away.

"I had a well-known man make a reservation for 25 people," says Verna Judge of Step'N Out, an internationally-known gourmet restaurant on Provencher Boulevard. "I talked to this man about it several times and he assured me it he was bringing 25 people. At the last minute he dropped his number by 10! There was no way to recoup the $1,000."

The restaurant is normally 95 per cent reserved on busy nights like that one, so those tables would remain empty.

Judge was rip-roaring mad. "Each of his party spent about $90, so I added $50 per missing person, and billed him an extra $500. He had the nerve to called us thieves! In the end we took it off his bill and told him he was never allowed to come back again."

Judge says she only gets "about seven or eight per cent" no-shows because it's so hard to get a reservation in the first place. Most people book three to four weeks ahead.

Curtis Love is the manager and sommelier for Resto Gare -- a 140-seat restaurant and train bar, formerly known as La Vieille Gare, on rue des Meurons. Sometimes the thoughtless way Winnipeggers treat reservations takes his breath away.

"Some of them need to be more mindful and courteous. They seem to have lost a little respect," he says.

For example? "We recently had 14 people ask us to open early and serve them a fruit platter breakfast and then they'd have their business meeting and join us for lunch. They phoned and cancelled at 5 a.m., via email! The chef had already prepped the fruit salads and the owner was coming in early because we are ordinarily not open in the morning."

So where did those 14 people go? Love says he doesn't know. But the restaurant's owner, Linda Love (Curtis's mom), suspects people book two or three places to keep their options open.

Then there's the last-minute bookers trying to squeeze themselves in for important occasions at the last minute. Curtis says restaurateurs are painfully aware Winnipeg is a last-minute town, but they can't always accommodate the procrastinators for big nights like New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day.

"Many people don't think of New Year's Eve until after Boxing Day and then it's boom, boom, boom! They're still phoning the day before." And, if Valentine's Day falls on a Friday or Saturday they'll call and say innocently, 'Can I get in on Friday?' as if they don't know what day it is."

His best advice? if you want a weekend reservation, call a few days before the weekend, and if you have to cancel, the earlier you call, the better. "Even a call 30 minutes before means we aren't waiting for you and can possibly take a walk-in."

Noel Bernier, owner of the new Carnaval Brazilian BBQ on Waterfront Drive and Bannatyne Avenue, says everybody wants to book in the middle of the evening, say 7 or 7:30 p.m. on a weekend night. Instead, the restaurant tries to manage things so it can have two sittings in an evening. So it accepts reservations for 6 or 6:30 p.m. and again at 8 or 8:30 p.m.

It also stays in touch with patrons by phone. "We call back two to three times. Are they still coming and what is the final number?"

Carnaval takes many bookings through Open Table, an online booking system, as well as old-fashioned bookings over the phone. Says manager Monique Gillan: "We do about 90 per cent reservations, booked two to four weeks ahead for weekends." The restaurant seats 130 people. She says they bring in more staff for big reservation nights -- which means waiters are the ones worst hurt by the no-shows. "Cancellations really affect the servers if their section suddenly turns out to be empty."

At The Grove, "everybody in Winnipeg wants to seated at 7:30 p.m." says owner Miles Gould, whose popular British restaurant and Cheers-style bar on Stafford Street and Grosvenor Avenue has line-ups out the door on weekends.

"We only do reservations for six people or more," he says. "It's hard trying to run a restaurant that's full of reservations for the evening, but is actually sitting empty until 7:30 p.m. If someone comes in an hour earlier (too little time for a full dinner before the others arrive), we may be fully booked, but they can see the restaurant isn't full. Reservations work to some degree, but we've started reserving only half of our seats because it's not fair to the two or four person parties.

"Last New Year's we started taking deposits. We also take people's phone numbers and we call them. We often hold the table 20 minutes to half an hour if they're late. It's better, if people are going to cancel, to call us even two minutes before, so we can give the table to someone else instead of waiting for them."

Sachit Mehra, of the famous East India Company restaurant on York Avenue, says the restaurant takes reservations any day, any time, any number of people. Mehra says because they have a large buffet, they don't enforce a reservations policy for small groups.

Unfortunately, about 10 per cent of their reservations don't show and it hits them in the pocketbook.

"If we know a large group of 12 or 15 are coming, we have additional staff to take care of you and we've prepared more food. That food is ready-to-go for you that day, and perishable."

He says the buffet means they don't suffer from no-shows as much as some restaurants who book a lot of extra staff. "But still, we are a well-run establishment working hard for your business when you make a reservation, and for every 35 people, we book another server."

Winnipeg restaurants want your business and they want to make it easy for you by taking reservations.

All they ask is that you be gracious in return.

 

Maureen Scurfield is a terrible cook and big restaurant fan. She was a former server herself when she was going to school in the big city and knows how disappointing no-shows can be. No diners, no tips.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2013 A8

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