No table? Who’s got the power?
Hold your forefinger and thumb about a millimeter apart -- that is how much power a hostess has, and she wants you to know she has it. If there are 10 empty tables at 7 p.m., she’s going to make you wait or tell you there aren’t any available. Why? Chances are she’s been abused all afternoon on the phone taking reservations from pushy agents, lawyers, publicists or “wives of,” who don’t think they need to talk to a restaurant hostess like a human being.
Further, typical restaurant managers may regularly ogle a hostess or make sexist comments or advances. This is the minefield a typical hostess must endure at high-end restaurants.
The managers do want to regulate the flow to some extent so the kitchen doesn’t get swamped, but usually they want to do what an owner wants to do -- take all reservations, have a full restaurant and make more money. It is the hostesses and hosts handling the reservations for the night who are mostly responsible for not giving you that 7 p.m. reservation -- they have the minute-to-minute control.
That’s not to say that some pretentious restaurant owners don’t have velvet-rope syndrome -- they do. They want to create the impression that not just everyone can come into their restaurant. But as your article noted, a huge number of restaurants around town have seen a decline in diners in recent months. Perhaps your article will ring like a shot across the bow and wake up some restaurant owners.
Ifind it, simply, upsetting that such gamesmanship occurs. If I find myself in such a situation, there is an abundance of fine dining establishments to choose from, and I choose to exercise that right elsewhere. I won’t pretend to be someone I’m not to dine where I, and my money, are not welcome.
Your list of tips failed to include the most basic one: Find another restaurant. One that remembers that the customer comes first. I wonder why people put up with such affronts as letting an incompetent, lazy or self-centered manager dictate when they’re allowed to eat.
You shouldn’t have to put up with that, any more than you’d put up with bad service once you actually got your table. As for me, I’ll eat someplace where my presence and my dollars are welcome.
It’s your relationship with people that makes the difference, and nowhere in your article did I see any relating to the people you interviewed. It may be that your focus is clouded by the weight of the power you wield, as writer, at once compelled to influence outcomes by communicating who you are while tastefully avoiding the temptation to do so. Use of too much influence keeps you from experiencing people and places as they really are. It must be a difficult balancing act.
Rafael O. Quezada
Leslie Brenner responds: I should have noted in the article that I usually dine anonymously, making reservations using a pseudonym. The reservation at Tanzore was made by my boss in her own name; at all the other restaurants mentioned in the story I dined anonymously.