This is one of the most common questions directed at the Bottleneck Management group of restaurants. It seems like an easy request that should have an easy answer, but like many things in life, it is not always that simple. At Bottleneck, we always attempt to please the largest amount of people, the greatest percentage of the time. This runs true with our restaurant reservations policy.
Speaking from personal experience, I can still remember walking into an Italian restaurant near my home at 5pm and looking at a completely empty restaurant. Not sort of empty, but completely empty. I promptly asked the host if we could have a table for two and was told they were booked with reservations. This happened two years ago, but the frustration of seeing an empty room that was booked with reservations that were spread over the next 90 minutes, makes me remember it like it was yesterday. This is the poor customer experience that we are trying to avoid. By giving our hosts the ability to seat people promptly and at the earliest possible time, we are attempting to most efficiently use the restaurant and allow our clientele to reliably dine with us in under an hour, if they choose.
Bottleneck Restaurant Reservations Policy
A classic example of a busy restaurant in busy business district, South Branch‘s lunch reservations policy is to open up half of the restaurant (inside) to reservations up to 11:30am, but then to not offer reservations again until after the lunch rush period is over. The reason for this is simple: we want to be able to accommodate the planners, who have taken the time to reserve seating at our venue, but also leave seats for the even larger amount of people that walk-in without reservations.
If we opened the restaurant entirely to reservations, we would be aggravating our patrons who visited our venue through the walk-in route. This is especially frustrating when a guest can see plenty of open tables, but is told they cannot be seated there because they are reserved. By making reservations available until 11:30am, we are able to accommodate the planners, but also able to seat our very large walk-in clientele that tends to arrive between 11:30am-12:30pm.
Late Arriving Parties
This also eliminates the problem of late arriving parties, which is inevitable with Chicago construction and traffic. By creating a system that allows all unused tables to be seated immediately, we never have to explain to a crowd of 25-30 at the host stand why we can’t seat them in the empty tables they are eyeing.
Evening & Patio Seating
This same principle applies to evening dinner reservations, and patio seating. Knowing how busy our patios can get on a beautiful summer evening, we do not take reservations after 4pm. The reasoning is the same, in that we can fill very quickly and we don’t want to have a line to get into the patio and at the same time have empty tables. If we did that, we would be playing a continual game of asking patrons already on the patio to get up from the reserved table, which can be awkward and aggravating for the guest. This is especially frustrating for the patron who is not yet on the patio, but patiently waiting to get on. When you see open space on the patio, but are told it is full and on a wait, it is easy to understand why the guest could get upset.
We are continually looking to strike the right balance between restaurant reservations and walk-ins, and frequently make changes based on observations and feedback from management and guests. We hope this provides a better understanding of our current approach and we’d like to thank all of our great guests for their feedback!
by Chris Bisaillon