Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com: Answer this!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food & Dining - chicagotribune.com
Headlines from chicagotribune.com

Answer this!
30 Jun 2011, 3:35 pm

Reader question: Recently, four of us went to a Near North restaurant. We had a 7:30 p.m. reservation and arrived at 7:15. The hostess said, "Your table will be ready in just a few minutes." Well, an hour later we were finally seated. The maitre d' said, "That was the longest 15 minutes I ever saw." His effort to be funny merely irked me more than I already was. I asked him why they accept reservations if they don't intend to honor them. His response was "Well, to tell you the truth, we get a lot of regulars who don't feel they need a reservation and, what the heck, we have to accommodate them."

Am I wrong to be livid about this shabby treatment? Is there some way I could have handled it better?

Phil says: Faced with a table of justifiably upset customers, the maitre d' attempted to make light of the restaurant's abject failure to honor its commitment after you honored yours. At the very least, his attitude should have been polite and apologetic.

It's true that restaurants, especially small operations, can have their seating plans upended by just a few unanticipated snags — a couple of lingering tables, a party of four that shows up with six, and in your case, the surprise appearance of regulars (restaurants are not purely democratic enterprises; regular customers are a restaurant's lifeblood, and, as such, get and deserve special consideration). These things happen.

But when they do, the restaurant simply cannot blithely pretend that they did not. If you disrupt one table's evening to accommodate regulars — not in and of itself an injudicious thing to do — you take the next step and do what you can to mollify the table you inconvenienced. You acknowledge the shortcoming, you apologize, and you do what you can to make that table happy.

The maitre d's attitude was dismissive and unprofessional. You have every right to be livid. About the only thing you might have said after his, "we have to accommodate them" remark was, "Regulars or not, this treatment is unacceptable. And I want to know what you're going to do about it."

And if you don't like his answer, walk. That is the customer's ultimate power.

Phil Vettel

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