Tired of no-shows? You’re not alone. In fact, there are many restaurants that have opted out of accepting reservations completely, and the trend has been going on for years. While some customers find no-reservation restaurants a buzz-kill, there is a class of diners that are enthusiastic about waiting in line for the newest restaurant, mostly bloggers, critics, and young people.
Back in 2010, the New York Times reported on the sea of new walk-in only restaurants, which had grown so large in number, Zagat created a specific category for them. Some of the diners interviewed by the writer found the no-reservation policy infuriating, inconvenient, and not worth the trouble. Like interior designer Mario Buatto told the Times, “To tell you the truth, I can’t think of a place that I would go that doesn’t take reservations.”
According to NYC restaurateurs who had been following the trend, David Chang’s Momofuku, the famously authentic (and delicious) Japanese udon noodle shop, was the original trendsetter. His restaurant applied a “first-come, first-serve” policy, and was the first hotspot to do so. Until Momofuku, people had not been willing to wait so long in line to eat.
For Chang, taking no reservations is his way of paying homage to the food and the experience.
“There is a little bit of something going on—maybe “democratic” is the wrong word, but it is the closest one,” Chang explained in the article. “By not taking reservations, there is a certain lack of pretension. It is saying that we want people to eat something delicious. And that people aren’t there for the scene—or anything else but the food.”
In 2014, the Washington Post focused on how Washington DC had also become filled with restaurants that didn’t accept reservations, much to the author’s annoyance. To eat some of the best food in the city, would-be diners had to wait in lines up to three hours long, depending on the night.
The Post author was also incredulous by how walk-in only restaurants were changing the dining hierarchy. Rank-conscious diners, which formally preferred starched white tablecloths over paper napkins, were starting to stand in line for the latest Pad Thai with octopus’s ink, or other equally trendy foods.
The change in dining style was credited to the celebrity-chef appeal. Ever since food Network turned respected chefs into national TV stars, dining out became like an attending a sporting event or rock concert. With the similar fervor of a music junkie scoring concert tickets, self-described foodies were hunting for the next “it” restaurant. Walk-in only establishments made the desire to eat there stronger, and the hype would build.
The Post author writes, “The more adventuresome the meal, the more challenging it appears to be for a chowhound to reach it. But to the victor go the uni-scrambled eggs with sea urchin hollandaise.” The article includes that this bizarre combination is served at the walk-in-only restaurant, Rose’s Luxury, where wait times can be four hours.
The Benefits of Being a Walk-In Only Restaurant
According to the Seattle Times, restaurant reservations are a “tricky business,” as telephone reservations can lead to costly no shows. Conversely, not accepting reservations and relying on walk-ins alone can equally lead to a long wait for a table. What then is the better way?
A rock and a hard place
There’s no denying the extremes that some restaurant owners have gone, in their desperate attempt to stave off no show reservations, from public shaming to charging as high as $200 for no show fees.
Seattle Times food columnist Providence Cicero recently published ‘Reservations Are A Tricky Business For Restaurants, ’ which talks about Jet City restaurants grappling with reservations versus walk-ins. It highlights that the prices seem to be in favor of walk-ins, as a lot of restaurants seem to have abandoned reservations and now rely solely on walk-ins – sometimes to the detriment of the customers.