The General Theory of ReservationsBy BRUCE BUSCHEL
Friends, roam-ins, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar salad, not to praise it. You call me for reservations when conventional methods fail, and since you are honorable diners, I try to accommodate your every ambition, but noble intentions are oft interred with fish bones. Allow me this brief moment to explain how reservations work, and the seating that subsequently follows.
Most honorable guests prefer sitting down between 7:30 and 8:30 on Saturday night, lest they have just flown in from a different time zone or hail from South Florida, and thus operate in a world where worms and fish are invariably devoured by the earlier birds. Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate a room full of guests within that one-hour period, for our kitchen cannot turn out 100 appetizers and entrees and desserts. Nor can our servers serve 100 three-course meals, with beverages, and smiles, in that same 60 minutes. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock …
So we have to spread out the reservations on a busy night. No doubt, you have heard the dreaded phrase, “We have tables at 6:00 and 10:00 only.” We, too, stagger the starts. Avoid traffic jams. Pace the seatings at an efficient yet leisurely clip.
Not that we would not prefer to run full speed from opening gun to closing bell. Servers would earn twice the tippage from the tipplers. And the kitchen would rather fire away at 100 meals instead of 50 because it would indicate they had reached that syncopated calypso rhythm that virtually eliminates stopping and starting, and simply yields to the beat. As running a mile is less taxing than running four quarters, nonstop plating is easier than fits and starts. Sir Newton’s First Law: restaurants at rest tend to stay at rest while restaurants in motion stay in the groove.
The front of the house can support the calypso beat by booking the tables at regular intervals, and not piling them up and depositing dozens of tickets into the kitchen all at once, like some weird wiki-dump. Trickle is the trick.
When clusters do occur, the back-of-the-house will remind the front-of-the-house about flow. And the F.O.H. will remind the B.O.H about teamwork. And the B.O.H. will insist the F.O.H. has rhythm issues. And the owner will step in to referee the match and announce a meeting the next day when the conflict shall be discussed, calmly, impersonally, and the whole team can watch imaginary game footage to determine how the defense can help the offense and vice versa.
So a crucial mission of the host or hostess is to stretch one hour into two. That’s the alchemy of the seating. A drink at the bar? A walk in the garden? A chat with the owner? Juggling guests deftly takes a clever and caring person, one practiced in human legerdemain. Houdini could be a host. Einstein could not. Unlike Sir Newton, Einstein thought past, present and future were all occurring simultaneously. What could he know from stretching? Talk about big bangs. Poor Albert would be on the phone with Open Table, insisting they reconfigure their computer system to fit the general relativity of guests and arrivals, how space and time were not absolute, and why the restaurant was filled with black holes and no stars at all.
Speaking of stars, no tables are kept for V.I.P.’s, or senators, or hip-hop mavens. We have but one room at the restaurant. We hide nothing. That is why you may walk in at 7 p.m. without a reservation and we may say, “Sorry, but we have no tables available,” and you may say, “But I see five empty tables,” and we may say, “But two are reserved for 7:15 and two more at 7:30 and one at 8:00, so while they appear empty, they are actually reserved and filled with anticipation.”
We might suggest you sit at the bar, for which we take no reservations but where 20 stools welcome roam-ins, late-deciders, heedless weekend guests and people who just flat out prefer the bar; it was designed for dining. And Friday nights see an abundance of guests who eschew reservations because, driving from the city, they do not know the traffic conditions, weather conditions, babysitting conditions or what condition their condition is in. They wing it.
It becomes clearer each week that nearly everyone wants to know someone who knows someone who owns a restaurant so he or she can call that someone and secure a table on a crowded night, or at the last moment, or just to impress a date or a business accomplice. I too have harbored the identical fantasy, have watched the same movies. (I’m looking at you, Scorsese.) And even though I happen to know the owner of the restaurant in question quite well, there are times when even I cannot get a table.
How is that possible? Seems that 80 minus 80 is still zero. And when the tables are filled, or spoken for, as quantum mechanics tells us, two particles, or parties, cannot exist in the same time/space continuum, or at the same restaurant table, at the same time.