This is a message to all the self-important, self-centered douchebags out there causing scenes in the lobbies of restaurants: We are the other people waiting for tables, and we don't give a wet fart what time your reservation was for.
Things happen in restaurants, things that cause even the most carefully planned seating plan to go wrong, and you standing up there huffing and puffing and turning red in the face about how this doesn't happen in quality restaurants doesn't help matters; it just makes you look like a giant hemorrhoid and pisses off the front-of-house folks, who decide where you sit.
5. Leave a pathway to the host desk.
Once you check in, get out of the way. Seriously, move. If someone has to ask you if you've already checked in, you're in the way. Sit in the seats, if there are any; wait outside, unless it's bad weather; just make yourself inconspicuous (but reachable in case the front desk needs you). In fact, if the restaurant is equipped with one, it's best to . . .
4. Wait in the bar.
Like so many things in life, waiting for a table in a busy restaurant is quicker with liquor. Mosey over to the bar and order a beer, a glass of wine or a cocktail. Make sure you tell the front desk where you are; it'll save them wearing out their voice shouting your name into the oppressive cacophony of the lobby. If you do order a drink, though, find out whether you can have your tab transferred to your table; don't just assume it can be.
3. Don't check in until a majority of your party is there.
If you've reserved a table for 12 and only three of you are there, wait nicely in the lobby until the morons who don't know that no place is actually "20 minutes" from anywhere else show up. You'd be stunned by the number of groups that just hang out occupying space for an hour without even ordering drinks; when that happens, it screws the night for the restaurant. Now, if nine of you are there, ask to be seated, if for no other reason than precious few restaurants have space in the front lobby for that many people.
2. Don't check back compulsively.
If you make a reservation, check in and don't check back for 20 minutes. If you're still waiting 20 minutes after your reservation, walk back, wait in the line (this is very important to not being a Restaurant Douchebag), and ask politely when you might be seated. Then go wait another 20 minutes, at which point it's probably okay to be a little more pointed (but not douchebaggy) about your expectations for the evening.
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If you're in one of those walk-in-only restaurants where you put your name on a list, you don't get to check in again until 10 minutes after the suggested wait time has passed. If they tell you it's an hour's wait at 7 p.m., you get to go check in at 8:10. And--this is the key--do not ever touch the host's waitlist. It contains a special contact poison that instantly turns you into a Restaurant Douchebag.
1. Be nice.
What a shocker, right? Being nice is a win for everyone: You get treated more nicely and ingratiate yourself with the host or hostess, the front desk gets some breathing room to correct the issue, and the other people waiting for tables get to deal with a less-harried person. And this is California--a smile and a laid-back attitude goes a long way.
BONUS TIP: Leave your cell phone number.
The key to a stress-free evening is to have a backup plan if there's a long wait. Maybe there's an art gallery a few doors down, or a store display you'd like to browse, or a cool-looking bar next door. Give the front desk your cell phone number, tell them how far you're going, and ask them to call you when your table is ready so you can stay out of their hair. Not every front desk will do this, but when they do, it's a ticket to relaxation.