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Your table is ready: On your mark, get set, eat.

Written By Scott Joseph On July 12, 2019

Portscotho table

One of the more annoying things about going out to eat is showing up at the restaurant on time for your reservation only to be told the table isn’t ready and you’ll have to wait in the bar.

And then you wait in the bar. And wait. Until finally a party decides they don’t need a third coffee refill and there are no more dessert crumbs to glean from the table and they finally leave.

Reservationology is not an exact science. It’s a guessing game at best and an exercise in futility at worst. The restaurants do their best to estimate how long a table of average diners will take to eat a meal and then turn around and allow unaverage diners to book tables.

So we wait in the bar.

But on a recent trip to the United Kingdom, I noticed a trend. Several times when went online or called a restaurant to make a reservation, I was told that I would have to surrender the table after a certain amount of time, an hour and a half sometimes, two hours later. If it was an online reservation, I had to click a box to acknowledge that I understood the policy and agreed to relinquish the table.

Southeast LG 2 24

And in Portscotho, Cornwall, a pub called Plume & Feathers went a step further. It was one of only two full service restaurants in the seaside town, and its tables were at a premium for visitors and locals looking to dine out. So the staff moved the bookings out of the reservation ledger and onto the tables.

Written in chalk on the edge of each table was the name of the first party booked for the table, along with the time of the booking and the number of people in the party, as shown in the photo at top. Then next to that were the details of the next party.

So the Harrises, a party of two, were booked at 6 p.m. At 7:30, the table would turn over to the four people in the Celina party. If the Harris party is late and doesn’t arrive until 6:15, they only have an hour and 15 minutes to eat and pay out.

Not sure what happens in the case of a backed up kitchen or food that has to be recooked, but presumably a more orderly dining room will lead to a more orderly kitchen.

This sort of technique isn’t new and isn’t confined to England.

Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa for years has “invited” guests to have coffee and desserts in an upstairs room just for that purpose.

And in New York’s Theater District, the Hourglass Tavern has one of the old timey timers on each table. Once a party is seated, the sands of time begin to flow.

Personally, I like the idea, especially if it means that when I show up on time for the reservation I went to the trouble to make, I’ll be shown to my table promptly. I suppose the bar staff might be less enamored with the policy.

What do you think? Would you be offended if you were told your table was like a time share and you’d have to vacate after a designated period? Or do you reserve your right to linger?

Let me know in the comments below.

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