Dishin’ That: The waiting is the hardest part

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An email arrived Friday that was going to be tabled because I had already started pecking away about Jenna, a college roommate who pole-danced her way through higher education. A free-spirited cowgirl from Montana, Jenna worked at a “gentleman’s club” on weekends, graduated summa cum laude and, in four years, paid off her new car.

The spoiler is about the time her father, unexpectedly in town early for parents weekend, sat at the bar while she was on duty. They were both mortified when making eye contact.

The bouncer tried to kick dad out when he screamed at her to put some clothes on. Jenna almost got fired when she began screaming back at her dad and eventually the two entered into an unbroken pact of mutual blackmail.

Jenna clocked out and took her father to the legendary Madison, Wisconsin, 602 Club, where everyone was fully clothed. Instantly, she was recognized by another patron who bought their drinks all evening. The 602 Club has since closed, and there’s more to Jenna’s saga, but Friday’s email, coming during the busy tourist season, takes priority.

Anna K. from Falmouth wrote: We will at times go to a local restaurant, but wonder why they make us wait so long, (We are a party of two.) when frequently there are open tables of three and four. We will even see the host seat people at the three or four tables who have come in after us. It makes us not want to go. There are only two tables for two in the restaurant. What do you think?

The question of bumping waiting parties ahead of one another, based upon the number of people in each party and the number of seats available at each table, is one I have wrestled with from both sides of the host station. Unless upscale, most restaurants don’t take reservations for fewer than six people, and when the waiting list of names grows, things get complicated.

Perceiving it as a business decision, the house wants to make the most of a short-windowed meal period by seating larger groups, regardless of available table size. However, as Anne’s email states, it leaves the deuces feeling like second-class citizens when bumped for people who waltzed in after them. The reality is, money from a two-top is just as important as the money from a party of six. There just isn’t as much of it, and there also isn’t an automatic gratuity/service charge on the deuce.

The karmic Catch-22 is, not all diners are created equal. More than once I’ve waited on a large, pain-in-the-tush group who drank water, shared appetizers and tried to pay separately. Not all servers feel this way, but I’d take my chances with the two-top who may drink a bottle of wine and order dessert. I can give personalized service, and most likely turn the table quicker.

So, if reservations are not possible and you know the destination is going to be jammed, try calling ahead to put your name on the waiting list. You may or may not have success with this system designed to control the hungry masses. And, if you do, you had best be standing by when your party is called. Not all places will allow you to submit your name over the phone, so do a little homework. It’s wise to have the skinny on which restaurants accept calls ahead, and what the rules are when spontaneity hits.

If you do have a confirmed reservation you should never be passed over for a walk-in party, or even a larger party that had a reserved time slot after yours. Once again, it’s hard for the house to resist the capitalistic urge to do a little shuffling, but the practice is unfair and obvious to the diner.

Also, the host clutching the waiting-list clipboard may look like a deer in the headlights, but don’t be too quick to take aim when an estimated waiting time goes over. Other diners may be camping longer than appropriate, or the kitchen/service was slow, backing up the flow.

Lastly, I have contacted the GM at Anne’s restaurant in question and will report back on her comments next week.

Peas & Qs

Q — My granddaughter left her retainer at a diner. That afternoon, my husband offered to go through the trash to look for it and was told no by the manager. Is this reasonable since he was doing the dirty work? Mary G., Portland

A — Without getting into safety, health codes, general nastiness and Dumpster schedule pick-ups, the answer is yes. Maybe in a simpler time or slower season, it might have been different.

Having done the Dumpster dive for discarded credit card receipts – no slip, no tip −  and on behalf of customers who left valuables, it’s still well within bounds for a manager to deny the request.

Natalie Ladd detests restaurant reviews, but always has an opinion. She has spent most of her working life studying the human-nature, behind-the-scenes side of hospitality and is passionate about sharing it. And she still loves Bruce Springsteen. Reach out: