Do bars benefit from reservation systems?

6th July, 2017 by Nicola Carruthers

Is having a no-reservations policy better for bars than having a booking system in place? Two industry insiders with differing views go head-to-head.

Ben Rojo

Ben Rojo, bartender at Angel’s Share, New York City

“We have no plans to change our seating system. We operate at capacity nearly every night, and we’ve found our seating policies to best fit our space”

Angel’s Share has not taken reservations since its inception, 23 years ago. We are a small, hidden bar whose business is built on word of mouth. To preserve the ambience of our intimate space, we do not serve standing drinks, nor do we accommodate groups larger than four. Without reservations, our hostess is able to seat guests efficiently in the order they arrive.

Our system allows us to keep our seats filled seamlessly over the course of the evening, without the complications of holding tables for someone who may not show up at all. Furthermore, we’ll never have to ask a guest to make room for an existing reservation or tell a guest that their table is not ready.

All of our regulars are aware of our policy. Occasionally a newcomer is surprised by our system, but most embrace the inherent fairness of it. Our hostesses run a waiting list. Guests enter the list in the order they arrive once their party is complete. Our waiting list is managed in person and not by phone, minimising wait times. Once seated, we happily serve our guests for as long as they’d like to enjoy our cocktails.

We are lucky to call the East Village our home, one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in the most electric city in the world. We welcome everyone interested in enjoying our cocktails and behaving themselves in our quiet space. Our focus is on cocktails, but we pride ourselves on a wine, beer, and mocktail selection that caters to a wide range of tastes.

Occasionally, a new visitor will have difficulty understanding our system. It falls upon us to explain to them the constraints of a small space coupled with the demands of a very busy bar. Our bar is a bit unusual in its scale and scope, so it is our responsibility to explain why we do what it is we do.

We have no plans to change our seating system. We operate at capacity nearly every night, and we’ve found our seating policies to best fit our space. Our system works best for our bar, and I think a walk-in policy makes sense for smaller spaces in busy neighbourhoods.

Davide Segat

Davide Segat, bar manager, Punch Room at the London Edition

“The difficulties are when we get no-shows, people are late, people who turn up with more guests than they have reserved for, and trying to estimate how long people tend to stay”

At Punch Room, we have always preferred a reservations system to keep a certain style of service, create the right atmosphere by keeping the numbers controlled, staff the room properly, have complete control of the tables and keep hotel guests happy. There are 173 rooms but only 15 tables in Punch. It is imperative that we always have seats for in-house guests.

Our guests are either very happy to be seated or disappointed when we can’t accommodate them. But it only takes a phone call or an email early in the day and we can keep a table for everyone. Everybody is welcome; no age differences (obviously no under- 18s), no screening of reservations. We want everyone to enjoy the experience.

We are always looking to have a great atmosphere in the bar so if we can, we sit people down [without a booking]. It can be a bit tricky when someone comes for the first time and, if there’s room, are allowed in without a reservation then return without a reservation and say they didn’t need it in the past.

The difficulties are when we get no-shows, people are late, people who turn up with more guests than they have reserved for, and trying to estimate how long people tend to stay as we don’t tell people what time to return.

The bookings-only system won’t work in all bars; we are blessed to have an amazing lobby bar where we don’t take reservations, and it helps with the overflow and larger groups.
Bookings systems in bars could improve if there was a more immediate response; sometimes it can take up to three hours to reply to an email as the managers may be busy.

There should be a more specific description of different bars because right now the definition is often only whether the bar is expensive or not, or if there is a dress code. Bars should say what kind of atmosphere there is, if they’re seated or not, what kind of drinks are served and who the bar is aimed at. There should be everything that can help the guest find the perfect spot.

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