Restaurant Reservation Etiquette

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Do you enjoy dining out at nice places that you have to call ahead to reserve a table? Have you ever had your heart set on a certain restaurant and arrived only to discover that they require reservations? Do you want to make sure everything goes well when you take someone special out to dinner? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions but don't know the proper way to make reservations at a restaurant, it's important to brush up on reservation protocol. It's easy and can make life much easier if you enjoy dining out at upscale restaurants.

There are some fine dining establishments that don't require reservations. However, most nice restaurants prefer or even require reservations on special holidays when they are likely to be crowded. This helps them plan, schedule enough staff, and ensure a steady flow of customers.

Plan Ahead

If you want to take someone out on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, New Year's Eve, or any other special holiday, make reservations as far in advance as possible to secure the time you want. Some restaurants will do their best to accommodate a specific table or general location request. If the restaurant has a breathtaking view, such as one overlooking the ocean, a lake, or the city, it helps to be flexible with dates and times.

Tips for Making Restaurant Reservations

  1. Call at least a week in advance. Some popular places are booked even earlier, sometimes as much as a month or two before big events. Holidays may be booked a year in advance.
  2. You may want to call the day before to confirm your reservation. This gives you a chance to ask questions, make specific requests, and provide some peace of mind.
  3. Show up at least five minutes before your reservation. If you think you might be running late, call the restaurant and let them know. Many of them allow a short window of time before giving your table to someone else.
  4. Know the tipping policy and if allowed, tip the host, hostess, or maître d.
  5. If you have a special request (such as an engagement ring delivered along with champagne), make arrangements early and add more to the tip.
  6. If you need to cancel, do so as soon as you know you won't be able to make the reservation.
  7. Don't make a habit of canceling reservations in restaurants. Many of them participate in one of the databases that keep them apprised of people who are chronic cancelers.
  8. Always be polite when you make your reservation, when you arrive at the restaurant, and when you are seated. Thank each staff member who provides service. Not only is this the right thing to do, but they're also likely to remember you in a positive light and will gladly welcome you next time you choose to eat there.

Special Occasions

Certain times of the year, restaurants are more crowded, so you'll need to contact them as early in the planning stages as possible to find out when is a good time to make reservations. Holidays tend to be the busiest times for most of the nicer restaurants.

When planning a group event, such as a birthday party, engagement announcement, or promotion celebration, you'll have the best success if you do it during a slow time for the restaurant. It may be a weeknight or the weekend after a holiday since the ones leading up to that day are typically busier. Having flexibility gives you the biggest advantage.

Reservation Apps

If you want to make sure you get the best seat at the restaurant you have your heart set on, you may have success by using one of the reservation apps. In some cases, you'll be charged a fee, and so will the restaurant. But snagging a great table at a popular eatery in New York or Los Angeles at the last minute may be worth it.

Apps such as I Know the Chef, Killer Rezzy, and Resy are specific to one or just a few cities. Other apps that are free or very low in cost to customers include OpenTable and TableSweep.