Standing Room Only: It's About Building a Buzz

There is a dark satisfaction in reading a review engineered with the destructive precision of a cruise missile.  I’m quite certain however, the proclivity for the morbid delight escaped Robert De Niro and his investors this week when the NY Times returned a judgment on Ago, the actors latest venture in the TriBeCa Hotel.

In a review that was remarkably negative, surpassing the grim expectations set before the publications release on Wednesday, NY Times luminary and food critic, Frank Bruni, had his way, rating the restaurant “poor”, in such a furor he might of as well used a steak knife to carve his position onto the dinner table. 

This is not to implicate Mr. Bruni for illegitimate malignity, in fact, after reading of his experiences at the vogue “hot spot” the “poor” rating seemed generous.  And this is not to further regurgitate Mr. Bruni’s grievances, which he effectively stated on his own behalf, instead I wanted to touch on a peculiar item that arose in his review, and unfortunately one that many restaurants seem to be practicing.

Bad reservation policies.

In the review Mr. Bruni states:

“I called in early May for a reservation in early June and was informed that everything between 6 and 10 p.m. was booked.  I called a few days later to ask anew about the same dates and was informed that reservations weren’t yet being taken for that time period.”

In a city where making a reservation can be quite the arduous task, it would seem in the best interest of the restaurant to make the ordeal, well, hospitable.  Especially when considering that the moment is perhaps the diner’s first interaction with the house.

Sometimes there is confusion, or a faulty exchange of information, these complications occur, but they shouldn’t be compounded by abnormal policies.

A few months back I sought reservations and called the morning before the date I wanted querying about availabilities.  I was seeking a reservation for a Tuesday night and figured I might have some trouble getting a prime seating but didn’t predict too much of a hassle.

The response from the first restaurant I called was that they only had slots open at 6 and 10 p.m.  Fair enough, the place was coming off a great review and I assumed that would be case.  I moved to my next choice and found myself at the same crux, 6 or 10 p.m.  Either too early to eat or too late.  I phoned my third choice and although the times were slightly more optimistic, there was nothing available during prime seating. 

When I phoned the fourth restaurant to the same result of my previous queries I caught the pattern.  However, this time the reservationist wavered, and revealed a chink in the armor.  The slight hesitation in her voice when she told me there were no seats available for 7:30 encouraged me to persist.  She insisted that all she had was 6:30 or 10 p.m.  I told her that I preferred 7:30.  She put me on hold briefly then asked me what time I would like again.  Did I just perform a Jedi-mind trick?  I held steadfast to the 7:30 thing.  She then told me what I suspected all along, they had a reservation open for two at 7:30.

I experimented with first restaurant I had tried a few days later, calling five days before the following Tuesday, and to the same resolve I was offered 6 or 10 p.m.  I would come to find out that certain establishments would hold prime slots until the last possible hour in order to build a buzz.  I admit it’s clever, but it’s also frustrating.

It becomes murky when these aggravations aren’t justified with the dining experience.

None has been more fascinating, and at this point, griped to death, than the rodeo reservation system at Momofuku Ko, the coveted eatery with appointments being scalped on Craigslist.  Luckily it has been deemed worthy of its convoluted process.

Yet, there are plenty of restaurants that unfortunately are not, as Mr. Bruni felt was the case with Ago.  Perhaps satisfaction should have been placed at a higher importance than buzz.

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