Subject: Re: Re: US dining
Dear Gail &Ira, I may regret responding to your posts but here it goes anyway.

I don't doubt that the occasions you mentioned were handled poorly by the management. Otherwise, you would not have been offended. But, I would like to point out that the silliness of and preoccupation with turning the tables is neither silly nor a preoccupation. It is the bottom line in an extremely competitive and difficult business. You may not be aware of it, but in the U.S. the restaurant business has one of the highest failure rates of any business. And the reason is the extreme competition in combination with the slim profit margins. Therefore every penny needs to be accounted for very closely. True of all businesses. Revenue generated by each table is what keeps a restaurant running.

Of course customer satisfaction is the single most important aspect of running a restaurant. That means good food and good service to assure that the customer is happy and will return. But management must be assured of an adequate revenue stream. And at times these can seem to conflict.

For example, the restaurant at which I work fills the dining room each night with reservations. That is to say, we have very few walk-in clientele. So we know precisely how many guests we will serve each night. A seating plan is prepared by the maitre'd who takes into account average dining times per table. Also, when reservations are placed it is explained to the guests that there are two seatings for that evening ( this is usually limited to weekend nights but can occur during the week as well). This is to inform the guests in the first seating that the table has been booked for later in the evening ( 2 and 1/2 hours is the average time used for a table turn).

Once the first seating is underway it is then the captain's responsibility to see that the service proceeds at a comfortable pace. Ninety percent of the time it does, the guests enjoy themselves and return to the restaurant again. But occasionally some guests will spend an inordinate amount of time at the table. This results in a crises for the second seating. The maitre'd must then revise his plans on where to seat the incoming reservations. Most of the time the maitre'd is able to adjust his plan to the satisfaction of all. Other times the arriving parties will have to wait for a table (much to their dissatisfaction; ever happened to you?) On rare occasions the maitre'd may approach a table that has lingered long after their coffee and offered to treat them to an after dinner drink in the lounge so as to free up the table in the dining room. But this is extremely rare.

It is an incredibly difficult feat to achieve this balance. But it is done on a regular basis without the guests having any idea that it goes on. It is when the crises occur that the level of professionalism of the restaurant's staff is apparent. When there are three tables lingering into their fourth hour at the table while three new parties have arrived and still everybody leaves that restaurant happy; it is then that the staff has performed admirably. And yet the guests would never notice, nor should they.

For some reason, restaurants are expected to operate on a level different from other businesses. They are expected to satisfy an unbelievably wide range of expectations by their clientele. And even trying to use basic business practices can be offensive. For example, we request a credit card to hold a reservation. We ask that guests notify us of cancellations. We explain that a no show will result in a charge to the credit card. We call within 24 hours to confirm their reservation. And still guests will occasionally not show and then be astounded that the restaurant might want compensation for that lost revenue. But would that be true of other businesses? I think not.

Gail and Ira, I am sorry that the restaurants in which you experienced this error in service were unable to satisfactorily take care of the situation. And you are correct in not patronizing them again. But I think it is important to occasionally remember that restaurants are indeed a business, and a difficult one at that. As to the difference in dining experiences at home versus on vacation I might point out that the diner definitely has a different state of mind while on vacation.

Finally, I hope this did not come across as a defense for the poor beleaguered service sector. Because that was definitely not my intent. After 29 years in the foodservice industry I long ago reconciled myself with the public's impression of the industry. But on occasion I still like to try and give an insider's spin on things.

Also, Ira and Gail next time you're coming to San Diego let me know. I cordially invite you to my place of business where I'll be glad to take care of you.

Respectfully yours, John Rule in San Diego