This, in and of itself, isn't a bad plan on the surface. The devil is in the details.
A lot, if not most, hostesses don't understand their job. The hostess is the first impression guests get in person at a restaurant. When a guest walks in, as a friend of mine put it, they want to feel like you've been waiting all day just for them to arrive and are so glad to see you. They want an experience. The hostess should set the stage for this experience and make guests feel welcome and valued.
Instead, many hostesses see themselves as Gatekeepers of the Holy Elusive Table. I can't tell you how many times I've approached the podium and been greeted with an icy, fake-smile stare (or outright surly glare) and a curt, "Reservation?" If the answer is no, we have no reservation, we're lowly walk-ins, then one of two things happen:
1. She dutifully scans her All Powerful List and gives us a time estimate: "It'll be about 35 minutes. Inside, outside or first available?"
2. She resigns herself to the menial chore of walking us to an available table, albeit an inferior choice, almost always far from a window and close to something offensive, such as a restroom or a party of 11 with a jumble of high chairs, booster seats and renegade Cheerios.
Even if we do have a reservation, many times, we've been told, "Sorry, I don't see that reservation." What's going through our minds at word of this mishap? Shock that we are not on the list. Fear we will not get a table and our night will be ruined. Indignation that something went awry to cause this dreaded dining nightmare. And then we insist that they re-check, find a manager, scoot two tables up somewhere, anywhere - just do anything to make sure we get in that night!
Once or twice, admittedly, I've made the reservation for the wrong date. But 99 percent of the time, it's the restaurant's fault. Half the time, the person who took the reservation on the phone misspelled the name, and the other half of the time, the hostess simply didn't listen closely as we spelled our name letter-by-letter and looked under the letter C instead of K. Sometimes, the hostess was looking right at our name on the screen, but simply couldn't read well enough to acknowledge it.
As this semi-literate ballet plays out, we get angry and frustrated, and we're mentally ticking points off of our much-anticipated dining experience. We always start with a 10, the top score, and it declines throughout the night as servers fail to fill water glasses, or ring food but no flatware, or bring food but no flatware, or we see a hair in the soup, and so on. If you're a restaurant owner, do you really want your guests to be at about a 5 before even reaching their seats?
Oh, and about those seats - I once had a hostess who ran so fast through the dining room that we literally lost sight of her and had to retrace our steps back to the podium and wait for her to return.
A lot of owners now are smiling and smugly saying to themselves, "Ah, but that's not MY hostess. She's friendly and nice and helpful." This could be true. Many hostesses have a 1,000-watt smile, and they pull your chair out for you and delicately hand you your napkin before issuing a heartfelt, "Enjoy your meal!"
Even those hostesses, however, are often not trained to handle basic questions. As long as they stick to their script, they're on their game. But let's say a diner calls or walks in and asks, "Can your chef prepare vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free meals?" Or, "What's your corkage fee?" Often, a hostess gets flustered and either cops an attitude or makes something up because she doesn't want to admit she doesn't know the answer.
On many occasions, I've called a restaurant and asked which corner they're on (northeast or northwest? southeast or southwest?) so I know which way I'll have to turn, and the hostess doesn't know her directions. I get this a lot: "It's on the left side." (Silent scream.)
Instead of adding value to your business, improving the dining experience and making guests feel special, the hostess is often a liability.
Have you had Hostess from Hell experiences? Please share them. Do you know a Hostess with the Mostest? Give her kudos here. Besides having better training programs for hostesses, what should restaurants do to improve hostess-guest interactions?
Restaurant owners: Food is only part of the reason people eat out. They go for a dining experience.