Stephen Jardine: No advantage in ‘No Reservations’

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Let’s get this straight, restaurants are some of my favourite places in the world. Supermarkets and dry cleaners are functional cogs in the machine of modern life, but restaurants are where magic happens.

Apart from simply satisfying your hunger, they are the backdrop for romance, intrigue and plans that never seem quite so good the next morning.

Many of my happiest memories revolve around great restaurants. However, it’s amazing how many of them just don’t get it right and this week’s column is devoted to the faults and foibles that can drive even a devoted restaurant lover to despair.

Last weekend, I’d booked into a rural restaurant with rooms for a one-night stay. Not rooms with a restaurant, that would be a hotel: this place was something more fancy, offering food so good customers can’t seem to drag themselves away afterwards.

Except the food wasn’t all that good and we almost didn’t get to eat anyway because the restaurant was fully booked when we checked in. My suggestion that keeping aside a table for every room booked might be a good idea was received like I’d just proposed swapping square wheels for round ones.

Perhaps restaurants adopting a no-reservations policy is the latest trend, but it is a really terrible idea.

Cool London eating spots like Barrafina, Bubbledogs and Polpo all take this approach, claiming it creates a more egalitarian eating experience. Without a reservations book, everyone is equal if you are prepared to take your place in the queue, they claim.

But they would say that, wouldn’t they? In reality, no reservations is just a very easy way to ensure tables are always full as well as guaranteeing a good trade in drinks from those waiting.

And as for delivering a more casual eating experience, in reality it guarantees a simmering tension as those in the queue stare at those lucky enough to be seated with a look that says: “Get a move on.”

At the end of the day, you wouldn’t turn up at the doctor or dentist without an appointment, so why on earth would you want to stand and wait for something much more pleasurable, like a meal?

And even if you do get a table, the greatest irritation of all is just a plate of food away.

My number one bugbear is the waiter or waitress who waits for you to take your first mouthful before returning to ask: “Is everything OK?”

I’m not five years old and don’t need permission to speak. If something is wrong, I’m capable of saying so without being prompted. And, anyway, checking if the food is just OK is hardly setting the bar high.

So there we have the most annoying things about restaurants – but what about the most irritating things about restaurant customers? That will have to wait for another week.