Ten Things to Consider When Dining Out on a Holiday

February 7, 2016

in Dining Hell Commentary

Ah, the holidays… Simultaneously the bane and windfall of every restaurant calendar year. Primarily populated by enthusiastic amateurs whose dining habits make pigs in a trough appear cultured, as well as employees who would rather be anywhere other than serving them, holidays are viewed by most restaurant workers as a time to hunker down for a marathon roller coaster endurance challenge while counting both the hours until closing time and the profits the day will hopefully bestow.

According to two decades of research by the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day remains the top holiday for dining out, followed by Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, New Year’s Eve and Easter. Many eateries would also add Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to that list as more and more restaurants now remain open during these days to capture the guaranteed revenue religion and tradition so enthusiastically provide.

Holiday diners are a rare breed who come in all shapes and sizes and are just as varied with their demands and expectations. What many culinary consumers don’t seem to understand, however, is that going to a restaurant on a holiday is a little like attending a professional sports all-star game… It’s essentially a pomp and circumstance gala where the rules of the regular season rarely apply. With that in mind, here then is an incomplete list of things to consider if you choose to venture out into the mayhem of obligatory celebration. 

Keep your sympathy at home, please. This usually takes the form of, “I’m so sorry you have to work on a holiday.” Really? And what did you expect… To show up here and wait on yourself? Or did you and your one thousand closest friends not realize that your Open Table reservation would be accompanied by the staff necessary to feed, serve and pick up after you? Though your faux-sympathy over my employment status is certainly thoughtful, you’re the reason I’m here instead of at home getting glutinous with my family and/or friends as you are with yours. So focus on your clan or significant other, have a great time, let me do my job and we’ll all get out “relatively” unscathed.

No one cares that you all hate each other. Most holidays are a time to remember that family is the most important thing in the world as long as you don’t have to see each other more than once or twice a year. But do us all a favor and check your disdain for one another with your car at the valet. There’s nothing more awkward than a group of ten people at the same table either not speaking at all or lobbing sarcastic bombs at each other for two consecutive hours in between mouthfuls of turkey and gravy. If you choose to venture into the public arena with people you didn’t choose to be related to, please have a modicum of decency and at least pretend you aren’t counting the days until each other dies.

Usually takes a holiday, too. This is the person who shows up at 7 PM on a major holiday and astutely observes, “It isn’t usually this busy on a Sunday.” Whichever event you’re here on, you can rest assured it’s one of our busiest days of the year, and the cattle call is on. You can also count on our having rented extra tables for the occasion and strategically placed them in every nook and cranny we could creatively imagine to welcome every nickel and dime our four walls are capable of capturing. We’ve also factored in a 20% no-show ratio on our reservations, so we’re potentially overbooked going into the day. Consequently, we’re all on edge dealing with the overwhelming wave of humanity and the demands it brings. Basically, normal flew the coop the minute we opened the doors. So take a deep breath, savor some oxygen, go with the flow and try to enjoy the experience for what it is. But it won’t be the usual – and that’s a check guaranteed not to bounce.

The best seat is the one you’re sitting in. Booths are invariably the most desired seats in the house, and most restaurants have a limited number to go around. We realize you requested a booth. So did ninety-five percent of the other people who will walk through our doors today, so math dictates that we have more incoming butts than our padded cushions can accommodate. If you don’t get the table you covet, get your Zen on and try considering yourself fortunate to be getting one at all. However, feel free to try us again tomorrow when we’ll have plenty of prime seats available. I promise.

Fashionably late makes you fashionably screwed. Some people, it seems, are destined to be late for their own funeral. Most restaurants will extend the courtesy of allowing a fifteen-minute window to guests to appear for their reservation. However, the longer a table sits empty the more profits can be seen drifting out the door – especially when there is guaranteed business chomping at the bit to part with their money. Trust me… If you’re running late for your reservation for whatever reason and you notify the restaurant, you will be cut slack and accommodated ten times out of ten for your efforts. If, however, you decide to show up on a sold-out day an hour late for your reserved time slot without calling ahead, expect to deservedly spend the following hour or so at the top of the purgatory list for the next available table. In the world of restaurant seating, rudeness is always rewarded with waiting.

Table for six means just that. Holiday floor plans are usually diagrammed weeks in advance, and any self-respecting restaurant that doesn’t want to bring the wrath of Yelp down upon itself will enter every holiday with a well-crafted game plan of who will be sitting where and when and with whom. That essentially means if you have a reservation for six people at 7:30 and you show up with your six people in addition to Uncle Ted and Uncle Ted’s wife and Uncle Ted’s three kids who dropped in unexpectedly and you just thought what the hell you’d bring them along – It looks like you’re going to be cooking at home after all. And all the pouting and hollering and tantrum-throwing and threatening to call the corporate office you can muster won’t magically create a table or space that doesn’t exist. As always, science wins.

The specials really aren’t so special. You know when a holiday is coming, because restaurant owners, general managers and chefs begin to whiff the air around them for the unmistakable scent of impending greed. Holidays are economic windfalls for most restaurants, helping to compensate for the other coupon and comp driven days surrounding them. Most restaurants forego their usual discount enticements on holidays, prohibiting the use of coupons and temporarily suspending happy hours in favor of features with built-in margins that greatly benefit the business. The only thing special about a holiday feature is that you get the privilege of enjoying it with all the family members you can’t wait to get away from.

This isn’t a campground or your living room, for that matter. See all those people in the lobby looking hungry? They’re just as anxious to eat as you were when you arrived. Only they can’t, because you and your entourage are on the to hell with everyone else as long as I get mine meal plan. Consider the check presentation as a simultaneous thank you for your business and a sign that it’s time to take your business elsewhere. Our chairs aren’t ottomans for you to catch a nap in once the tryptophan kicks in, nor is our dining room the proper environment for you and your brood to boisterously unwrap your presents while other people are vying for your space. Restaurant tables are real estate, and real estate is money. Though your patronage is always valued, when you’re finished there’s no place like home.

Your holiday isn’t really ruined, Drama Queen. There invariably are several entitled crybabies every holiday who bestow on restaurants the honor of ruining the very thing they came to celebrate. Mother’s well done filet mignon isn’t charred enough, Father’s King of Beers isn’t carbonated to his liking, Aunt Betty’s lasagna isn’t properly searing her calloused palate, Little Blayne’s chicken tenders don’t have the same consistency as his usual Happy Meal cock-a-doodle-doo scraps… and the list goes on. And the one thing all of these apocalyptic scenarios have in common is that they all end in, “And you’ve ruined my (whatever holiday it is)!” Though we all realize the holidays can invariably bring added stress, if you receiving your meal five minutes after you expected it is your fiesta deal breaker, then perhaps a healthy dose of professional therapy should be at the top of your must-have holiday gift list.

The spirit of giving applies to you as well. Though wishing someone a happy holiday has a nice ring to it, I have yet to meet the creditor who accepts it in lieu of cash. If a five percent gratuity is the most your special occasion budget can muster, perhaps your palate would be better suited celebrating at the nearest drive thru. Holidays are often minefields that service workers navigate with perseverance and grace to make sure other people get to share memorable moments with the ones they pretend to love, and the last thing we need is to peer into a stocking whose sole content is a lump of coal left by some sordid Santa.

– Jeri Velgreen

My blog:  customer crap

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

RedHead0186 February 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm

I agree with most of these, except for the second one. As long as the table is being polite to the server, who cares if they all ignore each other? Sure, it might be a bit awkward, but as long as that's not extending to the server I don't see what the big deal is . . .

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Serenity February 10, 2016 at 12:27 pm

I always hated the "sorry you have to work on a holiday" bit. No, no you're not. Bc if you were, you would have stayed the fuck home. I now work at a place that is closed on major holidays, and it gives me extreme pleasure to tell those that call that "I'm so sorry, we are closed that day". Nope, not sorry! Most people are nice about that, at least, but one lady started cussing and slammed down the phone when finding out we would not be open Christmas. I am SOOOOO sorry we missed out on a chance to server her, I'm sure it would have been a delight!

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mensa58 February 11, 2016 at 9:32 am

I'd add "don't take it out on the server if management overbooks." I remember one Christmas Day dinner at a local hotel. Who knows what was going on in management's mind — or whoever staffed/booked the restaurant — but the 1 or 2 servers were severely overworked taking care of a full restaurant. I had a book to read so I was occupied, and just dug into my reserves of patience. Other customers weren't so nice. The poor server was doing the best she could.

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