Imagine you’ve got guests from out of town staying in your home. There’s quite a few of them, but fortunately you’ve been planning for this visit for a while so you’re prepared to comfortably situate everyone. It’s the evening of their arrival, and everything is set. You’re not very excited to see them, they’re kind of a needy bunch, but you know you can handle them. Then comes the long awaited knock and you make your way to the door, putting on your most gracious smile and trying to feel welcoming.
Now imagine that when you open the door, there’s two people on your step. But these are not the people you were expecting. Maybe they’re acquaintances from high school. Maybe coworkers. It’s hardly relevant. What matters is that there they are outside your door, and they’re telling you they need a place to stay. But it’s not just them, they’ve got more people on the way. When you ask how many more, they kind of shrug and look at each other for the answer. One says “seven” and the other says “three”. They shoulder their way into the house and all you can do is step back so as not to get trampled. You say there’s really nowhere for them to sleep, every square inch of the house has been claimed already.
They start poking around the house, pointing out empty beds and saying “Well this looks just fine we can squeeze in here.” Your protests that those beds are for someone else are met with disdain. There is another knock on the door and you leave your uninvited guests to their snooping. Here at last are your long-awaited visitors, right? Wrong. Outside are three more people you haven’t seen in years, and they have the same story. They need a place to stay. They’re not sure how many of them there will be. Maybe 10?
You can’t say no to any of these people. There’s just no way. And they keep coming. Groups of five, eight, fifteen. You can’t keep up. They’re leaving their things everywhere, blocking off hallways, perching on any available surface. And they all want things from you. They’re thirsty and hungry and tired and in need of a shower. As you start on one task, someone interrupts you and gives you three more.
In that situation, how would you feel? Like a trapped animal? Overwhelmed? Would you be fighting back tears? Probably. Welcome to the life of a host.
I’ve worked in the service industry for two years. In that time I’ve filled many positions, all of them frustrating in their own way, but I can safely say that being a host in a restaurant is one of the most thankless and defeating of jobs. And if anything can make you lose faith in humanity, it’s going to be hosting.
For some reason it’s very difficult for guests to grasp that if you have a large party, it’s probably best to make a reservation several days in advance. A restaurant does not have infinite seating, it’s not Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. And there’s a good chance that if you come in on a weekend, it’s going to be packed already. You’re not the only people that have the day off, and you’re not the only ones with something to celebrate.
If, however, there’s just no way you could have picked up the phone and let us know that your entire extended family has a burning desire to eat our food, could you at least have some idea of how many people you’re bringing in? It’s very simple math, I’m pretty sure they taught you how to count in kindergarten. Saying that there’s going to be somewhere between two and fifteen people doesn’t help me and it definitely doesn’t help you.
Once you do decide that you and all your friends and relations simply must go out to eat, and you know how many of them there are, let me do my job. When you come in and I have to seat you, there’s several factors I have to consider. Keep these in mind:
- If there’s more than one server on the floor, each of them will have a section. That means there’s a limited amount of tables they have to attend to, and they’re all in the same general area.
- If there are sections, we’re probably seating in rotation. For instance, if there’s three sections, I have to seat the first section…wait for it….first. Second section gets seated second, then the third. Again, very simple. I know who’s next in rotation, you don’t.
- A busy restaurant means the servers are overwhelmed and the kitchen is probably overwhelmed. If I don’t immediately seat you but there are tables available, it may be because I’d rather you wait to get the service and food you came for than having you dissatisfied with your experience.
- Empty does not mean unclaimed. If I tell you that there’s a waitlist, don’t point to a table and say “Well, what about right there?” I know it’s there, but somebody with slightly more forethought than you called ahead and reserved it. It’s like dibs. And dibs have to be respected.
- Servers have to be able to move around the restaurant. Customers have to be able to move around the restaurant. Bussers have to be able to move around the restaurant. There are set pathways, and four of you trying to sit at a table meant for two will definitely mess those pathways up. I don’t care that you’re okay with squeezing in together, how comfortable you are with your personal space makes no difference to me. You’re going to be a fire hazard.
- This also means that your stroller, luggage, etc. cannot be in the walkway. There may be a table available in the back corner that would fit you comfortably, but I cannot put you there because then your baby would be in the direct path of our hot plates and giant trays. I do actually care about your safety.
- If I put you on a waitlist, you’re on the waitlist. I’ve taken your phone number and you will receive a text when we’re ready for you. Checking in every thirty seconds just distracts me from being able to find you a spot.
- On a slightly unrelated note, if you tell me you’re in a rush we’ll try to do everything we can to help you out. But keep in mind that full service restaurants usually have to actually cook the food before we bring it out to you. And full service restaurants that are full upon your arrival are probably making the people who’ve come in before you a priority. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure you’re wonderful, but the guy at the table next to you has been waiting for his food for twenty five minutes and everyone is stressed out about it. He’s getting his meal first, no matter how many planes you have to catch. If you wanted something quick, you’d have been better off going to a McDonalds.
Now, I realize that all of that was a little harsh. It’s not that hosts hate their customers, it’s not that customers are terrible. But as with all things, a select few bad experiences will ruin it for everyone. So just keep in mind when you visit a restaurant that hosts are people too, and that there has to be a level of respect and consideration for the people working for you. That’s really all we’re asking for. Unexpected large groups are unavoidable sometimes, but if you really must come in, at least be polite and understand that we’ll try our best to accommodate you but it may take a minute.