Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton reviewed The Breslin last week. The Breslin doesn't take reservations and Sifton raises the love/hate question over such a policy. Does this provide a fairer opportunity for everyone to try a restaurant or is it just a royal pain?
In New York, a line stretching out the door is a beacon to New Yorkers; if so many people are willing to wait, it must be worth trying. It seems like those restaurants that don't offer reservations do it more for the hype it can generate. I have never been sympathetic to the no-reservations system. Allowing reservations allows anyone with a phone or a computer to get a seat at a restaurant but the opportunity to eat there gives priority to those who plan ahead. On the flip side, perhaps it also encourages those who like to plan ahead a bit too much to make reservations and cancel later, leaving the restaurant with a table to be filled. But it's likely that the restaurant was bound to have some empty tables anyway or that the table would be filled by others looking for a last-minute reservation or walk-ins who take their chances.
No reservations means a play-it-by-ear evening. Who knows if the wait will be 20 minutes or an hour. Want to make a movie? You'll have to be prepared for the next showing or the one after that.
I'll admit it — I don't like to wait. A restaurant that doesn't offer reservations is less likely to receive my attention. Or I'll only try it at my convenience, when I know I can go at a time when I won't have to wait. Most places that do offer reservations these days do so through opentable.com, so there's the added bonus of earning points that can be redeemed for a check that can be used at any restaurants that participate in the system. A free meal? Yes, please! When I go to a restaurant, I prepare myself for my meal by going hungry. Crowded into a tiny entrance or, sometimes even worse, shunted outside, my stomach growls and my crankiness grows. No thanks.