Putting a limit on reservations


While traveling last weekend, I went to a great sushi place. They had one really strange practice, though. Apparently, regular customers can reserve not just a certain dining time, but also the exact table they want. This sounds fine, except that nearly half of the tables were marked “Reserved” when I arrived. And those same tables were still being held for the same customers after I had finished eating.

What’s the problem here? Isn’t this restaurant just providing loyal and attentive service to their repeat customers? Yes, but there’s a cost. You see, when people notice a full restaurant, they assume it’s in demand and thus worth going to. Conversely, lots of empty tables suggests that you should move on to another establishment. In other words, holding too many tables for reservations will arguably reduce your walk-in business.

Maybe this restaurant doesn’t care about walk-in traffic. But for those that do, the fix is very easy: just place a limit on the number of reservations you’ll take at a certain time slot, and be very picky about how many prime tables you’ll hold empty for those customers. Otherwise, repeat business could be costing you new business at a greater clip than you realize.