Reservations vs. walk-ups: why are all new restaurants anti-reservation?

Reservations are becoming harder and harder to come by. Boasting a long list of benefits for the eateries; reduced number of no-shows, creation of tension and buzz and increased revenue, you can see why it’s a blossoming trend.

Ever passed a restaurant with a never-ending queue trailing from the door? It immediately sparks curiosity. Looking busy is great for business and you wouldn’t get that same long waiting line if you were booked-out with reservations.

Similar to pop-ups, no-reservation restaurants harbour an exclusivity – a get in while you can aspect which is great at generating buzz. People like that there is a fair chance of everyone getting in, rather than the outdated rules of having to know the right person to get a table at an in-vogue restaurant.

Padella, a restaurant in London Bridge, asks patrons to queue for a queue; wait in line outside for your turn to get your name on a waiting list for a table. If you queue at 6.30pm you can expect to get allocated a table for somewhere after 9pm. I’ve never seen it without a queue outside and I’ve certainly never seen it empty.

Pizza AM in Milan, Italy, does its best to keep customers happy whilst they wait in line, by handing out slices of pizza and a glass of wine to all their prospective diners. As much as our grandparents’ recoil at this new style of dining, it works.

Eradicating no-shows has a major impact on the profitability of the restaurant industry. According to Open Table, a US-based third-party reservation website, no-shows account for up to 20% of all bookings made on their sites. In line with this, The Globe and Mail found that the average number of no-shows is as high as 15%, and places that take walk-ins only can see as much as a 20-25% rise in revenue.

The common problem of no-shows and latecomers is eradicated by the anti-reservation policy. As put by Jennifer Bradly, a GQ journalist, “Not taking reservations means that there are never latecomers or no-shows: no tables are left empty and more covers can be squeezed in.” This means they can keep their establishment busy at all times, filling empty seats with passers-by. In-line with this generations’ eating behaviours – often opting for eating-out over home cooking is a spontaneous decision ­– walk-in visitors are plentiful.

Image of Pizza AM queue courtesy of @stefipuglisi

Finally, when a restaurant doesn’t take reservations, it means visitors usually have to wait for a table. Upon arrival, you are ushered to the bar, so you have a comfortable place to wait. This usually results in you buying a couple of pre-dinner cocktails and some snacks. Already, you have spent more than you would have if you had booked a table. According to Ken Friedman, owner of the Spotted Pig in NYC, “Every restaurateur knows, you make much more money selling a drink than you do selling a plate of food.”