I’m very sorry I tried to eat at your restaurant

The new raft of no-bookings restaurants are annoying enough without the additional irritation of power-tripping door staff, says writer and food lover Lauren Bravo.

I’m very sorry I tried to eat at your restaurant

TS Eliot declared April “the cruellest month” – a sentiment that seems confusing (had he not met January?) until you find yourself standing in the rain, without a brolly, waiting for your dinner.

This season of sudden, squally showers is all well and good if you’re watching nature’s showcase through the windows of an oven-warmed kitchen, but not if you’ve set your sights on that impenetrable fortress of the food scene: a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations. The trend began in London but, like the hype, it’s spreading – so if your local pavements aren’t yet beset by hordes of hungry punters, just wait.

The no-bookings restaurant brings much to whinge about. There’s the panic on approaching the place pre-6pm to find a queue already snaking out the door. There are the cold feet, the sharp elbows, the slew of frantic WhatsApps. The having to eat your dinner at either a geriatric 5:30pm or a basically-breakfast 10pm, both of which necessitate extra meals to keep you going. Not to mention never being able to take your in-laws because you don’t want to make them stand in the street for an hour – or the difficulty for less able diners who simply wouldn’t be able to stand in the street for an hour, not even for the best cacio e pepe in the world.

"They make you feel like an idiot daring to ask for a table... They're part bouncer, part St Peter with and iPad"

But my special peeve is reserved for the door staff. Not the harried, apologetic ones – lord knows they have enough to put up with – but the ones who make you feel like a total idiot for even daring to ask for a table. You know, the power-trippers: part bouncer, part St Peter with an iPad.

“I… I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a table for two is there?” you whisper, knowing before the words have left your lips that the answer is going to be a mix of pity and mockery. “Tchuh!” comes the reply, a noise somewhere between a laugh, snort and scoff. “We don’t have anything until at least 9:45pm – two weeks on Thursday.” Then they tell you to move out of the way of the actual, sainted customers, and try to sweep you out like old crumbs. You apologise for your audacity (imagine! Trying to arrange to give them money in exchange for food!) and reverse out, bowing, before going to sit quietly in Burger King and think about what you’ve done. Or perhaps you pout and sigh, hoping if you look desolate enough they might suddenly remember a secret table by the loos and give it to you out of pity. Or maybe you splutter and rage? It doesn’t matter, because the end result is the same. No dinner for you, chump.

I understand that the alternative to the no-reservations approach is hot restaurants with three-month waiting lists, and nobody wants that either. But if we’re stuck with no-bookings restaurants, can we please curb the attitude that goes with them? A sympathetic smile, that’s all I ask. A tacit acknowledgement that this whole hoopla is vaguely ridiculous, and
a “better luck next time”.

The warm welcome may indeed be dispensable so long as there are queues out the door, but every hot new place cools off eventually – especially if it’s pouring. So please don’t leave us with a sour taste before we’ve even made it to a table.

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