Industry Standard: Always make a reservation

This week it’s my pleasure to introduce an old friend from and the local restaurant community. Marsha Lynch, the pastry chef at CafĂ© Lou Lou, is a culinary graduate of Sullivan University and has worked at Louisville independent restaurants, including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s and L&N Wine Bar and Bistro.

From time to time, Marsha will step up to join me on this pulpit with a new column, “Industry Standard,” subtitled “Insider info for those who dine out,” a hearty menu of tips and tidbits aimed at offering the dining public a fresh view of the restaurant business from an insider’s perspective.


Always make a reservation

“What’s on the book?”

It’s the eternal question, roughly translated as, “How many reservations do we have?” As we begin our daily rituals, every cook and server wants to know: Exactly how busy are we going to be?

The phrase is a holdover from the days when reservations were written by hand in a reservation book. Nowadays, the “book” maybe a state-of-the-art computer network, with access terminals throughout the restaurant, but the list is still often called “the book.”

It’s not an exact science, but the number of reservations can usually be extrapolated to indicate how busy the evening will be. Of course, there will always be walk-ins, and these are usually welcome. We count on them to fill in holes in the “book.” Still, for the best experience, you want to be a party with a reservation.

On a Monday at 6 p.m., you might well think, “They won’t be that busy. We don’t actually need to make a reservation.” To an extent, you are right: You won’t necessarily need a reservation to get a table during non-peak hours. But getting a table is only half the battle. You don’t just want a table, you want a great meal, with delicious food and professional service.

When you have made a reservation, your server will be pre-assigned, already working for you before you cross the threshold. The servers have your table in mind already. They are waiting for you to get there, the menus are ready, the flatware is ready, the table is clean, set and welcoming. You shouldn’t have to wait in a drafty anteroom while your table is bussed and cleared to accommodate you, or while servers wait to see who’ll be assigned to your table. If your party is large, the cooks have been informed and are planning ahead, expediting the smaller parties that may order around the same time as you, so they can clear the window for your party’s food.

So make that reservation! Even if you just make a quick call on your way to the restaurant, it’s still much appreciated, and practically guarantees a better experience for you and your party.

Speaking of reservations, have you made yours for the first weekend in May? Let me clue you in on a little secret: It’s often easier to get a last-minute table (for a smallish party) on Saturday, Derby night, than it is to get one on Friday, Oaks night. It may sound crazy, but it’s been proven time and again. I think people plan ahead for the whole weekend, and they honor their reservations for Oaks night. But over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of folks run out of steam at the track on Saturday, ending up at home with an ice pack on their head and another on their wallet, leaving their top-spot reservations unused.

So, never say never. You might just get that table that you thought was impossible for Derby night – but only if you try. Whether you can stand the suspense is another matter entirely.