Service Call

Booking a Table? Be Patient, Flexible

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

When you make restaurant reservations by phone, the voice on the other end of the line is often your first impression of the place. "How can I help you?" certainly sends a different message than "Can ya hold?" Click.

When we heard from our colleague, restaurant critic Tom Sietsema, that some patrons have had experiences that were less than polite, we conducted our own random survey. On a Tuesday afternoon, we called two dozen popular Washington area restaurants to book a prime-time reservation -- Friday of the same week at 8 p.m., party of two.

There were a few surprises: One well-known restaurant had an out-of-date recorded message, while another said it was taking reservations, then changed the recording three days later (and, as of Monday, said it was closing in 2 1/2 weeks). But many of the places handled our request with super-efficient graciousness. (The other restaurants we called are listed at the end of the story.)

Our observations, in no particular order:

RAY'S THE STEAKS, Arlington

Number of rings before the phone was answered: Two, but we had to call three times before anyone answered because the first two times, the line was busy.

Tone of voice: A tad rushed.

Time on hold: None.

Reservation accepted? Nope. The only possibility was 10 p.m. either Friday or Saturday, the man answering the phone explained. When we asked how far in advance we'd have to call to get a Friday or Saturday night reservation at a relatively normal dinner time, we were told three or four weeks are recommended.

Complaints: Last Friday, we heard that the restaurant was no longer accepting reservations, so we thought we'd better check. A breathless voice on the answering machine said that due to circumstances beyond their control, they were no longer accepting reservations, that they'd seat parties of up to six people on a first-come, first-served term basis, and that because they were a small restaurant without a bar or waiting area, they didn't recommend making a special trip to eat there. In addition, as of March 26, the restaurant will be closed until further notice. "We're doing the best we can," said the voice.

RASIKA, downtown

Number of rings before the phone was answered: One, after two tries getting a busy signal.


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