I've worked as a restaurant hostess for a while now, at several different restaurants, across the whole spectrum of fanciness. But regardless of the size of the restaurant, or how nice it seems, trust me when I say that the people behind the podium all want the same thing: For their night to run smoothly. Being a hostess means juggling a million different tasks every night. There's no bigger headache than an over or under-booked restaurant, and a hostess is essential to making sure waiters aren't tripping over customers or stalling dead in the water — even if it looks to you like we're just standing at that little podium staring intensely at our computer.
Going out to a restaurant isn’t like grabbing fast-food. The rules are very different. I can try really hard to get you the perfect table, but I can’t magically make customers who are already there get up and leave. Unfortunately, basic courtesy, like generally treating your hostess with respect, is too much for some people to remember. But it shouldn't be. Just because we’re the first line of defense against a bad experience doesn’t mean we have the power to make you happy, especially if you’re determined to have a bad night.
A little understanding from you goes a long way with us. Treat your hostess right and we’ll do our best to give you a great night out. Here are nine rules of thumb to follow next time you're talking with us.
1. At most places, there's no way you're getting a reservation on a Friday or Saturday if you call the night-of.
This is the one that happens the most often, and it is also the one I really don't get. You do realize how reservations work, right? There is no way on God's green earth that you're going to get a reservation the night of. Just don't do it. Ever. No. Stop.
Even if we could technically squeeze you in, chances are we're not going to, because people who procrastinate tend to cause even bigger problems down the line by showing up late.
2. Don't show up late to your reservation.
And if you absolutely must, have some manners and give us a call first. We'd rather hold the table for you than play the will-they or won't-they-show-up guessing game. And if we give your table away because you didn't deign to call, that one's on you, buddy. Don't take it out on us.
3. If you do call for a last-minute reservation, the best way to get a table is to be really, really nice to us.
If you simply must call the night-of, be nice. We obviously want your business, and we're going to do everything we can to accommodate you. But if we say we can't, know that it's because we really, truly can't. We're not being mean — we're abiding by the laws of physics that say we simply can't possibly fit that many people in the restaurant at once.
Being nice to me and understanding why I'm saying no is going to make me want to go out of my way to say yes. It's a little-known rule of customer service: If you're nice to me, I'll be even nicer to you.
4. You should feel free to grease our palms a little.
If all else fails, tip us. Yes, I know that hostesses aren't regularly tipped like waiters are, but the few times I've been given a little something extra, I moved heaven and hell to get that person what they wanted. Ten bucks goes a long way, but I've been given as much as $20 for bagging a special table. And every time that guy came back, guess who got his favorite spot?
5. When we say it's going to be an hour wait, we're not lying.
I don't just come up with these numbers off the top of my head. All those empty tables you see when we tell you we're booked? That's because the people who were thoughtful enough to make a reservation are coming in to eat there within the next 45 minutes. Can your party settle, order, cook food and eat it in 45 minutes? No? Then stop badgering me for those "open" tables.
6. That said, the wait time we give you is the worst-case scenario.
Look, if we tell you it's an hour wait and it's actually 30 minutes, you're happy. If we tell you an hour and it ends up being an hour and 15 minutes, you're pissed at us. Have you ever said "Wow! That was quick!" to a hostess who told you it was going to be a much longer wait? Yeah, we've heard that before. We're happy you're happy, but we're even happier that we just avoided your inevitable hissy fit.
While you're waiting, please just go have a drink at the bar and check back in with us every once in awhile. We're not being mean to you on purpose, I promise.
7. Don't try to argue with us.
To the people that feel like they always need to fight with me about whether there are open tables: I'm juggling 20 tables, plus what course they're on, how long I think they're going to stay, what our typical turnaround time is, and when the next reservation is due in for that table. I know telling you anything over 20 minutes goes right over your head, so if I say it's going to be a wait, it's because it's going to be a wait. I only have so much leeway over what happens, guys.
8. Don't ask us to play waitress.
Don't order your food or drinks from us. Seriously. Don't do it. All that's going to happen is I'll go get your waitress and we'll laugh at you and your social ineptitude. And then she'll go get your drinks.
9. We do so much more than "look pretty" at that little podium.
Everything you do at our restaurant is book-ended by us. We're the first and last face you see. So basically, your entire experience is framed by whether or not we do our job correctly. You may not see me do it, but I'm helping wipe down tables, resetting them, making sure the waiters get an equal amount of customers, juggling overflow and no-shows, dealing with people calling for takeout and making last-minute reservations. Most nights when I get home I've been standing for several hours straight and have a splitting headache.
Sure, lots of us look great, but that's not why we hold down this job.