Why Most Restaurants Will Not Seat You Until Your Entire Party Arrives

If you've never worked at a restaurant, some common policies may seem baffling. From my 20 years of experience at a wide range of restaurants, I've seen the most confusion over the seemingly simple act of being seated at your table. For example, when you walk in without a reservation and notice empty tables, there might be a wait to be seated. The host is not trying to annoy you, far from it. Likely, there are not enough servers to cover all the tables, or perhaps the area is being held for a reservation. The host is trying to ensure the best experience for you at the table.

Likewise, when you have reservations for a large party, you'll often be asked to wait for everyone to arrive before you are shown to the table. Restaurants operate on very thin profit margins, and every square foot of dining room space is a precious opportunity to make money. Standard restaurant tables seat two or four people, and tables for larger groups are pulled together to accommodate the party. If you are seated before everyone arrives and the party size shrinks, the restaurant loses the chance to fill those unused seats.

Seating just part of a large party is also challenging for the dining room staff. If a partial party is seated, the servers will need to spend precious time checking on the status of the table, and they might miss cues that the party is ready to be served.

Communication is the key to good hospitality

Of course, we all know that trying to get a big group out to dinner on time is challenging! Your best bet for frustration-free larger reservations is to book on a night the restaurant is not as busy, like a Monday or Tuesday. It's easier for wait staff to navigate a party with so many variables on a less stress-filled evening. Another option is to ask about booking a private room. When the room is all for you, there's no stress on using other tables and you're likely to have a dedicated server who will be working just for you.

Restaurants appreciate your business, and now more than ever, they also appreciate your consideration. Many restaurants have policies regarding late arrivals because they need to seat every table they can just to stay afloat. If you don't show up, they might lose the chance to take walk-in business. If you'll be more than 10 minutes late, give the restaurant a call, and if you need to cancel, let them know. If you should happen to arrive early and your table isn't ready yet, try to be patient. A good restaurant host is like an air traffic controller — managing traffic in each station to help the servers do their job efficiently and keep guests happy. Communicating directly with the restaurant is your best bet to ensure a great experience even when guests are late or absent, no matter how large or small your group is.