!!!Things That REALLY Piss Me Off
(I have very serious “reservations” about these reservations!)
I’m not exactly sure when it happened, let alone whose idea it was or why they thought it was a good thing, but I do know that if it was me I wouldn’t take credit for it publicly.  At some point in the past ten or so years the restaurant industry introduced a new concept for table seating which they refer to as “call ahead seating”.  The name itself, “call ahead seating”, would seem to indicate that the caller is going to get some form of preferential seating, but then again, the term “ethnic cleansing” might get you thinking that it has something to do with the bathing habits of different ethnic groups.  In other words, call ahead seating ain’t what it’s cracked up to be by a long shot.

​I would also caution you not to make the mistake I made by mixing up “call ahead seating” with “reservations”.  They are, as I have been pointedly informed by more than one restaurant hostess, two entirely different things and, as far as restaurant greeters are concerned, using the terms interchangeably is a definite no no (kind of like adjusting your underwear and its contents in public) and will get you piercing looks of disdain in recognition of your ignorance.  With no exaggeration, you would have thought I was talking to a nuclear physicist and had confused fission and fusion (god forbid)!  What I have learned through experience (and mostly bad experience) is that the terms “reservations” and “call ahead seating” are about as similar in meaning as “take out” (as in take-out food) and “get out” (as in get your ass out of here!).

I had heard about call ahead seating for quite some time, but not until one of our annual trips to Hilton Head, South Carolina did I have my first hands on experience with it, an experience which left me with scars (emotional, not physical) that I still carry with me to this day, some seven or eight years later.  At the time, we had been making an annual trip to Hilton Head with some close friends for nearly ten years, and our regular routine on the trip down was to stay overnight in Rock Hill, South Carolina which would leave us a bit less than a four hour ride to Hilton Head the following day.  On this particular trip, we decided to have dinner at the Rock Hill Outback which was quite literally next door to our hotel and a leisurely two minute walk away.  However, knowing that it was Friday and that they would be quite busy, I decided to call ahead and see if they took reservations.  When I called I was told by what seemed to be a young female voice, “No, I’m sorry.  We don’t take reservations, “but”, she continued with new energy and apparent enthusiasm, “we do have call ahead seating.”

My immediate reaction:  Call ahead seating?  What the hell is that?  But I didn’t say it….I just thought it.  “Call ahead seating?” I asked politely.  “Is that different than a… a…you know… a reservation?”

“Oh, very much so,” came her rather pointed reply which also seemed to strongly infer that I was a complete and total moron (which I found hard to argue with!) not to know the difference.  And to be honest, I couldn’t really disagree with her conclusion because I had not a clue.  Believe me when I tell you, it’s not easy being ignorant!

“Okay,” I responded a little tentatively.  “How do I….uh, you know….make a….a…reservation for call ahead seating.”  I had a feeling she wouldn’t be too happy about my choice of words (or word) but I couldn’t think of anything else to use in place of “reservation”.

“But sir, as I already told you, we don’t take reservations.”  There was a definite vocal inflection on that last key word.  She made me feel cheap and dirty….you know, like I had just said a four letter word in front of my grandmother!  

Ouch! Silly me!  I should have seen it coming.  “Oh, right.  Then how do I.…uh….uh….call ahead for seats?”  I asked more than a bit confused?

“What time would you like to be seated, and how many people in your party?”

My first inclination was to smart ass her back and tell her that we weren’t having a “party”, just dinner, but I quickly thought better of it.  “How about four people for 6:30 PM?”  I knew the “PM” wasn’t necessary because they aren’t opened at 6:30 AM, but I was just trying to get back a bit of my self dignity which I was slowly losing.

“And your name?”

“Shapiro,” I responded.  “Lou Shapiro.”

“Very well, Lou.  We’ll see you at 6:30.”  She was probably about fifty years younger than me, I didn’t know her name but she knew mine, and we were now on a first name basis….Lou and Whatsername!

And that was it.  I didn’t really care what she called it, but as far as I was concerned we had a reservation for four people at 6:30.  (Actually, 6:30 PM!)  But as it turned out, I was about as right on that one as I was about North Korea being unanimously selected to host the 2020 Olympic Games!  So the four of us arrived at the Outback at 6:25 (PM), just five minutes before our “reservation”.  The place looked like a Walmart on Black Friday.  There were people everywhere, and with great effort I finally managed to elbow my way up to the hostess station where I proudly announced, “Shapiro….a reservation for four at 6:30.”

“Without so much as looking up, the young hostess immediately delivered the news that, “I’m sorry, but we don’t take reservations.  Did you phone in for call ahead seating?” she asked.

There was no question that this was the young lady I spoke with when I called earlier, and I could tell she was less than pleased that, even after our phone conversation, I had not learned anything and was still using the word “reservation”.

“Ah….yes….yes, I did.”

“Your name please.”

“Shapiro….Lou Shapiro.”
She couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, if that, but her slim figure, erect posture and methodical movements seemed to be saying, “Don’t fuck with me or I’ll break you in two and then mutilate both halves.”

“Oh, here you are,” she said while making a notation next to my name on a list.  I craned my neck in an effort to see what she wrote, but I couldn’t make it out.  I figured either she was checking off the fact that Lou was in the house, or maybe she just wrote “dick” next to my name.  Whatever, her penmanship sucked!  “There are several people ahead of you, Lou, so it will probably be twenty or thirty minutes,” she said almost as if that was something I should have been expecting.

“Twenty or thirty minutes?” I asked more than a bit incredulously?  “But I had a reserv….er, I mean I called in for….I made….you know…call ahead seating.”  Despite my best efforts, I had once again almost used the forbidden “R” word!  (Bad Lou!)

“Yes, I know, she said quite authoritatively.  Your name is on the list, and it will be a twenty to thirty minute wait.”  She was now finally looking at me with cold steel eyes that I was sure could easily burn through a vault door at Fort Knox.
But before I could inquire further into exactly how this call ahead seating thing worked, she was interrupted by a coworker who whisked her away to help with something.  (Probably the disemboweling of an impatient customer waiting for a table!)  So I reluctantly elbowed my way back to where my wife and friends were waiting.  I explained the situation to them and vowed to get more information as soon as the hostess returned from her mission, whatever it was.

After exactly twenty minutes, I managed to make my way back to the hostess station again, and even while I was still a good ten feet away, my adversary and I locked eyes.  Finally reaching the hostess station I said, “It’s been a full twenty minutes.  Is our table ready?”

“Your name please?”  She was good, but she also damned well knew my name and was just being a bitch….something I have to admit she was quite good at!

So I smiled at her and said, “Shapiro, L-o-u,  S-h-a-p….”

“Oh, here it is,” she interrupted, “and, no, it’s not ready, but it shouldn’t be more than another fifteen minutes or so.” And she gave me that cold smile yet again.

We’ll I’m pretty good at math, and I quickly figured out that twenty minutes plus another fifteen minutes equals thirty five minutes which is five minutes longer than the high side of her original estimate of twenty to thirty minutes.

“What happened to the original twenty to thirty minutes?” I asked with more than a touch of sarcasm and wearing my very best bewildered look

“We’re behind,” she responded.

“Behind?  Behind what?” I replied.  I just couldn’t help myself.

“Pardon me?” she said having no idea what I meant.  Evidently, the humor gene never traveled anywhere near the city in which she was born.

“Never mind.  Forget it.”  But I just couldn’t let it go and walk away.  I had already seen several people seated who had arrived after us, and that had kind of stoked my boiler, if you know what I mean.  So I asked quite innocently, “What does call ahead seating do for me that just showing up unannounced at your front door doesn’t do?  If you don’t take real reservations, how come people who arrived after us (and I made it a point to really emphasize “after”) have already been seated?”  My tone was undoubtedly beginning to show my irritation with the situation.

She took a deep breath as if to inflate her body to its most erect posture, and then she locked eyes with me and began what seemed like the beginning of a very long and well rehearsed lecture.  “Call ahead seating is not a guarantee of a seat at any designated time,” she informed me, “but rather a system designed specifically to accommodate our guests in as timely a manner as possibly.”  I thought I could sense what I’d describe as a little irritation emanating from her direction.  Okay….so it was more than a little.  But I was up to the challenge.

She was pushing all the wrong buttons with me.  Alright bitch, you want to go?  You want a piece of me?  You have no idea who you’re fucking with.  Let’s have at it!  So before she could go any further, I rudely interrupted with, “Oh, now I get it.  In as timely a manner as possible,” I said as if a blindfold had just been removed from my eyes and I now understood the world a whole lot better.  “And exactly how does that work?” I inquired with feigned sincerity and as if it were an answer I had sought for most of my life.

Taking the bait (as zealots almost always do!) she responded, “Those guests who have called ahead for seating are integrated with walk-in guests who arrive at the door.  That enables us to shorten the waiting time for everyone,” and after that enlightening start, I guess I simply blocked out the next several seconds as she finished her self-serving explanation of call ahead seating.  The only thing that made it through my ears to my brain was something along the lines of, “Blah, blah, blah,” and “Blah!”

​When her lips finally stopped moving, I opened my ears again and responded, “Ah,” while nodding my head in agreement like I really understood and accepted her explanation.  “Integration?  So call ahead seating was able to reduce my original waiting time of twenty minutes to….,” and I made a big deal of checking my watch for the time, “….to nearly thirty five minutes?”  And then I gave her my very best puzzled look.  “I’m beginning to think I might have been better integrated if I had just walked in the door instead of calling ahead for reservations.”  I purposely added the word “reservations” just to light her up a bit.  Oh….sorry,” I added quickly.  “I forgot.  You don’t take reservations.  My bad.”

That took her slightly off guard, but she recovered quickly.  “Call ahead seating is for the convenience of our guests and helps to reduce waiting time.”  It was as if she a was programmed robot, and she apparently saw nothing in my conclusion that call ahead seating may have been responsible for our extended waiting time which was now about forty five minutes.  Just then the other hostess came up to the hostess podium and made a few notations on the list.  She then said something to the hostess I had been conversing with, and my hostess then picked up four menus, hit a pager button, and proudly announced to the assembled masses, “Lou….a party of four!”

​Are you fucking kidding me?  Really?  It was as if I had been relegated to the third person invisible and that those few precious moments of intimate conversation we shared about call ahead seating had never transpired.  At the very same moment I also felt the vibration of the pager in my pocket.  Quite frankly, I was….well, you know….crushed.  And yet again, I felt cheap and used.  There’s a great lesson to be learned from this story, and if you figure out what that lesson is, please give me a call.  I’m in the book, and I’d really like to know!

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