I’ll Trade You One Ten-Top

One of my managers likens the job I do to working Rubik’s Cube: “Some people can do it, some can’t. If you can’t do the Cube, you probably won’t do well at figuring out the flow of a fast-paced restaurant like this.”

Yes, well…. I HATE trying to make sense of Rubik’s Cube. I hate it because I am hopelessly horrible at it. (And the manager who said this is kind of an idiot, anyway.)

Curiously, however, I am not too bad at putting the pieces of our table puzzle together every lunch shift, despite my Rubik’s disability. A slow day for us is 250 covers; our usual is 400-plus. Today, we topped 550. Soon, I will share photos of the Table Check board we use in combination with a computer program to keep it all up-to-date. When I joke with customers that a degree in engineering goes a long way in my job, I am only half kidding.

The deuces and four-tops are relatively easy to deal with. It’s the large parties–the multiple sevens and eights and tens and sixteens that make for an interesting day.

What makes for a challenging day? When large parties arrive claiming to have a reservation that isn’t in the book. When large parties don’t like their pre-assigned tables and demand to switch. When large parties grow from seven to ten upon arrival, then bump up one more to eleven. When one person in the large party arrives at the reservation time, and the others trickle in over the next hour. When a large party stays longer than the two+ hours we’ve allowed, and the next large party arrives for the same table.

What makes for an incredibly adrenaline-fueled, unbelievably CRAZY challenging day? When all of the above happens during the lunch crush between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

That would be today.

My first ten-top hated their table. They wanted round, not oblong. We have limited seating for 10-tops. We had overbooked 10-tops today. Uh oh.

They argued amongst themselves, they argued with the seaters, and they argued with me. I threw myself on a very big sword to speed up their venting process and get it over with so I could deal with the hordes piling up in my foyer. It actually worked.

My conversation with the other host podium went like this:

“Let’s put the retirement party in the 330s. I can take the birthday group that was supposed to be seven and is now ten and put them where the retirement party was supposed to go.”

“But what about the other two ten-tops?”

“The one isn’t due in for a half hour. Set up the 320s for that. We can no-show the other in a few minutes anyway–they’re late as hell.”

“But what about…”

“Just do it. It’ll work, I promise.”

True, the eight-top that didn’t have a reservation, but said they did, was a huge pain in the ass. They almost singlehandedly threw the puzzle into disarray.

“What about the eight?”

“Push the 404 and 405 together. Tight, but it’ll work.”

“People are still there from an hour ago. They have the check but won’t leave.”

“Tell the eight with the ‘reservation’ it’ll be a moment, unless they want two booths side-by-side.”

“Yeah, uh, no. We tried it. The f-bomb was used several times.”


“Okay, give them…”

“Never mind, I got it.”

Team work–never underestimate it.

Moments later: “You okay with the eight?” I ask.

“Yeah, but, can I give you a ten-top in your area in 20 minutes?”

“Sure, if you’ll take the eight-top coming in thirty.”

“Will they be okay with back-to-back?”


“Probably or really probably?”

“It’s good.”




Screw the Cube. The Gal knows how to cut a sweet deal spoken in incomplete-speak while smiling and doling out pagers to the hungry masses before her.

It’s all in how you deal.






10 responses to “I’ll Trade You One Ten-Top”

  1. Chef JoAnna Avatar

    Cripes! Now, this is a serious question: Why would you even bother with a group that says they have a reservation but doesn’t? Why wouldn’t you send them out with a foot to the rear end and say, “NO, go away, you’re more trouble than your mandatory 18% gratuity is worth.”

    because really, all that fussin’ and fightin’, is it even worth the trouble?

    And the large parties who ask to switch? Give me a break, they’d be pushing their luck if I was on the floor. I’d have them wait out in the bar for a while and let them ring up a hefty tab (and make them cash it out!) before they could be reseated.

  2. The Super Bongo Avatar

    I wanted to put a situation to you and get your reaction. I live in a very small community and most of the eateries are country type places. A couple of years ago, a local guy opened an “upscale” restaurant. Lots of money went into creating atmosphere and they have the best bar in town. Their prices are high for the local area – and the food “fancy.” The professionals in town are the regulars and it has become the place to celebrate. They have had their struggles keeping open. (This is the sort of place you only book reservations if you’re celebrating and bringing more than 4 people– I told you, small town.)

    Recently, two couples who are once a week regulars arrived for dinner as a group. A large group was having a party, and the only tables available were in the front part of the restaurant in front of a bank of windows over looking the street. There was not a 4 top available, but there were 3 two tops vacant. The owner of the restaurant told the foursome that he had nothing available for them. They asked if they could push together two deuces. The owner said no, because three couples might come in and he wouldn’t have tables for them. He ended up turning them away because he was unwilling to push two tables together. This story is now circulating around town, especially amongst the regulars.

    What is your reaction to this?

  3. Restaurant Gal Avatar

    Chef JoAnna–I hear ya, but we/I work really hard to say “Yes” to as many customers as possible, because it’s good for business and makes life a little easier (most of the time!). However, I got into it with someone late on a reservation, too, yesterday. We’d just given their table away at the 15 minute mark because we were so crowded. They were upset because they had been in line waiting to talk to me “minutes before” the 15 minute deadline. Tricky. Anyway, the 8-top would have been a pain even with reservations–some people are just like that. The 10-top had requested a round, but our rounds are pretty tight with 10, so I made the decision to pre-assign them at the oblong (hence, my sword act). They ended up at an oblong ANYWAY, which just made me sigh and laugh. And, we actually don’t have a mandatory gratuity for large groups. Sometimes I wish we did.

    Cook on, Chef! –The Gal

  4. Restaurant Gal Avatar

    Super Bongo–I seat deuces at large booths, if I need to. I push tables together if I need to. I squish 9 around a table better suited for 8, if absolutely necessary. I show people how back-to-back booths are a fun way to eat together (they are!), if I need to. I respect my reserved tables until the 15- to 20-minute mark has passed, then hold on as long as I can for them. I am not the owner, or even the manager, of my restaurant, but I always cheer for busy days and lots of customers and a good bottom line for the place. I would NEVER hold tables for phantom customers who “might” come in, if they were the only tables available. And I would do whatever it takes to get a table for my regulars. In fact, I try to keep one in my back pocket, so to speak, at all times. May not be set and ready, but I always have a go-to booth that can be ready within five minutes or so.

    Just one Gal’s opinion.

    Best, The Gal

  5. Jaz Avatar

    I don’t know hostessing, but I can actually solve a rubik’s cube, of most sizes. You can tell that guy he’s an idiot, because from what i’ve read in your blog, it’s nothing like a rubik’s cube. A cube is solved by the same combination of moves; the only thing that changes is that sometimes you can skip a move or two. Your job sounds more like the front lines; quick response times required for any number of random possibilities that can’t always be predicted in advance. Ok, geek moment over, I love reading your stories; keep it up. 🙂

  6. P Avatar

    Oaky, why would you continue to suck up to a party that first made
    up a phony reservation and then started in with abusive language (F bombs)? I work in an emergency room and we can’t refuse service to anybody but we CAN and do redirect their behavior and tell them when they’re being inappropriate. Are you so desperate to please that one table out of 500 that you’ll smile as they assault you? That seems really wrong.

  7. Jess Avatar

    Hey RG, I am a hostess at an upscale restaurant. I totally understand seating the last minute party. Last saturday, busy for us with about 475 covers, I was the only hostess. My, not so pleasing manager, was “helping me”. I had a party that came in and as usual didn’t have a reso, but said they did, so I sat them right away, partly to get them out of my way. Next time, however, their table will not be quite ready for them, and they can enjoy a cocktail in the bar while we are setting it up.
    As for the question about seating the fake reso, we don’t turn away business, the managers do. We are to be kind and welcoming to all guests. You do what you can to get everyone sat.
    Also, RG, thank you for this blog, it sounds so familiar, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone!

  8. caramaena Avatar

    Sounds more like tetris than rubiks cube – heh, now I have the music from it running through my mind

  9. Natalie Avatar

    I suck at the rubik’s cube to. But I doubt I could could cut it at your job. Keep up the good work!

  10. Little Miss Anthropic Avatar

    I had to buy the Rubik’s cube solution book, so I guess in terms of that analogy…I’d fall very short!! cheers, girl! 🙂