5 Questions You Should Never Ask a Restaurant Host

A former host answers restaurant guests’ most frequently asked questions, including why you can't have that empty table or sit down when your party is incomplete.

<p>ferrantraite / Getty Images</p>

ferrantraite / Getty Images

Working as a host at a busy Manhattan restaurant for four years, I experienced a lot of wild guest interactions. But what’s completely singed in my brain are the questions that were asked dozens of times a shift, and that you’ve probably asked on a night out. Each of those questions has a clear answer and explanation because seating tables involves strategy and complex problem solving, but your host may not have the time to explain it to you on a busy night of service. So here are the answers to guests’ most frequently asked questions.

Is the wait time really that long?

Short answer: yes. Long answer: there’s no way to know. Look, if your host had a time machine to accurately predict the exact number of minutes it would take for a table to open up, they would use it. The wait time given to a guest is and always will be the host’s best guess based on how many tables are ahead of the party and the rate at which tables are turning. But no matter what, the host would never exaggerate the wait time. They know that the longer the wait time, the less likely a party is going to wait around.

Why did you lie about the wait time?

Sometimes — often, in fact — the wait will be significantly longer or shorter than estimated. That doesn’t mean the host planned to keep you on your toes. It means that things changed in the dining room. Maybe there was a 10-top that canceled, making room for five two-tops off the waitlist. Or maybe it started pouring rain, causing groups to prolong their meal in favor of staying dry indoors. A night at a restaurant is always unpredictable, and it means a lot to front-of-house workers when guests understand that. But if your wait time is inching past the expected time frame, just check in with the host, who will always give you an update.

Related: Before You Complain About That Restaurant Cancellation Fee, Read This

Why can’t we sit when there are clearly tables open?

Often when a host puts a guest on the waitlist, the guest will point at an empty table and say, “Could we just sit there?” as if the host didn’t realize there was a vacant spot behind them. Or even worse, the guest just plops themselves down at that empty table without even asking. Trust me, the host knows that table is empty, and it’s empty for a reason. That table is most likely being held for a reservation or a party that’s higher up on the waitlist, or the restaurant is understaffed or behind on orders and is intentionally not seating tables in order to stay out of the weeds.

Related: What to Do When You're Running Late for a Restaurant Reservation

Why do I need to wait until the rest of my party arrives to sit?

Although it can be frustrating for the early bird guest, bringing an incomplete party to a table has the potential to completely screw up a host’s seating plan. The longer a table is waiting for the rest of their party, the longer they are waiting to order, eat, pay, and leave in time for the next reservation. If people in the group are running more than 15 minutes late, it’s advantageous for a host to prioritize seating a complete party that’s ready to start their meal immediately.

Can we move to that table?

A host doesn’t select your table at random. It’s based on the number of seats at that table and the sizes of other reservations to come. A host also needs to make sure that guests are evenly distributed among servers. Someone may wind up too busy and someone else may be underworked and cheated on their tips. If it’s a slow night, odds are a host will let you move to a different table, so there’s no harm in asking. Just be understanding if they say no. An even better move is to request a specific table in your reservation notes or when you’re added to the waitlist.

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