Whether it’s a new restaurant whose owners are trying to get a feel for the ebb and flow of customers, a more established place where the owners don’t want to deal with no-shows, or smaller places where empty tables negatively impact margins, a number of county restaurateurs are opting out of taking reservations entirely or limiting their numbers.
In Katonah, co-operator Christina Safarowic of The Whitlock, says, “We’re trying to do the best we can with the space we have.” With just 36 seats at tables and 10 at the bar, she says taking reservations “would exclude so many people who want to come in on a whim.” The Whitlock has tweaked its initial no-reservation policy. “When we opened, we wanted to see what the community was looking for when they dine out,” Safarowic says. Now it does take limited reservations, for groups of five or more.
Size was also the determining factor behind the initial no-reservations policy at Ocean House in Croton-on-Hudson, says co-owner Paula Galvin. When it opened in 2004 with 20 seats, Galvin felt the place was too small to survive if reservations didn’t show up. Noting it doesn’t take much to fill the restaurant’s seats, Galvin recalls that customers would wait outside in the rain or snow for a seat. Ocean House then moved to a system where patrons could show up and leave their names at the door for seating at a certain time. This worked for area residents but didn’t attract people from out of the area, Galvin admits. Then in 2016, Ocean House had a small expansion and added wine and beer to its menu. “We decided to give something back to our loyal customers while still maintaining that same-day commitment by offering reservations day-of,” Galvin says. The phone line opens at 4:30 p.m., and Galvin says the new plan is attracting new customers and has proved popular with regulars.
—Audrey Kneuer, manager, Gus’s Franklin Park
Expansion also helped Cross River’s Bacio Trattoria with its no-reservation policy, says co-owner Antonio Coppola. In 2016, the restaurant doubled the inside to 60 seats. Coppola also co-owns Katonah’s 40-seat Blue Dolphin and the larger Le Fontane, which does take reservations. “Taking reservations means you can have empty tables due to a number of situations, which is harder on a smaller restaurant,” Coppola explains. Seasonal outdoor seating cuts back on wait times, and so does Bacio’s addition of a bar. “We have space for customers to have a drink, and a number of our customers enjoy eating at the bar,” Coppola says. And if a larger party wants to come in he will work with them on timing.
Gus’s Franklin Park in Harrison takes the same approach. With a 52-seat dining room, the restaurant only takes reservations for its patio — which doubles Gus’s size. Manager Audrey Kneuer says having reservations can mean rushing people from their seats. “We’ve been in this business long enough, and have enough regulars, to estimate how long someone will be at a table and give fairly accurate wait times.” When there’s a long wait, Kneuer will also ask customers if they want to take a look at menus, perhaps eat appetizers at the bar and then move to a table.
The Village Social Group only take reservations for parties of six or more at its three restaurants — Village Social in Mount Kisco and Rye, and Pleasantville’s Pubstreet. The locations limit the number of large groups on busiest nights, says VSG owner Joe Bueti. “It doesn’t benefit us on busy nights to have too many large parties; it clogs up service and the kitchen.” Not taking reservations allows the restaurants to keep tables full, and it also creates a casual atmosphere that encourages people to relax, stand around, and socialize.
—Gianni Piccolino, co-owner, Stone Fire
Also in Mount Kisco, Stone Fire adheres to a similar policy of reservations for six or more. Co-owner Gianni Piccolino says, “Everyone wants to come in from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.” Not taking reservations spreads out the timing of patrons, and alleviates potential issues as customers can be unhappy if their table isn’t ready at the time of their reservation. “Reservations used to be an industry standard, but we find here that the no-reservations are working.”
Co-owner Tony Fortunate of Pleasantville’s Mission Taqueria and Briarcliff Manor’s 105-Ten says that a no-reservation policy definitely “helps owners of a new restaurant educate themselves on the flow and the length of stay of each party.” He and other restaurant owners in town note that waits are more palatable if customers can take a walk and have other restaurants where they can get a drink. Ultimately Fortunate does believe in reservations. “In a perfect world I would understand the flow of the night and accommodate everyone,” he says.