The Restaurateur Who Started The No Reservations Craze Explains Why: Booze Sales

Please form an orderly queue… The Spotted Pig co-owner Ken Friedman, actress Liv Tyler, Jamie Oliver and model and founder of Lunchbox Fund Topaz Page-Green. Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images.

Finally, someone has belled the cat on one of the most annoying trends in dining: no reservations.

Writing on Food & Wine magazine’s blog, restaurateur Ken Friedman, co-owner of the hip, Michelin starred New York gastropub The Spotted Pig, gave two key reasons: the money from alcohol sales while diners wait for a table and avoiding “no shows” (people who book, but don’t turn up).

When The Spotted Pig opened a decade ago, Friedman’s no reservations approach was part of a new wave of smart food in more casual surrounds, which emerged as another key trend.

“When you don’t take reservations, people have to wait for a table; they go to the bar and hang out. As every restaurateur knows, you make much more money selling a drink than you do selling a plate of food. You buy bottles of booze, open them, pour them and sell them for many times more than what you bought them for,” he writes.
“You also eliminate another big problem: no shows, which there’s no good way around.”

No bookings policies have been a growing trend in Australia over the past decade, most notably in Sydney’s Surry Hills district at Kylie Kwong’s Billy Kwong (it doesn’t have a bar, so you end up in the pub across the road), the Thai Longrain (its reputation for “stick drinks” – caprioskas, et al, rivalled the food) and tapas bar Bodega. Plenty more half-book the restaurant and leave the rest to first-come-first-served.

In Melbourne Frank Camorra’s Movida Next Door, the Mexican Mamasitas, Japanese Izakaya Den and leading chef Andrew McConnell’s Cumulus Inc. and Golden Fields also rely on walk-in diners.

The Jamie Oliver franchise Jamie’s Italian, in Sydney, Perth, Canberra and soon, Adelaide, doesn’t take bookings for smaller tables. Queues snaked down the street when the Sydney original first opened, while some lucky customers sat at the bar inside.

Friedman admits that not everyone’s happy, especially older customers, about not having a guaranteed table and admits that he’d never wait for an hour for a table. When he did, karma kicked in.
“But I made an exception recently for Franklin Barbecue in Austin. We waited for over two hours. It was torture—my legs hurt, my back hurt, I’m starving, I start to feel faint. It was a taste of my own medicine,” he wrote.

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