There's nothing like pissing off a food editor of the LAT to get the attention of L.A.'s snooty restaurant crowd. In today's food section, Leslie Brenner looks into the mystery of why it's next to impossible to make a reservation for 7 or 7:30 - the time when most of us eat. And yet, the restaurant is often half-empty at 7 or 7:30. What's up with that? Much of the explanation has to do with restaurant owners wanting to turn tables, or serve two parties at any given table in one evening. That brings in more diners and, of course, more dollars. But the strategy seems a little misplaced, since business has been slow lately at many L.A. restaurants (more competition, higher menu prices, etc.) Anyway, it was a nice, edgy piece. Why can't the food section do more of this stuff - that is, be more like the NYT food section?
"They want you to think they're busy," says Joan Luther, a prominent Los Angeles restaurant publicist and consultant. "It's very silly and it's very dumb, but I just think they've gotten into the habit." Difficulty getting the reservations she wants has driven one Los Angeles attorney to pretend she's a Hollywood publicist when she calls to reserve. (She requested anonymity for fear she'd have trouble booking tables in the future.) "What's happened to us numerous times throughout L.A.," she says, "is we will call and try and get a reservation at 8, and they say, 'No, we only have something at 6.' I'll call back as a publicist. I'll say, 'I'm "Tracy Rossman" at PMK and I'm publicist for so-and-so and we'd like a reservation.' " And it works, she says.
Common sense would dictate that restaurants are shooting themselves in the foot with such tactics -- after all, it's very easy to just say "never mind" if you don't get a reservation that works for you, or to think twice about returning to a restaurant where the reservation was a hassle and on top of it you wound up sitting in an empty room. It sets up a relationship between diner and restaurant that feels adversarial. It's alienating at best; it's certainly not hospitable. "Most managers don't care because they're only managers," says Thierry Perez, co-owner of Fraîche in Culver City, and a longtime front-of-the-house man. He chalks up the booking difficulty phenomenon to a citywide crisis in good restaurant management. "The big issue right now is that the managers in Los Angeles are, I'm sorry to say, not very good. They're just thinking about themselves. It's why most restaurants are closing after two years.