Restaurant guests prefer the control that making reservations gives them, according to a survey conducted at Cornell University. The survey tested three strategies for managing demand in casual restaurants, namely, accepting reservations, permitting guests to call ahead for a place on a waitlist with an approximate seating time, and seating guests from a first-come, first-served waitlist. Respondents particularly favored reservations for business dinners, and well over half of the respondents would not consider a restaurant for a business meal if they could not make a reservation. Call-ahead seating was a poor substitute for reservations, in the respondents' estimation, but was still seen as better than first-come, first-served seating, with an estimated wait time. The survey found that guests thought reservations gave them better control over their schedule and that reservations demonstrated that the restaurant cared about its customers. Since reservations come with their own special operational problems, managers of casual restaurants might consider using call-ahead seating if reservations do not work for the restaurant. Those that continue with seating from a first-come, first-served waitlist should consider ways to empower guests, for example, by giving accurate wait times or issuing pagers.
Kimes, S. E., & Wirtz, J. (2007). Customer satisfaction with seating policies in casual-dining restaurants [Electronic article]. Cornell Hospitality Report, 7(16), 6-17.