My friend made a comment, or rather, a critique the other day when she received an email from the Michelin restaurant she had booked.
The outlet had sent her the email the day prior or the morning itself of her dinner booking. (She had already received the confirmation few weeks ago.) There were two key points contained within this new message: one, they were looking forward to having them there shortly; two, to give heads up that there would be a party of 5 on the same evening (and I guess, hoping for understanding in case there was any inconvenience).
My friend quipped, "What do they want me to do with this message? At least give me the choice to cancel or tell me where I would be seated...hopefully the furthest away from the group!"
While some may think, "Oh, the restaurant is kind to inform us in advance", my friend is not entirely wrong to feel that this is not good enough. For diners like her, the message added to the stress, compromised the positive anticipation of the upcoming dining experience, and most importantly, made the diner feel she was left without a choice or resolution.
So what could the restaurant have done differently to avoid such doubts and negative emotions?
I don't agree with the suggestion of asking customers if they would like cancel or change their reservation. This would not be fair to the restaurant and may also cause the customer to be more upset. "Why me and not them?" they may ponder in angst.
Informing the guests where they would be seated in advance......would that really help or give rise to more issues to resolve? How far is good enough? I can already imagine some of them retorting - after seeing the layout and their assigned table - "Why is my table not at the corner?" "Why can't I swap with table 27 since I had booked months ahead?" Think of the nightmare operationally.....
And what if the diners start to reply to the email with more questions, but the restaurant team is not able to respond in time? Won't that be worse and the customers feel ignored?
Perhaps there are other ways......but I can only think of one for the moment. My recommendation would be not to inform the guests beforehand. (Unless we come up with a bright solution on how we word the message and offer clear-cut choices that can be managed well.) Instead, I would casually inform the guests as they arrive at the restaurant for the meal, perhaps while walking them to the table, or when showing them the different sections.
After all, it is "only" a group of 5, not 15 or more. They may well be one of the quietest and most civilised table that evening, who knows?
While the restaurant team had good intention to forewarn its diners - an anticipatory gesture, it leads one to think, "Does it help?"
Reflective thoughts: How would you do it differently? What factors may influence the restaurant to pre-inform the diners?