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Ask the Critic: The Etiquette of Cancelling Reservations

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[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is senior managing editor, former SENY editor, and frequent author of our NYC restaurant reviews Carey Jones. We'll take a few of your questions each week and give you the New York restaurant advice you're looking for. Email carey@seriouseats.com with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!

I Feel Guilty When I Cancel Reservations

Dear Critic, What are your thoughts about canceling restaurant reservations? On weekends, my friends often make several reservations so that they have options at the last minute, but I feel uncomfortable doing so. Is this standard practice? Am I the odd woman out?

As with so many matters in life, this question boils down to good faith. My perspective? Only make reservations if you're intending to keep them.

Is it your right, as a dining customer, to call restaurants willy-nilly and book all the 8 p.m. Saturday four-tops you might show up for? Technically, sure. No one will file suit. But by making a reservation, you're entering into an informal contract; they'll be ready for you, if you show up for them.

That's how life usually works, right? You don't schedule multiple meetings simultaneously, only to cancel some later. You don't make three coffee dates and then decide day-of which friend you actually want to chat with. (At least, I hope you don't.)

A seat reserved for you is a seat with no one else in it. Empty tables translate to lost revenue, and for restaurants that operate on slim margins that can be brutal.

Of course, sometimes you've got to cancel. A flight's delayed. Your date gets sick. Your cat gets sick. Or, hey, you find another restaurant you'd rather dine at next weekend. As a rule, restaurants will be less concerned with your cancellation, the easier it is for them to replace you. Need to cancel a two-top at a downtown hotspot, four days ahead of time? They probably won't bat an eyelash. Want to cancel a party of eight at a small restaurant that's not in a well-trafficked area, day of? You're causing a few more headaches. I was at a restaurant a few weeks ago that had a party of thirty cancel their reservation with an hour's notice. They had extra staff on hand to deal with a party of that size, and for nothing. (Granted, someone probably should have taken a credit card deposit. But still. Bad form.)

And one last thing: Please do cancel, if you're not going to show. Even a zero-notice cancellation is better than none at all; that's at least 15 minutes, and maybe a lot more, of customer-in-seat time you're saving that restaurant.

Ask Us!

Email carey@seriouseats.com with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question. All questions will be read, though unfortunately not all can be answered.

About the author: Carey Jones is the former managing editor of Serious Eats. Follow her on Twitter (@careyjones).

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