Your time starts now

Updated: Jun 16, 2019, 07:52 IST | Nikhil Merchant

To maximise the night, Mumbai restaurants are turning to strict reservation codes, but diners are not saying cheers

Your time starts now
At O Pedro, BKC, when the restaurant is not filled up, slow diners are allowed to hold their seats. On busier nights, they are led to the bar after their reservation is up. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

Eating out is more of a necessity and a casual indulgence across the globe, but when it comes to our country it slips more towards the formal and celebratory side. With new age restaurants, bars, lounges and QSRs mushrooming in the Maximum City, the burgeoning dining fraternity is craving to dig its teeth into every new place that pops up. Yet we are forced to come across a hinderance — finding a table.

When making reservations, Mumbai's diners have been increasingly being relayed this message — which seating would you prefer? The first, at 8 pm, or the second, at 10 pm. Choosing the first one, it is subtly conveyed that you need to clear out by 10 pm. Salonee Sanghvi, a wealth manager, sees this two-seating model as an increasing trend that only inconveniences diners: 8 pm with Mumbai traffic becomes too early for dinner and 10 too late "I've had restaurants tell us that we will have to vacate the table in 1.5-2 hours and been handed the cheque without asking for it or servers make repeated requests to vacate the table." Having travelled to fine dine and Michelin star restaurants across New York, London and CapeTown, Sanghvi says she's never come across such a policy unless it's a fixed course tasting menu.

While this seating concept is practiced world over it's not unprecedented for restaurants in India. "Yet, one cannot have random policies for the sake of 'sounding cool' or because it's 'in vogue' and practiced by many," says Zamir Khan who has been the front of two fine dining restaurants in the city (Masala Library & Tresind, Mumbai), both of which have fixed menus and seatings. While setting up Trèsind in India, serving a tasting menu which takes around 2-2.5 hours, it was imperative to offer a high quality and unhurried experience yet allow the restaurant to turn around tables. Since it's a nine-course, most diners, don't wish to eat more. The timings are expected to be adhered to by those who make reservations for the experience.

Charmi Trevadia a Mumbai-based content strategist and editor frequents restaurants in Powai, BKC, Juhu and Lower Parel (The Fatty Bao, Hitchki, Mirchi and Mime, The Bombay Canteen and Bayroute). She finds it a hassle while booking tables for a group of six or more at BKC. Likewise, Vernika Awal a food blogger is irked when she gets conveyed by text that her table will need to be cleared for the second seating.

One would agree that restaurants like the local Udipis have a less turnaround time and therefore, ask people to order quickly, eat quickly and pay up and leave. It seems now that this code is becoming a bastion of upscale eateries, signalling to guests that time is of more essence than experience, money or dignity. Finding the middle path is the trick that Mumbai needs to learn.

Abhishek Bindal, VP Operations of KA Hospitality which runs Yauatcha and Hakkasan, have their reservation policies in place since inception. They follow international protocols with the two seating concept being one of them, including extending them to their newer projects — Nara Thai and Cin Cin. They fill in reservations first and keep the rest for walk-ins. Yet, when diners will tell you that walk-in attempts, especially on the weekends, are unsuccessful. Bindal says reservations help them plan table inventory and service much in advance and ensure the service quality they are known for.

BKC and Lower Parel have high volumes of corporate customers who either do lunches or indulge in post-work drinks and dinner. Yash Bhanage, partner at Hunger Inc Pvt Ltd whose widely popular restaurants O Pedro (BKC) and The Bombay Canteen (Lower Parel) have tweaked reservation policies over time. When TBC opened in 2015, they accepted reservations till 9 pm and requested guests to walk in for a table after. Within a month, guests reserved only for 9 pm, rendering vacant spots between 6 pm and 8 pm. It conflicted a 9 pm reservation when there was a walk-in at 8 pm. Bhanage feels that unlike most other countries where dinner time varies between 6 and 10 pm, allowing restaurants to have a selection of time slots, in India, guests prefer dining late. That's when they decided to move to the two-seating reservation policy (8 pm and 10 pm). Now, they allocate 35 per cent seating for walk-ins at both restaurants.

For guests who communicate that they would like to continue for both seatings or are slow diners, the restaurant tries not to take reservations for the second seating. The manager, in turn, also tries to find an alternate table for the second seating guests. "In a worst case scenario — guests have also been requested to finish their meal (most often dessert) by the bar but politely taken care with large smiles and some bubbly," says Bhanage.

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