At a glance, one might think that the waitlist is a relatively simple thing to manage, and when I think about it, I guess it is. That does not mean, however, that it is without stress and frustration. Some hostesses are better than others at "running the board", those with more experience tend to have smoother shifts. Servers love having hostesses up front who know what they're doing, the kitchen loves it too, whether they'll admit to it or not. Hostesses are just one of many crucial parts that will make or break the shift, they are only one part that helps the restaurant as a whole run more smoothly. Nearly every part of the restaurant is affected by the hostesses choices at some point during the shift (See "Hostesses Are There For A Reason" for details).
Most people think, understandably, that when there are no tables left for people to sit at, you take the names of peole that come in, and when tables become available, you go down the list and everyone has their turn for an open table. Essentially, that's what the waitlist is, but there is more to it than that. Hostesses need to take into account the size of one's party. A party of two, for example, is more likely to be sat down before a party of six because of the different sized tables and when they become available. "Two tops" are more common tables than "six tops" because they are smaller and easier to put more than one together. Even if a party of six comes in before the party of two, if a "two top" gets up and is bussed before a "six top" opens up, the party of two will get sat first. While this may not seem fair to the party of six, it is unreasonable to make everyone behind the party of six wait longer because the party of six cannot yet be accomadated, especially if there are "two tops" open and ready to seat parties of two. In cases like this, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. The object is to make as few people wait for as short a time as possible.
Another thing that the hostesses need to take in consideration, though not as often as party size, is where the guests are going to be most comfortable: a table or a booth. Most people prefer booths, I am one of them, and given the chance, most people would rather sit at a booth rather than a table. There are people who prefer tables over booths, whether it is their own personal comfort or their actual physical size hinders them from fitting into a booth. Generally, hostesses should ask a guest which they would prefer, but when a wait starts, usually the assumption is made that the guest will simply take whatever he or she can get. Generally, that's true. Some smart restaurant-goers, however, will notify the hostess when putting their name on the list that they do have a preference. Some not-so-smart restaurant-goers seem to assume that the hostesses will read their minds and automatically know what they want. Boy are they shocked when they reach a table and they would rather have a booth! Some people, if there is an open booth waiting to be sat, will ask, "Can't we sit over there?", and the hostess with either take them there if no previous plans were made for that booth, or reply that the booth is for someone who either requested a booth, or even a larger party. If you have been the latter before, please remember this: it is an inconveniance to you and the hostesses to move to another table because you have not specified your preferences. Please, please, please, if you really truely care about where you're going to be sitting, tell the hostesses when you put your name down. It will make it easier on everyone if your desires are known.
A typical waitlist (the physical pieces of paper) consists of many rows and columns. Usually, the columns are for things like the name of the party, the pager number, and the number of people. There are also columns for the time the guest puts the name in and the time the guest actually gets sat, as well as the "wait quote" (which is how long the hostess told you it was probably going to be). Some people try to complain about how long they've been waiting already, saying that they've been waiting a half an hour, when really it's only been about twenty minutes. I quoted a family once about 25-30 minute wait, to the husband. He either rounded down and told his wife it would be twenty minutes or he got the numbers mixed up or something. His wife came up about twenty minutes into the wait to ask how much longer it was going to be until they got sat. I told her how many names they still had ahead of theirs (I never estimate "how much longer" because there are too many variables and is rarely accurate to the guest's satisfaction) and she said, "So that twenty minute quote of yours isn't really right is it?"
I looked at her name again and looked at the column for "wait quote" and replied, "No mam, I quoted your husband 25-30 minutes."
"Well, he told me twenty." She sort of snapped.
(People get snappy when they're hungry and have to wait, imagine that. That's still no reason to throw manners out the window. Remember that please, restaurant employees catch so much crap because people are hungry and think that gives them a right to be rude.)
"I'm sorry mam, I told him about 25-30."
She was then done with me and went back over to her husband. And who says writing things down is a waste of time?
Whether she thought she might finagle her way into a table without waiting as much, or whether she honestly thought it would be twenty minutes, she was sat when it was her turn and within plenty of time of what I had told them.
I understand what it's like to be on a wait as a guest, I do go out to eat when I'm not working (although I do know the best hours to go when a restaurant is less likely to be ON a wait...), one of the several things that peeves me about guests is when they come up and ask how much longer it will be until it's their turn, more than once! Just about everyone wears a watch, usually when someone doesn't have a watch, they have a cell phone, if they don't have a cell phone, there's probably someone standing right next to them who does. What's my point? When you put your name on the list, see what time it is, remember how long the hostess tells you it's going to be, and then you don't have to ask "How much longer?". You can look at the time and do the math yourself and get the same better ballpark figure that the hostess will give you. Chances are, the hostess will look at your name, the time you checked in, the current time, and do the math in her head. Example, a party of two comes in at 7pm and are told it's going to be about 30 minutes. If one of the party comes up 17 minutes later and asks "How much longer", chances are, the hostess is going to see when they came in and say, "Around 13 mintues". If it's a long wait, and you ask more than once, you are only going to annoy the hostesses and you will not learn anything from them that you didn't already know.
Anything more I have to rable about concerning waitlists will have to continue in a Part II because this has quite frankly become far too long. I apologize, thank you for your patience if you read this far!