If you dine out a lot you know this feeling: You get a craving for, say, grilled halloumi cheese with fresh fruit and pistachios, and you head for the restaurant you know will make it the way you like it (cough, Westward)—and there on the door is a sign: CLOSED FOR A PRIVATE PARTY.
This very thing happened the last two (prime August) Saturdays at Westward—the first during the day, the next from 3pm on—leaving disappointed diners waking up to a new reality: Destination restaurants are more and more choosing the sure-thing of a private party over the crapshoot of a regular dining night.
“We frequently receive private event requests from guests that want to celebrate special events at Westward, so we decided to accommodate a handful each year,” explained Westward spokesperson Lesa Linster. “We completely understand it can be frustrating to drop-in diners, which is why we try to keep this to an absolute minimum. We thought long and hard about it, and in consulting with a number of other restaurants found it's not an uncommon practice.”
Indeed, in recent years this has been happening more and more often. Happened to me at Plum Bistro, I recall. Recently at The Whale Wins. Tomorrow, as a matter of fact, at Mamnoon (starting at 2pm). Happens all the time at food trucks.
The reason, of course, is that sure-thing factor. Any business would have to think twice before turning down an opportunity to maximize its take on a given night. And, for the first time, thanks to the relatively recent advent of Facebook and Twitter, restaurants can veer from regular hours with relative impunity—as long as they get advance word out on those media.
Motivating those diners to become those restaurants' Facebook and Twitter followers in the process, of course. Aaaargh.
Oh dear, do I sound annoyed? Reasonably speaking I shouldn’t, for in reality getting shut out of a table because of a private party is no different from getting shut out of a table for good old-fashioned regular popularity reasons—which happens a lot too.
Only in that case, you can sometimes worm your way into the bar, or wait around for a no-show, or age into a 9:30 table. With CLOSED FOR A PRIVATE PARTY staring you in the face—you are shut down, period.
Moreover, you’ve been sent a message, a message that reads reasonable and benign but that registers as: SOMEONE ELSE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU. Not that big a deal, in the grand scheme of things.
But it doesn’t feel much like hospitality.