Monday, April 02, 2007

The Call Ahead

I've never had much problem with the call ahead, you know, the practice than many restaurants have where people are allowed to call ahead and get their name on the waiting list for a table. However recent events have led to a seismic shift in my thinking on this matter. Let me explain...

Friday evening the wife and I decided to take our near weekly trip to local dining establishment, Jose Pepper's. We enjoy this place often because the ridiculously large portions allow us to share an entree and still feel sufficiently gorged. An added bonus: they send out coupons for free spinach and cheese dip so often we never run out. It's like 25 dollars worth of food for $9.50 plus tip.

We're not the only one who understand the value of said restaurant, so weekends are usually quite busy at Jose Pepper's. We arrived at 6:00pm (early for those of you on the East Coast, but smack in the middle of prime dinner real estate for those of us in the "mighty" Midwest). We were told that our wait would be 30-40 minutes, which is not altogether unreasonable. We took our flashy restaurant-style pager and retreated to a nearby bench to wait. The wife, with unusual astuteness, noticed that one of the hostesses spent the whole evening answering the phone and taking call aheads; literally the whole evening. As soon as the phone would land in the cradle it would be ringing again.

Initially I was disappointed. I felt somewhat inadequate that I had neither known nor taken advantage of the call ahead program at Jose Pepper's. As time progressed and more and more new arrivals showed up and walked right into the dining room for a table, I became more perplexed. The wife went up to ask how much time we had remaining and heard "you've only been waiting thirty minutes, so it should be five to ten." We'd been waiting 38 minutes.

Now my passive aggressive tactics ruptured into full swing. I commenced standing directly in front of the hostess station, facing them in an attempt to block access to the station for any potential table thieves. Much to my chagrin, some diners made it through my makeshift gauntlet. While this was initially a setback, eavesdropping on their conversation afforded me some valuable insight. One man was told that they were behind in their seating "because of all the call aheads." And from further observation I could see why. Instead of giving the callers a time that their table would be ready, the hostess simply put the person's name on a list and when they arrived at the restaurant, they went into the queue with everyone else, except they got a 10-15 minute wait time.

So, to recap. If you show up at the restaurant in bodily form (presumably with the purchasing power to actually pay for your meal) you wait. If you call ahead and then show up (which requires a whole lot less commitment, mind you) you get right in (relatively speaking).

The absolute boiling point came when a woman walked up and announced she had called ahead. The hostess went through the list three times without finding the name. She cross checked the approximate time the woman called along with the person she had spoken with (the woman didn't know; how convenient). So what happens? The woman (now obviously exposed as a cheat) is given a pager with the promise "we'll have a table for you in ten to fifteen minutes. My God! I thought we lived in a society; a society with rules!

We did get a table, a fantastic waitress (go Kate) and a free dessert, so all is well. However, the whole situation got me to thinking.

The Call Ahead should be banned. This is like "calling it" when you were younger. If you wanted the last piece of cake, you "called it" and no one questioned your rights. I think there's several comedians who do routines around this point. It's an adolescent universal standard. I'm sure there are heavily armed child soldiers in Chad right now in the midst of unnatural chaos, suffering abuse and trauma beyond any of our imagination, who are successfully using the "called it" system with little or no trouble.

Perhaps the ultimate example of the "called it" system is shotgun, whereby one member of a traveling group claims right to sit in the front, passenger seat of said traveling vehicle. This extends beyond adolescence and is in wide use among the of-age populace. However, we didn't just arrive at this system willy-nilly. There is a specific set of rules that govern shotgun, some of which change with geographic location, but with some basic tenets. 1) You've got to be in reasonable proximity to the driving event to call shotgun. My friends and I used the simple "outside the door" rule, while others say "in sight of the vehicle." There is no one out there granting shotgun to someone who calls it an hour ahead of time. It's not happening. It's unnatural. 2) You absolutely have to be present to call shotgun. You can't have a proxy or do it over the phone (or, I guess, by text message, if that is your thing). Perhaps (and this is a longshot here) perhaps if every other passenger fails to call shotgun in a timely manner, a proxy call could be accepted, but that would only be because of the vast ineptitude of the other passengers.

This all brings me back to the call ahead. It's not right. I am asking for a ban on the call ahead; at the very least there needs to be some standard of rules adopted on an international level to govern the call ahead. I'm not sure my heart can take another torturous adventure like the one I had on Friday. For the love of God, for the sake of all that's good and holy in the world, we need action.

1 comment:

KJKEB said...

Very funny.