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Dining Out in Large Groups at Restaurants

How Far Should Restaurants Go to Accommodate Large Parties?

Eating out with a big group isn't just an adjustment for the establishment; it's also a rather different experience for diners. Two recent incidents have left me pondering: How should a restaurant accommodate large parties? The first scenario involved planning a birthday dinner. After contemplating venues and checking for online reservations, I scored a four-top at a recently sprouted eatery that's opened to great fanfare.

When I called to add a seat, it wasn't a problem. But later, when the guest of honor asked me to change the table for a party of five to seat six, the restaurant wouldn't accommodate the request. Thus, we were forced to seek a reservation (and take our business) elsewhere at the last minute.Another experience involved dining in a party of 11 at a restaurant where the service was severely lacking, but we were slapped with a 20 percent gratuity charge. The hospitality errors (such as multiple requests for an item that never came out) were egregious, yet the restaurant had the gall to impose a tip, and an unreasonable one at that.

Big parties can add strain to restaurants, but a huge group is also more likely to order appetizers, drinks, and desserts at a large scale, thereby increasing revenue for an establishment. Why doesn't a restaurant take more steps to accommodate big groups, in an effort to encourage return business? I'd love for you to weigh in and share your take.

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katiekat95 katiekat95 5 years
We just had a horrible experience dining with a large group of people. I had made the reservations a month in advance since it was around the holidays. They called me over 6 times to confirm that we were coming and asked to hold my credit card number. Not only did we have to wait when we got there they were two seats short. Shouldn't they have known the number since they called me 6 TIMES?! They offered to add seats to the ends of the long table which was fine until they brought over PATIO chairs. Needless to say....I will never go there again!
amber512 amber512 5 years
I have never been a part of a large group while dining out, so I don't have any experience with that. Although I did once go out to eat with my husband when an unexpectedly large crowd was seated. They pulled our waitress off to help, but no one informed us or got us a new one. So we never got refills on anything (drinks, bread, etc.) We complained to management and were incredibly surprised to receive a generous gift card.
melly024 melly024 5 years
As a hostess in a small restaurant we would always add a chair to a four top in order to seat five people. In order to seat six we would need to add another table that may or may not be available. Perhaps it wasn't that they didn't want the large group, but that the physically couldn't do it... especially if this is a new popular restaurant that is likely to be booked in advance.
xxstardust xxstardust 5 years
For the record, there is legal precedent in the US which allows you to refuse or alter a restaurant-imposed gratuity placed on your bill by the management. If this occurs again, ask to speak to a manager when the bill is brought out and calmly explain that while you understand that a gratuity is calculated on the bill for larger parties, the service received simply does not merit the listed amount and you are not going to tip that much. They can't FORCE you to pay the gratuity. I also personally dislike the service charge/autograt because if you're paying by credit card, that tip is then on the credit card - and many restaurants will often A) make waitstaff wait for that tip until the end of the month when funds are disbursed by the credit card company and B) will pull part of the credit company's charge from that gratuity. I don't think that's fair and I *never* leave a tip on a credit card for that reason. Of course, I don't think tipping should be mandatory or even socially obligatory at all - and I've been a waitress for years. Managers should be required to pay minimum wage to waitstaff, rather then allowing their staff to hang on the proclivities of their patrons. Tipping really should be for STELLAR service, not necessary to make up a service person's wages.
Susannah-Chen Susannah-Chen 5 years
I agree on the turnover issue. Still, I think the potential to lose a large group of customers who won't come back seems like something that should be a draw. To me, it seems unlikely that they would've tried to fit five people at a four-person table. And isn't a five-top the same thing as a six-top?
dreamalittledream dreamalittledream 5 years
As someone who used to waitress, I think there are multiple factors in play here. Some restaurants are better equipped for large groups than others, and from my own experience, it's a HUGE inconvenience in certain circumstances. I waitressed in Cape Cod, MA and in Westchester NY. In Cape Cod, it was a summer restaurant, very busy, and not the most expansive kitchen. In Westchester, it was a much larger establishment, so we were better equipped to handle large parties. It can be VERY difficult for a kitchen to keep up with the demand of a typical night PLUS getting 5,6,7 dinners to come out at the same time for a large party. In Cape Cod, we were only allowed to have 2 large party (5+) reservations a night-and never at the same time. The kitchen simply did not have enough room to accommodate that. In Westchester, it wasn't as much a problem because in addition to the waitresses, we have busboys that actually ran the food, freeing up the waitresses to keep checking on the tables/drinks/etc. The kitchen was also about 2x the Cape Cod restaurant. Large groups also have the tendency (in my experience) to linger and drink more than a smaller party, so not only is the turnaround slower because it's a large party, they often stick around even after dinner (when the wine is flowing, so is the conversation!) So, when you combine 3 tables for one large reservation, and that party stays long, as a waitress, you often are losing money. It's also a lot more work, so I completely agree with the mandatory tipping. I always used to tell my large tables up front and remind them with the check that gratuity was included already-even though it's listed on the menu, just as a friendly 'heads up'. Keep in mind that in addition to the large party, the waitress is also juggling the rest of their section, which is usually about 12-14 other tables of 2-4 people each, so don't be too hard on your servers!!! It's exhausting work any night, and some people can be really difficult, so I think with large parties, servers deserve to get that full tip! Especially when it might be the kitchen's fault about a dish, and not the waiter (Don't shoot the messenger!) When me and my friends try to have a large dinner out, we usually pick a chain restaurant (Cheesecake Factory, PF Changs) or a local pub-restaurant vs an artsy/bistro/hip restaurant because we know they can handle the volume, even if the atmosphere leaves something to be desired. On the opposite spectrum, I think very high end restaurants are also equipped to handle larger parties (X20 in Yonkers is amazing, for example). It's the small 'trendy' places or the seasonal places I've experienced the most difficulty with large parties. I'd advise calling a restaurant during off hours and asking the hostess if the restaurant often handles large parties, and how many large parties on an average night, would they accommodate. By having a frank conversation with the hostess, you should be able to gauge them restaurant's ability to handle your group :-)
dclsweetspot dclsweetspot 5 years
By not being accomodating restaurants are excluding family gatherings, business meetings, business parties and with that large revenues. I understand it may take longer to turn the table but at the same time these type of groups usually spend more than a standard table. Restaurants can do what they want but if they want to make money and build customers they would be accommodating. Stupid that you can seat 5 at a table and not 6. I would think it would be more difficult to add the 5th instead of the 6th. As to automatic tip, I understand it but I dispise it. Normally I usually tip over 20% but when I am told I must pay 15 or 18% that's all I'm leaving even for great service. I have dealt with too many servers who aren't doing there job as well as they might for a smaller group because they know the set tip is given even if they are terrible.
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