Party Canceled, a Diner Says She was Done Wrong. Was She?

City of Ate's inbox is typically crammed with messages from eager publicists, hopeful restaurant owners and aggrieved diners, who've often found the Better Business Bureau unresponsive to their complaints about grimy bathrooms and surly bartenders. Since we can't do much for our woeful correspondents either, we're turning their troubles over to you. In this new column, we're asking you to weigh in on sticky situations involving Dallas restaurants: Was the customer wronged? Or is the complaint unfounded? It's up to you to comfort your fellow diners -- or set them straight.

Our first bout pits Houston's Jane Thomas against Trece Restaurant, the Mexican entry in Robert Colombo's restaurant group. Thomas chose Trece, a former Dallas Observer "Best Mexican Restaurant" winner, as the site of her son's graduation party this spring. She reserved the wine room, a small private area adjoining the main dining room. According to Thomas' initial e-mail, here's what happened next:

"One week ahead of the event, I met with Omar Hernandez, directing manager, to finalize the menu and set the final details. He told me that our reservation was firm. I called Mr. Hernandez the Thursday before the event, to give him the final number, as I had promised him I would do. At that time, TWO DAYS before the event, he told me that they would be unable to accommodate my reservation because a larger party had taken the room I was booked for.

"I have never been treated to badly at a restaurant in my life. My reservations were disregarded and they did not care that they completely ruined the event for me and my guests. It was a completely disappointing and devastating experience."

Thomas reports she's been unable to get Colombo on the phone. But when City of Ate reached him this morning, he disputed Thomas' version of events.

"It was very simple," he explains. "She had a party booked for 14 in the wine room, and we had another party booked for 50. Two weeks before Ms. Thomas' party, the larger party called and said 'our numbers have drastically increased'."

According to Colombo, the wine room remained available, but the size of the larger party "would have impeded Ms. Thomas' event."

"We told her it would be a disaster for her party," Colombo recalls. "We offered to do Mexican food at Villa-O, across the street; we offered to pretty much give her 15-20 percent off her bill; we offered to put a manager outside to escort guests and maybe give them a glass of Champagne. Every single thing she said no to."

Colombo says Trece kept Thomas' wine room reservation on the books, but -- over the course of multiple phone calls -- conveyed to her it wouldn't be possible to create the party she'd initially been promised. Colombo wasn't surprised when the Thomas crew didn't show.

Colombo says he didn't consider relocating the larger party.

"That group...that went to 100, what kind of yelling and screaming would we have received if we didn't work with them?" Colombo asks, adding that the larger group had prepaid. Thomas had not yet provided a credit card number.

"She's just upset because her reservation wasn't honored," Colombo says. "Sometimes the stars just line up that way. It doesn't happen often. I know she was disappointed, but it didn't have to be disappointing. It could have been so smooth that no one would have known except for her."

Colombo compares Thomas' situation to the one faced by diners when power outages or street closures make it impossible for a restaurant to honor a reservation. But what do you think? Should a reservation be treated as an ironclad table guarantee? Was the alternative solution proposed by Trece acceptable? Who's in the right here?

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