Snob Appeal: Should Restaurants Reserve Seats for VIPs -- i.e. Not You?

When Dallas Morning News' restaurant critic Leslie Brenner guested on KERA's Think this afternoon, her first call came from an unidentified maitre d' who took her to task for criticizing restaurants that refuse her a 7:30 p.m. reservation.

Brenner confided she sometimes accepts the 8 p.m. time slot she's offered, and then shows up 30 minutes early to check for available tables. Much to her consternation, she reports, she often finds empty seats.

That's no accident, caller "Crystal" explained: "Most of the times, it's for the V.I.Ps."

According to Crystal, many local restaurants keep seats open for celebrities and regular customers who might drop by on a whim. Brenner was interested -- but unswayed -- by her explanation.

"Every diner is a V.I.P," Brenner protested. "So I really feel that, of course, a restaurant needs to hold a table for regulars, but when it becomes hard for regular people to dine in a restaurant, that's a problem."

While I strongly agree with Brenner's contention that all paying guests are entitled to equally attentive and professional service, I'm not sure restaurants are obligated to extend the same kid-glove treatment to every prospective diner. Restaurants are private enterprises, not courtrooms or schoolhouses.

Gatekeeping is an important tool in controlling a restaurant's ambiance: That's true at roadhouse bars, chop suey joints and vegetarian cafes. If a restaurant owner wants to create a dining room that sweats pomposity and snobbery, that's his prerogative. I may not dine in restaurants that cater to the V.I.P. set -- democratic sensibilities aside, I wouldn't qualify for a seat -- but I don't begrudge their choice to foster an air of exclusivity.

What do you think? Do you share Brenner's concern with restaurants' reservation policies? Should restaurants have to accommodate every potential diner's request? Is it a problem when "it becomes hard for regular people to dine in a restaurant"?

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