A reservation is a promise between the diner and a restaurant. You agree to show up at a certain time with the members of your party, and the restaurant agrees to have a table ready.
The idea is clear, but the reality is a bit muddied. Sometimes you have to wait as a party sits with an unpaid bill on the table. And sometimes you're running late. Which raises a question: How long does a restaurant have to hold a reservation?
Restaurants that take reservations tend to know how many tables can be turned in a given night, so the host is working with a set number of slots. That means that if you're an hour late, your table is long gone. However, there are also cancellations and slow nights, which could lead to a slot being open that was previously booked. Odds are, you are not the only one running late.
Now, calling ahead has to count for something. If you know you're running late and you politely inform the hostess, that's likely to buy you an extra five or 10 minutes of grace. Your demeanor, on the phone (as well as in person) probably helps. Since you're not Usher, try to be charming.
I think 15 minutes is fair, although it should be stretched to 20 minutes if you've gone to the trouble of calling while you're on the way. The night of the week has to matter, too. That 15 minutes could easily be 30 minutes on a Tuesday.
What do you think? How long should a restaurant hold your table?
[Image via Flickr: Never Cool in School]