A lot of things that appear to be easy are really complex. Like the restaurant reservation system. We’ve been doing it manually at Alison at Blue Bell for the past 5+ years. Occasionally we have someone waiting for a table, but I think for the most part we have it down to a science.
Now that we’re trying to design the reservation system at Alison two, I realize how complex it is. I was apprehensive about using the Open Table system for reservations because I didn’t want to lose control. But, after going through the training, we’re all really excited about it and looking forward to using it.
Before we even get to that point, a lot of work still needs to be done. The system requires exact floor plans with all of the tables and chairs. We have the architectural drawings showing the tables and chairs – but those have changed throughout the construction process. Everything gets adjusted as you go along.
In one area, we had to lower the ceiling, which lowered the vents, which shifted a light fixture, which shifted table placement since no one can sit with their back to a sconce. In another area, the feeling of the room changed once we added carpet and drywall. So, we decided that four deuces (tables for 2) would feel better than two four-tops (tables for 4). We thought about how much personal space people would need and what the traffic patterns would be. Lots of things happen between putting the plan on paper and the final construction of the room when you’re actually standing in the space. Rooms shrink and grow.
Next, each table needs a number so we can identify it. And, each seat gets a position number. At Alison at Blue Bell , for example, the outside table numbers are in the 40s. So if the mussels are going to table 43 position 1. We immediately know we’re going to an outside table and who is getting the dish.
At Alison two, each room will have a different set of numbers – so it is immediately recognizable – and each table configuration will have a different number too. The iron transom from the gates that formerly guarded 58 Park Avenue — the East German Consulate in New York City — will flank one table. Naturally, we’ll call that table 58.
Once we’ve figured out the number of tables and chairs and numbered them, we have to work on a reservation template. How many people can be seated on any given night? That depends upon how long the dining experience takes. And that depends upon so many factors — the time of day, is it lunch or dinner, are the guests celebrating a special event, how many courses will people typically order? Having a bar is another whole new experience. It changes everything. Will people want to linger over cocktails? Will they relax at the bar or in the living room before going to their table or hang out there afterwards?
We’ve been doing that at Alison at Blue Bell for 5-1/2 yrs and have a handle on it – this all new. The concept is the same but we’re working with a whole different equation. We have to consider so many things. We need to work through it and be flexible. Fortunately, I have a resident expert to help me figure that out – Erica Cantley. I met Erica in NYC when she was head reservationist at Daniel Boulud’s Restaurant Daniel and then the first female maitre d’ at his DB Bistro Moderne. I feel lucky to have her as a friend and consultant to make sure front of the house operations go as smoothly as possible.
We’re running as fast as we can. The china and glasses arrived. The wine lockers were just delivered. The bar top and hands-free kitchen sinks were all installed. Meanwhile, Alison at Blue Bell is still open. Just like a basketball game, everything seems to be happening in the last two minutes. Stay in touch.