A trend will come. A trend will go. However the ‘trend’ of lining up for a restaurant will be around long after you finally get into Mamasita. There’s no waiting this one out. Although lauded as being a recent fashion among Melbourne restaurants, the hype is recycled. Way back in 2005 Thai restaurant Longrain outfitted a duplicate of it’s Sydney restaurant on Little Bourke street operating with the same ‘no bookings’ policy. Grumblings among the dining community caused them to adapt their doctrine to taking larger bookings of six or more but they continued to fly the flag and Melbourne noticed.

What is trending though is contempt towards these no bookings restaurants. Understandably no one likes waiting forty five minutes for a table but before you get all angsty about it, think of why you’re waiting. I’m not going to get into the whole ‘you can always go somewhere else’ stand off rationale and preach to the choir about options because why wouldn’t you want to eat at the place that has thirty people waiting to get in? But what I want to know is, is it really necessary or is curiosity killing the customer?

Any venue with an air of something special about it in Melbourne is turned into a media darling. It’s our culture. In turn these venues are placed in staggering demand, so for most places these days allowing bookings isn’t an option. In 1990 the average cost of a latte was $2.65. By 2010 it was $3.40 but with inflation it should have been $7.80. Largely it’s the proprietor footing the bill. Statistics from the Restaurant and Catering Association, which is the national adviser for hospitality management, saw the average restauranteur making as little as 5% profit. In the CBD they’re hit by inflation for rent and food prices, and a recession means quality staff are hard to come by so they take on lesser qualified casuals that reap higher award rates. The food industry isn’t the gold mine the market sees it to be

Their popularity can cause equal hindrance as help too, with customers booking for numerous places at once, ensuring their table at one while shafting the others. To counter this some owners are taking credit card details when booking and claiming a fee per head if the customers don’t show, but this is an unrefined system. Vue de monde owner Shannon Bennet had to defend his decision to charge a man $900 for a six person no-show on local ABC radio. Hefty, but for those that allow bookings, no-shows are the biggest hole in the bottom line.

Quality food joints are popular and eating at them shouldn’t be a proprietor vs patron ordeal, but when so many customers have a penchant to bite the hand that feeds, the no reservations system is the fairest service providable.

If waiting is here to stay, what is being done to make it better for the customer? Waiting a minute can seem like an hour in traffic or pass in a second when on the couch. An active mind is a distracted mind, so restaurants have employed hosts to lighten the waiting burden. We Interview the hosts at some of Melbourne’s most popular venues to find out how they do it.



How long have you been hosting at Touche Hombre?

About two months

What makes you the host with the most?

At Touché we have a substantial amount of communal seating and often I imagine I’m playing Life-Tetris, but rather than just squeezing people in anywhere, I try to make whatever scenario a win for everyone.

What are some positives about being the host at one of Melbourne’s most popular no-booking venues?

Something really great about Touché is that we have a number of really groovy bars surrounding the restaurant, Section 8, Ferdydurke, and The Emerald Peacock, so people can go have a drink nearby and come back when we text them in time for their table. Also Touché has such a funky vibe and lively energy, so we tend to attract a good crowd of people who are pretty understanding.

Any negatives?

Sometimes people don’t understand that there just isn’t anywhere we can seat them and a wait at a small popular restaurant and bar is inevitable. To be fair to everyone we wait ten minutes for a person to text back before we give the table to the next person. So if a number of groups of people don’t text back to cancel, thats ten minutes, and another group don’t reply, that’s twenty minutes, and so on, so it really can cause a problem sometimes.

In the instance that people have had to wait longer, how do you make it better for them?

On the rare occasion that there is a problem, say for example we have copied the phone number down wrong, we will place them next in the line. If a group is waiting significantly longer than we had prepared them for we will often express our appreciation for their patience with a nice little complementary surprise, people are usually pretty happy after that.



How long have you been the host at Cumulus?

I’ve been at Cumulus for a year and a half, I’ve been the restaurant manager for 6 months. I was the assistant manger for 6 months before that and have done it in other restaurants that I have worked at in the U.K.

What are some positives of being a host at one of Melbourne’s most popular no bookings venues?

The product that we offer is second to none. It’s without a doubt the best food that I’ve worked with in my career to date. The wine and spirits that we sell and the food too. The idea of having a no bookings policy means that it’s more flexible. People can come along and have a drink and get chatting to others, it gives it a more cosmopolitan vibe.

And any negatives?

Only that it can be relentless. On Saturday I was hosting from 11:30am until we closed so on Sunday I had a bit of a croaky voice. It’s hard work but it’s great.

What makes you the host with the most?

I have been well trained by Jayden, the owner, also Oliver the general manager here. I think that because I’m enjoying it the most when I’m under the pump, I’ve got a smile on my face and I’m helping people enjoy their evening. Even when there’s no line I’ll go out into the street and tell people what a great time they can have in here.
I try and make people think as little as possible about what they have to do. I’ll give them some where to sit, get them a drink, and simply be hospitable.

In the instance that people do have to wait longer, how do you make it better for them? How do you make them happy?

Occasionally due to one thing or another people do wait longer than they’re first told but all we can do is make sure they’re given the very best service while they’re waiting and when they sit down. We make sure everything else that happens to them here is as good as it can be. From the moment they sit down until the moment they walk out we maintain the best quality.



How long have you been working at Mamasita?

About two and a half years. I started hosting about 5 or 6 months after I started. The role of managing the restaurant is quite diverse because we have a small space and are a compact team.

What are some positives of hosting one of Melbourne’s most popular no booking venues?

It’s great that we get to meet a whole lot of different people every night. During the day we get people working in the city and families as well. We get people that come from out of town and people that have been in Melbourne for a week and here is their last stop.  Because the service is casual, people know they can come in here any time and relax. To any one that sits down we say that the menu is built for sharing and it is. If we have a fillet or a loin it’s cut into pieces and if it’s chicken it’s maryland or drumsticks so people can pick at it. It’s a really fun place to work, I’ve been in the business fifteen years and this is the most fun that I’ve had in that whole time. We have good tunes, we only sit 90-100 people, so it’s really close, and it’s almost like you’re all in here having an experience together.

And any negatives?

I guess the negative is that for some people they’ve always gone to places where they’ve been able to make a booking and that’s been the way it is. I get that, I completely understand it. But on the flip side no bookings isn’t a new thing. Have you ever made a booking at a cafe? Cicciolina down in St kilda has been doing no bookings for over 10 years. Most people enjoy the no bookings policy, they’ll go from here to Chin Chin to Cumulus and a few other places and who ever calls them up first, that’s where they go for the night. It’s like a ‘choose your own adventure’ type if thing. It’s cool.
The only negative is related to people that don’t understand the concept. A lot of people think that we’re trying to stop them getting in but if there are physically no tables left in the room we can’t pull one from thin air. There’s a point during service when you can’t get any busier. If you run out of seats and run out of tables what can you do? But if some one else has come earlier than that person then they should get in earlier, it’s fair. I’m the person trying to get them in not keep them out. It’s nice for people to know that they can just turn up any night to get a table here. The only differential is the eating time.

What makes you amazing at being the restaurant host and manager?

Tough question, I think ease of service and organisation. One thing I learnt a long time ago is that everyone’s time is as important as everyone else’s. Every one is as important as everyone else, especially in this type of situation and being able to understand that and have it in the back of my mind helps.
Also when I quote people a time, that’s the time that I’ll have something for them. You have to be accurate. People will try and (assert) themselves a table but the thing with that is though, if you don’t ask you don’t get. The squeaky wheel gets the oil so good on them for asking.

In the instance that people do have to wait longer, how do you make it better for them? How do you make them happy?

A lot of the time people just want to be heard and as long as you can facilitate them the best way possible that’s great. That’s why we call people back rather than text them because we want there to be that human element in there.



How long have you been hosting at The Hardware Societe?

About a year.

What makes you amazing at your job?

Lots of smiles, laughter and inappropriate jokes make me amazing at what I do. I am a people person so I really do try and make sure that people have a great time when they come in. I like to make people laugh and get really comfortable.
I think that it is important in hospitality for patrons to feel like they have walked into your “home” and don’t feel like strangers in a strange environment. That said, a simple thing like remembering someone’s name makes them feel special and welcome and starts their experience off on a positive note.

What are some positives about being a host at one of Melbourne’s most popular no booking venues?

Being able to interact with so many people makes me really happy. We do have a lot of customers traveling from all over the world so it’s nice to chat with them and let them know about fun things to do in Melbourne.

And negatives?

Some times people do get upset at the wait time, but usually once they get a seat and experience the food, coffee and the service they understand what they were waiting for. Then they turn up earlier next week before everyone else makes the trek from their bed to our front door for brunch.

In the instance that people do have to wait longer, how do you make it better for them? How do you make them happy?

I try and make sure that I never underestimate the wait time for a table. I think it’s important that customers know just how long they may have to wait so they can decide if they are interested or not. I keep patrons updated with the status of tables and ask if they want a coffee or drink while they are waiting. I think it is important to let them know that you realise they are waiting as opposed to making them feel like the puppy in the window waiting for a home. A smile, a joke and laughing at yourself usually makes the wait time feel a lot less.



How long have you been working at Chin Chin?

I’ve been hosting since we opened and that was May 26th last year, about a year and half.

What are some positives about being the host at one of Melbourne’s most popular no bookings venues?

I have a dual role taking care of a lot of the P.R. and talking to a lot of the journalists, branding etc and I’m also the first point of contact at the door. The benefit of that is I get to communicate my role outside of hosting. It’s not a long winded P.R. process, if any one is asking how busy Chin Chin is at any time I just know because I have the relationships with people in the restaurant and back of house, all the people that you trust. I work with people that work very hard and are very good at their jobs.
I’ve worked in a range of places from cafes to fine dining to here which is something in between, It’s casual but you have excellent quality food with great service and people who know what they’re doing. You can let your hair down and put your elbows on the tables and no one counts cutlery before you eat. I’ve worked in places that are like that and I’ve noticed that people don’t want to dine in places like that anymore because you can get good food without the performance. You don’t want a situation where you feel the guest is performing for you as well as you performing for the guest. In a venue like this no one is lying to the other person. You can let people know there will be a wait and they will be ok with it because they’re coming to an environment where they can have a drink, have a laugh and let their hair down.
It’s great too seeing so many walk out of the restaurant happy when my first point of contact with them has been “sorry you will have to wait”. I get to see them going from disappointed when they’re waiting, to being able to go in and eat, and then coming out saying “it was amazing I’m going to tell all my friends”.

Any negatives?

Unlike any other place instead of making fifty people wait a night you’re making three hundred to five hundred people wait a night. The former can be hard night but with more numbers it’s a different story.You get a range of different emotions from people saying “I’m a bit hungry I won’t wait” to people being abusive and unreasonable.
There are a lot of people who think they can arrive much earlier than their friends and secure a table while waiting but we have a policy where we don’t seat until the full party are present because we might have a group of five that arrive after them that could have come in and eaten their meal while they wait for their friends and it wouldn’t have made a difference to them. That’s part of the reason that we’ve done it this way because it’s Thai food, it’s modeled on hawker dining centres where you sit down to eat your food and go. It’s the Asian way of eating and it’s more efficient. Surprisingly though you get a large amount of people acting in ways they shouldn’t. It’s really about communicating with people and having them leave wanting to come back despite the challenges.

What makes you amazing at your job?

What makes me good at my job is the ability to communicate with people in a way that doesn’t shut them down. Just being personable and honest. If people don’t want to wait that long I can tell them it could be earlier but feel free to go somewhere and have a drink and we’ll send you a text. They can even go to the cocktail bar downstairs.
You have to gauge things from where they are and see things from their perspective on a case by case basis. A lot of it is having a good relationship with your guests. A good relationship with your staff, and a good relationship with your bar.

In the instance that people do have to wait longer, how do you make it better for them? How do you make them happy?

We use a computer system to be as accurate as possible. You can see what time you quote a person and always have them in mind. We go on first available basis like any other business. If it’s looking to be longer then we can say “unfortunately the tables ordered another round of drinks so I’ll call them five or ten minutes before the time is up and say sorry you are the next available person but this is the situation. Then I can always gauge from their reaction. A lot of the time if you talk to them before hand they’re not fussed because we acknowledge them, that’s all a lot of people need. A customer needs to know that they are as important as everyone else on the list, it’s about the trust.
For me every one who walks in is valuable because we wouldn’t be here without them. There are certain people who will react negatively but we have really good front of house people who can turn that around for them.

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