Life in London: so many issues. Our inquisitive editor-at-large addresses the ones that nobody dares (or cares) to. This week: loitering on pavements outside eateries.
Londoners. In a moment I shall deliver words with an important message. Serious words. Eloquent words. Words that, if taken to heart, might – just might – save us a lot of time and grumpiness. The words? ‘No-booking restaurants: getting a bit silly, innit?’
For a while there back in 2011, it really felt like we were on the cutting edge of seating policy. Or at least, I presume it did to someone. I spent three years feeling chronically uncool, saying, ‘Let’s just have another drink and wait for the queue to die down. Should only take, ohh… a few months.’
I know I’m not alone, though. I’m not the only one who thinks that an hour wait to be fed by strangers is the culinary equivalent of bringing a tent to buy the new ‘Call of Duty’. I know this from the comments on Time Out’s restaurant reviews. The spaces under our verdicts on no-bookings restaurants – which our food team often have the pleasure of trying before queues have started to form – are increasingly being used to vent.
Barnyard, an eatery we gave five stars to – and which is run by one of the city’s hottest chefs, Ollie Dabbous – receives so much bile that despite some glowing reports, it averages two stars from readers. As does our four-star review of Polpo Soho. And Meat Liquor. And Albion. Time and again the complaints are the same. It’s not so much the food. It’s the queuing time, the inconvenience. And it’s okay to say it. It’s fine to want a queue-free Friday night featuring a nice, affordable meal that you’ve pre-arranged by phone like in the olden days when people would email each other with their mouths and Google stuff in books. Because it’s not really working out that well for us, this no-bookings lark. The idea that removing advance bookings makes restaurants less exclusive? I just don’t buy it. Forcing people to stand and wait for an hour for a meal turns your admissions policy into a battle of physical strength. It ain’t for the weak. And it definitely ain’t for the hungry. Plus, it’s the twenty-first century. Who waits for stuff? Waiting is like the opposite of the internet!
Sure, some restaurants are so tiny that it’d be madness for them to take bookings. But of the five cheapish central London restaurants that our food team’s given four stars or more to in the last four months, only one takes reservations. Making your midprice eatery a no-bookings joint is now so de rigueur that in a few years, the only eatery you’ll be able to book will have prices that require you to be the Third Baroness of Worplesmere.
Until it all changes, that is. And change it will. Because one thing no-bookings restaurants are, is trend-driven. They just need to know that we’re increasingly bored of queuing. And then the policy they could so easily operate – ie taking some bookings, while reserving some seats for walk-ups – will become a reality. So say it loud and proud, Londoners: ‘An hour?!? All I want is a burger!’
Read more of Alexi’s pondering as he questions ‘what do we have to do to find love in this city?‘.