With or without you

Pub date May 20, 2008

› paulr@sfbg.com

The ancients had many different gods, though none (that we know of) in charge of restaurant reservations. But they were certainly familiar with fickle and tempestuous deities, and I can’t imagine any god of restaurant reservations being any other way. Despite the heavy infestation of computers into most of our lives, restaurant reservations retain a certain crapshoot, the-gods-must-be-crazy quality. No doubt the lord of restaurant reservations finds this amusing. Whether you’re using OpenTable or trusting to a reservationist on the telephone, you cross your fingers and click your heels together three times, hoping for a wink and a smile from fate and wondering what might happen if someone, somewhere along these finely spun threads of arrangement, screws up.

A prime candidate for the reservation screw-up is the person making the reservation. This is the diner’s equivalent of "pilot error" in airplane crashes. Recently I booked a table at a restaurant through OpenTable, and everything went beautifully until the day before, when the reservationist called to confirm the table … for the wrong day. I would have been pleased to be furious, but the mistake was totally and utterly mine — and an obvious one to boot. I could have averted aggravation and embarrassment if I’d bothered to read the confirmation e-mail sent after I’d booked the table. But gods need their laughs, too.

Not many days later, I booked a table at a less grand but well-regarded neighborhood place, using the trusty old phone and talking to an actual person on the other end. The actual person asked me to confirm my area code, and I took this as evidence that attention was being paid, the right buttons being pushed, and so on. At the appointed hour, we turned up at the host’s station to find that, so far as the restaurant was concerned, we did not exist; the reservation system was managed on a fancy computer, but we weren’t in it. Did I hear a giggle from somewhere overhead?

The lost reservation is an excruciating social moment. The restaurant bungled, yet there is no proof, and you still hope they can find a place for you. If you indulge in a self-righteous huff, you are headed for the nearest taqueria, while making apologies to your companions and praying to the taqueria god. What was that god’s name again?