There’s an interesting report here from customer experience expert Ian Golding about how a pub refused to break its established policy of not accepting table reservations and thus lost a substantial amount of business. Now, I’m certainly a strong believer in the principle that “rules are for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools” and have seen many cases, both in the pub trade and in the wider world, where the narrow-minded application of petty regulations benefits nobody.
However, a distinction needs to be made between rules that genuinely are trivial, and those that lie at the core of the operational principles of a business. He doesn’t name the pub in question, so I can’t comment on the specifics here, although if it is in the Chester area it may well be one I have visited over the years.
With pubs, which tend to have regular customers, there is always the risk of setting an unwelcome precedent, so the customers will say “well, you made an exception for them, so why can’t I reserve a table for granny’s birthday?” And then the licensee either appears churlish, or opens up the thin end of the wedge. He says the pub in question will have lost their business in future, but that can work both ways. For example, on two occasions in the past few years I have visited two different pubs that had set aside a large part of their normal public area for a private party. They may well have gained business in the short term, but that experience has made me less inclined to visit those pubs in the future, or to recommend them to others.
Although it’s a different issue, some years ago I was in a pub at lunchtime on a hot day when a couple of lads came in not wearing shirts. The licensee refused to serve them, and they left saying “you’ve just lost about six pints worth there, mate”. In the short term, obviously he had, but in the long term he doesn’t want to be known as the kind of pub that serves shirtless yobs.
And surely the classic example of the desirability of applying rules strictly is the sign that used to be common above the bar in pubs, “Please do not ask for credit as a smack in the mouth often offends”. However deserving the case, if you do it for one person then others will inevitably demand it too, and then feel aggrieved when it is refused.
Consistency of offer is something that is very desirable in pubs. It may well be that this particular pub sees an open to all comers, first come first served approach as a key part of its proposition and thus is entirely justified in refusing to bend the rule, even if they alienate some potential customers by doing so. On the other hand, if they just can’t be bothered, then they deserve what is coming to them.
The point must also be made that there are plenty of establishments around that do offer table reservations, so in this case the detriment to the customer was not very great. If it was the only place serving meals for twenty miles around then the refusal to take a booking would seem more churlish. And, turning the situation around, if there was a restaurant with a policy of only accepting prior bookings, and a party turned up without a booking, it would be self-defeating to turn them away even if there were plenty of empty tables and people standing idle in the kitchen.