Imagine this....it is 6pm on a Saturday night. You drive to a hot, new restaurant and try to get a table. But you don't have reservations. The hostess tells you that the restaurant is fully booked until 10pm. So, you leave that place and try another restaurant. Yet that place is also fully booked. Sure can be hard to find a good restaurant that has an opening on a weekend night.
This is a far too common occurrence. Your best option would have been to make reservations prior to the weekend. Especially for popular restaurants.
How far ahead should you make reservations? As far ahead as possible. If you wait too long, you might find the restaurant is already booked. You are usually safe if you make a reservation one week prior. Though there are a few hot restaurants where you will need to make reservations even longer before.
Most people used to make reservations by telephone. If you do so, get the name of the person who takes your reservation and make sure you note the date and time of your call. This will help in case there is a problem and they lose your reservation. It does not happen often, but is very annoying when it does.
A newer method of making reservations is online reservations, commonly through a system like Open Table or Savvy Diner. These systems are replacing the usual telephone reservations and I am in support of them. I think they benefit both the restaurant and the diners. My preference is for Open Table.
Open Table is international on scope, though it is more entrenched in the U.S. You can check your local area for restaurants, or places where you are going to travel to. For example, 282 restaurants in the New England area are part of the Open Table system. Generally, these are more higher end and/or popular restaurants. These are the type of places where you generally do need reservations, especially on the weekends. It is an easy system to use. You just type in your proposed reservation time and you instantly will learn whether there is an opening or not. If you like, you can confirm the reservation and then print out a confirmation. This helps to prove you made the reservation if the restaurant loses the reservation. Though with this system, the restaurant is even less likely to lose it.
You can even just type in a proposed time and find all of the restaurants that have openings for that time. Open Table restaurant listings usually have restaurant's website noted so that you can check out its menu. When you make your reservation, there is a place to write any special instructions or to note a special occasion. If you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, note it here and the restaurant will be aware and may make your visit more special.
I have used Open Table for a few years and had excellent success with it. Not only do I use it locally, but when traveling to other states I have used it as well. None of my reservations have ever been lost. And nearly all of the restaurants have acknowledged whatever special instructions or celebrations I noted in the reservations.
There is an added benefit to using Open Table. Free money!
It costs nothing to register on Open Table. And each time you make a reservation, and keep it, you earn at least 100 reward points. Once you reach 2000 points, you can redeem your points for a $20 restaurant gift certificate. It is valid at any Open Table restaurant. There are even some special reservations that will earn you 1000 points. So, just for making reservations which you would have done anyways, you can earn free gift certificates.
If you make reservations for a restaurant, and you cannot honor that reservation, you should call the restaurant to tell them. Tell them as far ahead as possible. This is only courteous and will allow someone else to take your reservation space. If you just don't show up for a reservation, the restaurant might lose money. Unfortunately, statistics on no shows indicates a high rate. This probably does lead to higher prices. So, just don't be a no show. Call to cancel.