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If Restaurants Were Like Airlines

Henry M. Halff

Part Un (á Part Deux) (á Part Trois )

Written while doing time as a Continental Airlines "distressed passenger" as the result of an "involuntary reroute."

“Hello, Chez Pierre?”

“Press 1 for dining information and hours, press 2 for reservations, ...”


“Welcome to Chez Pierre’s automated dining reservation system. For reservations in the restaurant, press 1. For reservations in the bar, press 2. Reservations may also be made on our World-Wide-Web site, To speak to a customer service representative, stay on the line or press 0.”


“All customer service representatives are busy. Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line, and your call will be answered by the first available representative. Or, press 1 to return to our automated dining reservation system.”

Five minutes of music, punctuated by descriptions of special deals offered by Chez Pierre.

“Hello, Chez Pierre, what can I do for you?”

“I’d like a reservation for this evening.”

“Yes sir, I see we have space available this evening in our deluxe section and in our elite section. The deluxe section meal is $200, and the elite section meal is $300. Which would you like?”

“That sounds awfully expensive. Don’t you have anything more economical?”

“Checking our prices, I see that we have a plan-ahead special in effect for the next four weeks. If you make your reservation at least two weeks in advance, for dining before December 12, you can get a deluxe section meal for $50.”

“What’s the difference in the $200 meal and the $50 meal?”

“None whatsoever, sir. You simply have to plan ahead to get the $50 meal. And, you have to pay for the meal whether you show up or not.”

“That sounds rather onerous. I pay, whether I eat or not?”

“Actually, if you don’t show up for your reservation, you can use the money towards another Chez Pierre meal, except that we charge a $10 reservation-change fee. Oh, and I see here, that we have an early-bird special. Reserve three days ahead and come in between 5:00 PM and 6:00 PM, and you can get deluxe seating for $75.”

“So, I can pay $200 to eat tonight, but I can get the same meal for $50 two weeks from tonight or for $75 three days from tonight if I come between 5 and 6, but if I don’t show up, all I get is $40 off my next meal, right?”

“Yes, sir. That’s correct.”

“What about the $300 meal? Why is it so much more than the $200 meal?”

“Our Deluxe section features styrofoam, plastic, paper, and bar stools. Our elite section features crystal, china, sterling, linen, and armchairs. The food in elite is of an enhanced quality; you don't have to stand in line for seating; and the poor slobs in deluxe have to walk past you and drool on the way to their seats.”

“Elite sounds good. Can I get it for $125 if I reserve two weeks ahead?”

“No sir, the $300 meals are never discounted. However, we have a frequent eater program. If you eat enough meals at Chez Pierre, you can make a reservation in the deluxe section and then move up to elite if there happens to be room in elite on the night that you show up. But you can’t do this unless you pay the full $200 for the deluxe section.”

“I see. I think I’ll just stick with the $50 meal two weeks from tonight. Seven-fifteen would be fine.”

“Yes sir, we have seatings at 6:34 and 8:12. Which would be best for you?”

“I’ll take 8:12.”

“That will be fine. May I put this on a credit card?”

“Credit card? Can’t I just pay after the meal?”

“I’m sorry, sir. You must purchase your meal at least two weeks in advance in order to qualify for the deluxe plan-ahead special.”

“Alright. I have a VISA card 123-5678-9012-3456, and it expires in 9 of 02. My Name is Henry M. Halff.”

“I’ve confirmed your reservation Mr. Halff. You’ll need to check in at the restaurant between at least 10 minutes before your reservation, but no more than an hour before. If you are not there by 8:02, we have the right to give your table to another diner.”

“I guess I’ll make sure I’m there.”

Two weeks later at Chez Pierre.

“Hello, my name is Halff. I have a reservation tonight for the 8:12 seating. I know it’s only 7:30. Am I too early?”

“Oh, no sir, just have a seat, and I’ll call you when we are ready for you.”

Fifteen minutes later

“Ladies and gentlmen, may I have your attention please. Because diners don’t always show up for their reservations, we occasionally accept more reservations that we have tables to accomodate. This procedure allows us to maximize the number of tables that we fill. Usually, there are enough tables for everyone, but on very rare occasions we cannot seat all of the diners with confirmed reservations. That is unfortanately the case tonight. Are there any volunteers in the waiting room who would be willing to wait until breakfast in exchange for a $75 Chez Pierre gift certificate?”

Fifteen minutes later

“Mr. Halff, I’m afraid we won’t be able to accomodate your party tonight. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’d like to give you this check for $50 and a reservation at our 6:00 AM seating for breakfast tomorrow. Oh, and I see that our deluxe section is full for tomorrow’s breakfast, so we’ll provide you with a complementary upgrade to elite. Just come back between 5:00 and 5:50 tomorrow morning.”

“But I’m hungry, now. What am I supposed to eat?”

“We’ve thought of that sir, here is a voucher for a complementary can or bar of Ensure, redeemable at any pharmacy or market. See you tomorrow.”

5:45 AM, the next morning

“Ladies and gentlmen, may I have your attention please. Because diners don’t always show up for their reservations, we occasionally accept more reservations ….”

Part Deux (á Part Trois )

Written whilst whiling away a few restful hours in a United Airlines departure lounge at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Chez Francois, 8:12 PM on a Friday evening

A sign appears over the maitre d's podium:

8:15 Seating: 9:29

"Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your patience. The 8:15 seating has been delayed because the chef, who had to cook an earlier meal across town at Buon Giorno got stuck in traffic on the way over here. We have just been informed, however, that he has entered the kitchen, and service should begin momentarily."

9:45 PM

"Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your continued patience. The chef has just discovered that the thermostatic control on one of the burners of the stove is not functioning properly. We are, at this point attempting to clear the stove of this problem and will inform you of further developments. We apologize for the delay."

10:15 PM

"Ladies and gentlemen. Our maintenance staff has determined that the thermostatic control on the stove cannot be serviced in the kitchen. Accordingly, we have arranged to transport the stove from Buon Giornio to Chez Francois and install it for this meal. We expect arrival of the replacement stove momentarily."

11:00 PM

"Ladies and gentlemen. We are now ready for the 8:15 seating. We have a very full dining room this evening. Please enter the room only when your party is called. Please stow wraps, purses, and other personal belongings either completely under your table or on the table surface. A hat-check girl will be only too pleased to check large or bulky items. Elite diners are free to enter the dining room at their convenience.”

11:30 PM

“Ladies and gentlemen. This is your chef speaking. As you know, we had some problems with the thermostatic control on the stove tonight. In order to ensure a safe and tasty meal, I have ordered the maintenance crew to conduct an operational check of the replacement stove. As soon as they have completed the check, which normally takes 25 minutes, we can begin preparation of the meal. Please sit back and relax. We will begin cooking as soon as possible.”

12:15 AM

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now ready to begin the meal. Please take your seats immediately. Federal regulations do not allow service to begin until all diners are seated at their tables.

“Please direct your attention to the waiters as they explain a few important safe dining procedures. In the rare event of food poisoning, ....”

Part Trois

Reflections on United Airlines’ handling of luggage checked on a flight from Rome to San Antonio.

He: Did you read the back of the menu, honey?

She: No, Boy this is strange. It says “Our Chez Fred promise is a sincere commitment to our customers that at every meal, in the bar and in the dining room, we will strive to provide them with the impeccable service and fine food that they both expect and deserve from Chez Fred.

He: Yeah, and further down, it says, “Provide on-time side-dish service. We have further automated our order fulfillment system to ensure the prompt delivery of side dishes along with the main course. In cases where a side dish is waylaid, we make every reasonable effort to serve it within 5 minutes. When the order slip of a waylaid side order designates a table number, we make every effort to contact the customers at the table and deliver the side order promptly.” Weird.

Waiter: Are we ready to order?

She: Oh, yes. I see that you have steak frites. I love steak frites. Medium rare, with a side order of asparagus.

Waiter: Very good, madam. And you, sir?

He: Lamb chops, medium, with potatoes au gratin and applesauce.

Waiter: Very good, sir.

[Waiter enters the order into his handheld wireless device.]

Waiter: Oh my, I seem to have made a boo boo. I pressed the Enter button before I entered your applesauce. My bad. Never mind. I'll just enter it now and tell them about it in the kitchen.

[15 minutes later]

Waiter: Your steak frites, madam. And your lamb chops with potatoes au gratin, sir.

He: What about the applesauce?

Waiter: Oh, I'm so sorry. I gave it an order number, 13752. I can't imagine where it is. I suppose you'll need to file a waylaid side order report. I'll notify our side order manager immediately.

[5 minutes later]

Side Order Manager: I understand that you're missing an order of applesauce?

He: Yes, that's correct.

Side Order Manager: We're not entirely sure where the item went astray. We've referred it to our central waylaid side order office. You might want to check with them in a few minutes.

[5 minutes later]

He: Waiter, how do I get in touch with the central waylaid side order office?

Waiter: I'll just dial them up on my cell phone.

He: Central Side Order Office? Could you check on Order 13752. Yes, that's applesauce. Yes, for table 27. It's been found, you say? Still in the kitchen? Out any minute now? [to she] They've located my applesauce and sent an email to the kitchen about it. It should be here any minute.

[5 minutes later]

He: Waiter, could you ring Waylaid Side Orders again for me?

Waiter: Certainly, sir.

He: Hello, I'm calling again about Order 13752. Yes, applesauce. Yes, for Table 27. Still in the kitchen? [to her] It's still in the kitchen. They're sending another email.

[5 minutes later]

He: Waiter. Waylaid again please.

Waiter: As you wish sir.

He: Hello. What's the deal now with my applesauce? Oh, that would be 13752. Yes, Table 27. Another email? That doesn't seem to be working. OK, give it a try. [to her] Still in the kitchen. They're sending an email to someone else now.

[5 minutes later]

He: Waylaid.

Waiter: Right, sir.

He: Okay, what's the deal with Order 13752? Yes, applesauce. Yes, Table 27. Oh good! [to her] It's on its way here. Be here in two minutes.

[5 minutes later]

He: Waiter.

Waiter: Yes sir.

He: I'm calling again about Order 1325 7. It was supposed to be here 3 minutes ago. Yes, applesauce. Yes, Table 27. I know it's not here. I know it was supposed to be here. [to her] They don't know where it is. They're working on it.

[5 minutes later]

He: Waiter

[Waiter dials and hands him the cell phone.]

He: Yes, it's me again. I'm calling about Order 13257. Yes, still applesauce and still Table 27. You don't. Well what do you think I should do. I see. [to her] They still don't know where it is. They don't know what to do. They don't know what I should do.

She: Waiter, can you bring me a menu? I'd like to review that promise on the back.

[1:00 am the following morning]

He: What the hell is that?

She: Someone's ringing the doorbell.

He: I'll go see who it is.

She: Please be careful.

He: I will. ... What are you doing here?

Waiter: Your applesauce, sir.