It sometimes feels easier to get an appointment with a lawyer than to enjoy a spontaneous dinner in a restaurant in Munich. OpenTable, Bookatable and reserved signs occupy the city's tables. The Munich restaurateur Stefan Oelze has headed up the Restaurant La Kaz in the Westend quarter since 2012, and always keeps a third of his seats free for hungry walk-in customers. A conversation about the curse and the blessing of wanting to have a reservation, invisible guests and about how to enjoy dining without planning ahead.
It's not very easy to get a table on spec in Munich without a reservation. Why is that?
Almost ten years ago, digitalisation also reached the hospitality sector. Instead of calling on the day to book a table, reservations could suddenly be made 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from your couch or a subway platform. Foreign tourists in particular find it easier to book online rather than facing the language barrier over the phone.
To what extent does a restaurateur benefit from firm bookings?
Online booking in particular is also more relaxed for us as restaurant manager. A lot of people get angry if you don't answer the phone or reply to their email immediately. And there's all the mountain of paperwork offline! I can honestly tell you that I'm too lazy for all that bureaucracy stuff. I can see on the screen how many guests we are expecting, and calculate the shopping accordingly. If a large group is coming, we can discuss a tailored menu with them, or starter platters. At the end of the day, we want to see less food ending up in the waste bin.
The curse of online booking is no-shows: people book a table but then fail to turn up.
Or they make a reservation with three restaurants for the same night, then stay at home. Or they book a table for eight even though there are only two of them. Many people feel that booking a table by phone or email is more binding. Personal contact falls flat online, and the psychological barrier about leaving the host in the lurch all but vanishes. You don't even need to come up with an excuse.
Have you ever refused a reservation?
There's not much you can do as a restaurateur. But I have noted the names of two no-show candidates. As a host, I can also reject online bookings.
„We don't put anyone out here – unless someone really likes to sit outside in the sun."
But what if there was no malicious intent, and someone was simply ill?
It's about how you deal with people. If someone politely apologises in advance, or cancels their online booking in good time, that's OK. But it's not nice simply not to turn up without cancelling. You wouldn't do that in your private sphere.
Have you ever prioritised a booking?
I believe in equal opportunities: it's first come, first served. I even make friends wait if they haven't booked, and nothing is free. In principle, on spec guests also benefit from no-shows. We keep every booking open for 15 to 25 minutes, after which we give the table to someone else. The wait is as long as it takes to walk around the block.
Some restaurants never accept bookings. That's very brave.
It's generally owners whose restaurants are in the centre or in tourists hotspots or at the railway station or airport that can afford to do that. They know they will be full every day and don't need to worry about having an empty eatery.
La Kaz keeps a third of the tables free.
I have found what for me is a good compromise which leaves every option open to my guests, but that doesn't mean I fall by the wayside. I can't stand those places where you can see that it's all about the money. They simply throw guests out after an hour and a half so they can immediately cash in on the next cover. And if the service is slow as well, you just have to swallow your food down, there's no time to chew!
But time in La Kaz is limited to two hours.
We know from experience that our guests stay for an average of two hours. If anyone wants to stay for longer, they simply need to let us know by email, or drop us a note. We don't throw anyone out of the door here – unless someone really wants to sit outside in the sunshine. We also reserve the outside seating on request.
„Gourmet restaurants are also not always fully booked and have to deal with no-shows."
Any other suggestions for people who suddenly feel hungry, but haven't booked?
It's good if they feel hungry early – we can always find something at 6 pm, but it gets more difficult from 8 pm onwards. And you should look beyond the end of your nose and get out of the busy centre to the surrounding districts where there are enough restaurants, more and more of them really good. People who live in Munich generally go out to eat at the weekends. Tourists really need to book that Saturday night in a trendy restaurant well in advance, and go with the flow during the week.
You have cooked for high-end restaurants like Le Gourmet and the Vier Jahreszeiten. Should you forget all about eating on spec at a premium place like that?
Gourmet restaurants are not always fully booked, and have to deal with the hassle of no-shows. There's no harm in trying.
La Kaz, Ligsalzstrasse 38
Cooperativa, Jahnstrasse 35
Sushi Sano, Brunnstrasse 6
Trachtenvogl, Reichenbachstrasse 47
Attentat Griechischer Salat, Zugspitzstrasse 10
Pfälzer Weinstube, Residenzstrasse 1 (initially until the end of the year)
Schnelle Liebe, Thalkirchner Strasse 12
Takumi, Heßstrasse 71
Nage und Sauge, Mariannenstrasse 2
Little Wolf, Pestalozzistrasse 9
Hofbräuhaus, Bierhalle (Schwemme) and Biergarten, Platzl 9
Cotidiano (no reservations at the weekend),
Gärtnerplatz 6 / Hohenzollernstr. 11 / Maxburgstr. 4 / Schleißheimer Str. 93