Ask The Salty Waitress: I'm Going To Be 5 Minutes Late. Should I Still Call The Restaurant?

Dear Salty, I tend to be a timely guy and I always try and be courteous. Whenever a restaurant accepts it, I try to make a reservation. Since I had a young child, though, I'm more likely to miss the mark for an appointment while I suss out child care or spend too much time getting a coat on an uncooperative toddler (don't worry, when we go to actual dinners, the toddler isn't coming along).

Whenever this happens, I tend to call the restaurant and let them know we're running late, even if it's just five minutes. Is this excessive? Especially during dinner rush, I'm split between "don't let them worry that their 7:00 isn't coming," and "don't bug the hostess during the dinner rush." I tend to always veer on the side of calling, as in my head more information is generally better, but I just want to make sure I'm not driving some poor hostess crazy as I pull her away from seating tables during busy times.


Running A Little Late

Dear Timely,

Awwww, aren't you sweet for thinking of the folks at the restaurant while you're wrestling with an uncooperative toddler. We sure do appreciate it. And I mean that in all sincerity. It's never a bad thing to let people—those who work in restaurants and otherwise—know when you're going to be late, especially if you're polite about it. It spares the host wasted time and energy wondering where the hell you are—if you're just parking your car, if you're hanging out in the bar and didn't hear your name or notice that you'd been texted, or if you've blown off the reservation entirely. It also lets us know that you're still coming so we don't give away your table. Because sometimes "five minutes" is really more like 15, and while the host or hostess might not notice if you're five minutes late, they probably will notice if you're any later than that. When you call the restaurant, it also gives the host a chance to let you know how much longer they'll be holding your table, because they can't hold it all night. Like you said, more information is better. Some restaurants even have text systems so you don't have to worry about interrupting a host's workflow, and some restaurants have multiple people handling the hosting duties when they know they're going to be especially busy.

But also—you're probably realizing you're going to be late a little bit before your 7 p.m. reservation. At 6:30, the rush may not have started, and the host will appreciate your call. (I assume you're not going to the sort of joint known for its early bird special.)

You know what is annoying on a busy Saturday night, though? People who don't respond when we let them know that their table is ready (most places will send out multiple calls or texts) and then get angry when we give their table away—sort of like toddlers, now that I think about it. When a restaurant is busy and we've got hangry people waiting for tables, we don't have time for that crap.

Think of it this way, sweetie pie: If you've got a guest coming over, wouldn't you like to know if they're going to be late? Same goes for a restaurant.

Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: