Every neighborhood would like to claim a great, cozy little restaurant, where there’s a burger on the menu and the chicken is roasted right. But what happens when the restaurant’s so great that neighbors can’t get a seat?
Purlieu owner John Zucker fears that’s the perception of his Westside restaurant, which opened late last year to adoring crowds. He’s now trying to find ways to let locals know there’s more room for them than an online reservations site might suggest.
“I like to take care of my locals,” says Zucker, who’s clearly also hoping they’ll help take care of his nobody-goes-there-anymore-it’s-too-crowded venue.
Much has been written about the last-minute cancellation epidemic in the contemporary restaurant industry. The situation has been blamed on everything from millennials’ short attention spans to a lack of financial and emotional consequences for diners, who can now click their way out of bookings instead of making excuses to whomever answers the restaurant’s phone.
“I know in New York City a lot of restaurants are saying they’re going to charge $20, but I just don’t think that would be well-received in Charleston,” Zucker says.
But the problem is especially acute in small, out-of-the-way restaurants, such as Purlieu. There, Zucker says, it’s not uncommon to “start the day at 2 o’clock with 60 reservations, and by the time service starts, be down to 40.”
Referring to his other restaurant, Cru Café, he continues, “If I was on the Market, we could pull people in as walk-ins.”
Additionally, Zucker says, digital tricks for attracting 11th-hour diners are inhibited by the small size of his restaurant’s staff.
“What I’m learning from Resy is it needs to be managed all throughout the day, throughout the week,” he says. “It’s a constantly changing grid. I guess it’s partially my fault for not having a person” to keep up with and promote table availability.
For now, Zucker has settled on alerting neighbors to tables in real time via social media.
“I want them to have access,” Zucker says.