Friday, March 27, 2009

ChaChah's Reservation Policy: At a Minimum, I'd Call It Interesting

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2009 at 10:44 AM

click to enlarge chachah.jpg

It will come as no surprise to anyone who read this week's dining column that I am a huge fan of ChaChah. Arnold Myint's newest Belmont Boulevard enterprise hits on every cylinder--from moderate portions and prices to creative compositions and cocktails.

After I wrote the review, though, I heard about a policy that leaves me with mixed feelings. A friend called ChaChah to make a reservation for six and was told that there would be a $20 minimum per person to reserve a table for a group that size or larger.

While not unheard-of in larger cities, the restaurant minimum is a novel concept here. And it has been met less than enthusiastically--not least of all by the friend who was told he'd need to give a credit card to make the reservation and if his party didn't show up, he'd be charged $120.

At first blush, the policy borders on presumptuous. But before I rushed to judgment, I stopped to consider the reasons I like ChaChah so much: The place is beautiful, everything is priced below $20, and, in my opinion, the tapas and raciones are intriguing enough to satisfy in smaller portions than larger meals that are less thoughtfully constructed.

Throw in the fact that ChaChah is situated across the street from a college campus, Myint no doubt would argue, and you've got a potential magnet for students who want to hang out all night on a cool patio while sipping free filtered water and nibbling dips. For that reason, Myint says he also abolished cell phones and laptops in the restaurant. Furthermore, ChaChah is a hat-free zone.

Myint has a track record of being ahead of the curve. It may be in this era when people are cutting back on dining expenses, the minimum will emerge as a useful tool for restaurateurs struggling to balance their financial needs with those of their customers.

Then again, the friend who called it to my attention actually declined to give a credit card and relocated the party to a different restaurant. The customer tends to have the last word in these situations, at least collectively. So it remains to be seen whether ChaChah's minimum policy will stick--and if Nashville is ready for contractual dining.

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