What Is a Charitable Reservation?

Some Vancouver restaurants now ask for a donation to reserve a table, with proceeds going to local charities. It's a win-win.

Whenever I’m feeling good about myself, have a spring in my step and the world seems full of endless possibilities, I can always count on Instagram to remind me what a vindictive, narcissistic gaggle of jackasses we (mostly) all are. In some ways, it’s comforting to know that the world can be going to hell in a handbasket with waves of human suffering at every turn and that Instagram will still offer that queasy mix of selfies no one asked for and opinions no one wants to hear.

So imagine my surprise last week when scrolling through VanMag’s feed as per my contractual obligation I came across the phrase “Charitable Reservation” on the feed on James Iranzad of Gooseneck Hospitality fame (Bufala, Lucky Taco, Bells and Whistles) and damn if it didn’t blow my entire view of Instagram in 3 lines. Iranzad is quick to say he didn’t invent the term, but while it may have some minor traction in the US, this is the first time I recall seeing it being used up here. So what is it?

We’ll use the example Iranzad has had in place for the past 3 months at his establishments. Take Bufala Kerrisdale. When we talk about the toughest reservations in town we often speak of Savio Volpe, Cioppino’s and St. Lawrence, but getting a table in the beating heart of K-towns nascent food scene can be very tricky on a warm summer night… or a rainy winter one. And until recently they weren’t taking reservations: the dreaded show up and hope.

No reservations works at a neighbourhood spot like Bufala, where it’s less likely that someone drove in from Burnaby for dinner, but even still customers crave stability. Unfortunately, its a well-documented phenomena that some customers in Vancouver crave stability so much that they make multiple reservations for any given night and only show up for the one they want. These people are also known as vermin.

All of it imbues the reservation system with an edge that disrupts the bond between owner and patron. So Iranzad set out to fix it. Want to book a table for 4 at Bufala on Friday at 7? No problem. Go on the site, click on make a reservation, select your time and you’re asked a $5 donation per diner.

And not only that, the next screen allows you to choose which organization you’d like your funds to go towards (the current two options are the Avalon Recovery Centre and the Vancouver Friendship Centre, but they rotate) and all the money that you’ve paid goes to the charities in question. Other charities that have been featured at the various outposts include the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, The Hogan’s Alley Society and the HUA Foundation.

It’s a brilliant twist, really. Not only does it do the obvious—give money to those in need—but it has the added benefit of making the customer not only more engaged with the restaurant and the community but also respect the reservation they’ve made. And if they don’t, oh well. The charity still gets paid. Iranzad also notes that it’s increased the sense of community within the restaurant becuase the staff get to help choose the charities in question, and that sense of giving back has helped combat some of the ever-present COVID-fatigue.

And there’s actual real money flowing to the causes, once you factor in that all of Gooseneck’s properties are involved. Iranzad has not only been fielding calls from fellow restaurateurs interested in the idea (Kitsilano’s Delara will soon be on board) but he’s also presenting his experience at an upcoming meeting of the Chef’s Table Society—so look for it coming soon to a spot near you.

Instagram–who knew?

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