I reserved a table at Casa Fontana, Piazza Carbonari, in Milan (known for their risotto) for 9PM on a Saturday night. I called during the day to confirm. Emerging from the subway at 9h10pm (we'd miscalculated the distance), we called to advise (in Italian) that we were still ten minutes way but that we were en route. They responded(in Italian) 'no problem'.
We arrived at 9h20 just in time to see them giving our table away. When we piped up, the Maitre d' switched into English and said that he'd understood me to say we'd be there "at 10h00" and that anyway, our table was gone when we weren't there at 9h00.
My date (who's Italian), defended my Italian and asked why the maitre d' hadn't told us our table was gone when we were courteous enough to call and advise we'd be late.
Other diners were beginning to eavesdrop and the maitre d' was clearly trying to keep us quiet; he offered us a drink on the house, and said he'd have a table at 10h00. But there was no bar area, and there was no place nearby to go (it's a residential neighbourhood) our choice was to wait in the vestibule or leave.
I am a journalist & travel writer. I've eaten in all types of restaurants all over the world. I always reserve if advised, and I always call to confirm or cancel. I have never - in any city, anywhere - had an experience where my reservation was not held until my arrival, no matter how late I may have been. I'm pretty tolerant; I've worked in hospitality and customer service; and I know how customers (particularly Americans - I am) can act unreasonably. But this was extremely shabby treatment and it left a really bad taste (sorry about the pun).
I don't think I was out of line for being outraged, though I didn't want to embarrass my date by making a fuss. This was meant to be a civilian night out. We decided to give it a rest and go somewhere else.
But I'd be curious to hear from someone in the restaurant business or an international critic...as to whether I was in the wrong and/or the proper way to handle this type of situation?