After writing the last bit about Ferran Adria, I realized El Bulli is out in the middle of nowhere, on a tortorous road, yet still is doing these experiments, to much fanfare and financial success. It is a perpetual mystery to us at what level of pricing, service, location, etc. do some of the ridiculous problems and complaints about food and service disappear.
There is certainly what William Grimes called "the Zagat effect", where people are willing to believe something is good because they've been told it is. But there's something more. I doubt you see this scenario much at Charlie Trotter's or El Bulli. 4 top comes into the restaurant, takes a table, messes up the setting, gets water, gets up and leaves because they can't find anything they like. Perhaps once a year, if that. We get it about twice a week, almost nightly in the summertime. And we do basic, contemporary American food. No foam, deconstructions, challenging ingredients, etc.
Taking reservations would help, but requires more staff, leading to more payroll, leading to higher pricing which our country bumpkins won't support. Raising prices might not be such a bad thing, but I'm not convinced it would raise the sophistication level of our customers correspondingly.
I know we're not alone in this. The book, "Wife of the Chef" by Courtney Febbroriello describes the same problem (and many others the small restuarateur has). How do we fix it ?