please be seated
- hotoynoodle Feb 3, 2007 11:17 AM
in an earlier thread today, the op described arriving early at an empty restaurant, with no reservation. the hostess swore the place would be full in 20 minutes and tried to seat them at a high-top in the lounge. so, they left and ate elsewhere.
how important is your table to your dinner? i understand not wanting to sit near the kitchen or bathroom doors. lots of folks don't like sitting near waiter stations.
once i asked to change tables at lunch because the july sun was broiling me through the waterfront windows.
but to me, the restaurant matters more than the seat.
what about you ?
Yeah, it matters. I feel insulted if I'm given a poor table in a not crowded restaurant. To me it's more of a service issue than a seating issue.
That being said, the food and the restaurant matter much more. Stella in Boston's South End has what, in my opinion, one of the better brunches in the city. Unfortunately, the winter sun comes through the windows at such an angle and at high wattage to quite literally force one diner to wear sunglasses and glint while the DC sits in brunch bliss.
After being bumped, dumped and thumped by waiters at bad tables, Jfood is pretty pickey on where he sits. Over the years i have had hot soup, leftovers spilled on me, been elbowed in the head by a passing busboy and have been leaned on while a waiter inputs his order at the wait station, and lets not forget all that silverware clanking in your ear. So YES, I care where i sit.
Fortunately mrs jfood is a looker and overly-pleasant so we split our duties. She is in charge of table grabbing and I schmooze with the host. It has worked out very well over the years. since she dislikes "bad" tables worse than me. She has to go home with the guy with the tomato soup on his head and that does not make for a fun time at home.
Boy do I hear ya. I hate being bumped into. So yes, the table does matter... it matters a lot.
I've seen my share of bad table disasters but my all time favorite was a poor woman who took a smoked trout to the head. Man, I wish it had been bass so I could then call it a weapon of bass destruction. After going to clean up, sitting back down and taking it like a damn good sport... a passing waiter emptied a tray of drinks into her lap.
oh goodness, are you particularly tall?
My 6'5" husband has had tomato soup spilled on him (down the back of his head/collar) and he gets bumped about a lot too -- his shoulders, knees etc just take up more space.
We're not particular fussed about the 'prestige' of the table but we prefer to sit where he can both fit, and be out of the way.
Also, we eat at ethnic restaurants that serve family style and we tend to order a lot, so most times a two-top isn't enough surface area for our food. Where we are regulars, they see us coming and seat us at a 4 top (and for this reason, we like to tip v well at our regular spots). It's not fun juggling dishes on a too small table but I understand it in some places.
No I am not tall, 5'8" but I think the male pattern baldness on the back of my head is being recognized as a bulls-eye by many waiters and bus boys.
As far a prestige table, I have no idea which ones are which. I was so happy to be at La Cirque for lunch 20 years ago sitting next to the doors to the kitchen because I got to look at all the wonderful food coming out. Who needed a menu, "I'll take one of those."
Now I want quiet, away from the crowd, do not bother me and DW in the corner. I also like sitting next to instead of across from Mrs Jfood.
Its annoying to walk into an empty restaurant and be told "oh, we're sorry, we are completely booked there are NO tables available" (unless they are having an Invisible Man dinner party ).
Now, its true that balancing reservations and walk-ins is a delicate art at best, and host/esses must plan for no-shows, late arrivals, early arrivals, and every other type of fickle customer.
However, just the other nite as a matter of fact, we were in a restaurant, had gone in just as they opened at 5pm, and were the first table seated. One other couple came in, leaving (a rough guess) 20 tables empty in the small restaurant. Another couple was seated about 15 minutes into our meal. A third couple came in a few minutes later and I overheard the hostess say "no tables available". Now, being almost 20 minutes into the first hour of being open, we are assuming the first reservations have either not showed, or EVERYONE was given a reservation at 6pm (which shows poor management and planning on the part of the hostess). As we were leaving and the other seated couple was on dessert (thereby freeing up 2 more tables in the next 5-10 minutes and leaving the entire restaurant empty at 6pm, ANOTHER couple walked in and was also turned away.
Now, take into consideration this was a cold, crummy mid-week evening in a tourist town (read: dead ) and the restaurant more than likely was NOT going to suddenly be hit with a parade of people streaming in..... well, you get the idea.
Also, as far as crappy tables, its awful when you are the first people in the place and are given a tiny table in a bad location. Did everyone else who made a reservation specify a specific "good" table? Or are you just being shoved into the corner?
SB, most people do not eat at 5pm during the week and you are lucky you can take advantage of such an early in by 5, out by 6, dinner as you describe. Most restos assume a 2-hour time frame for dinner. So let's use some basic queuing theory ro help you understand why the may have told you they were booked solid.
Crush time is normally 630-8 but it sounds in your town for mid-week this may be 615-700 for resos. Your resto has 20 tables (as you stated and they do not want all the tables sitting at the same time because then the kitchen gets slammed for apps and then 20 minutes later get slammed for entrees, making people who needed to wait angry. So the resto books the resos in an equal stream, (similar to a nice easy flow of water). In your case they probably have reso available on the 1/4 hour, so from 615-700 they have 4 "slots" to reserve with 5 tables available per slot. Since they sat you at 500 they figured, worse case, that table was available for the last 700 turn. You were out by 600 so you did not witness the 615 arrivals or later.
When the hostess turned away the people at 520-530, there was a chance that this couple would have still been at the table past the 700 resos and did not want a reso to wait while others, without a reso, were still at the table.
All of this assumes a leisurely dinner which may not be correct or the hostess had others reasons to turn away couple #3. What she should have done was tell couple #3 that she would gladly seat them but that they would have to vacate the table by 645. This has happened to me on several occcassions and although it is not the best solution, honesty by the hostess allowed those with reso to eat when they reserved and allowed me to eat.
Sometimes it is not readily apparent which is a good table and which is not. We were out Friday night. Bad weather, slow crowd, the table was fine. As things picked up, we found that we were next to a center corridor with frenetic servers rushing past. We'll be going there again, and we'll make sure we're away from this central passage.
Last Sunday we had brunch at a place where we had never been for brunch. We had been there previously, but not for brunch, so we didn't know the layout. Today, other plans running amok, we went there again. The hostess showed us to a table that was absolutely as far from the buffet tables as we could be while still being in the restaurant. Sharp hostess, she must have seen my look of dismay (I could have been scowling) and asked. I explained and she showed us a table much closer to the dessert table.
Both cases were not easy to know until you have been there.
Some older people find it hard to sit at a high top.Others have handicaps that may not be visible that make it difficult to sit on a high chair. So-there are lots of reasons to not want to be seated at a high top.
It is definitely a balancing act for the restaurant. For every unusual anecdote about an empty restaurant that refused to seat someone in order to honor later reservations, I'm sure you can find four or five opposite stories about restaurants that failed to honor reservations simply because they couldn't clear out dawdling diners.
Considering I've worked as a host, I'm not especially picky about tables. I understand that it's unreasonable to expect a choice table at prime time if you have no established relationship with the restaurant. It's one good reason to become a regular, and a useful gauge of how good a regular the restaurant thinks you are.
I will occasionally request to be reseated for a variety of reasons, usually obnoxious adjoining patrons, ill-behaved children, bad drafts. I have been known to walk out of a place that gives me a stupidly bad table when it's empty; hiring a host who's that inept does not bode well for the rest of the evening.
Two summers ago eating in the Hamptons with friends and an early 700 reso. Resto about 20-25% full. We arrived at resto and the hostess takes us to the farthest table next to the bathrooms. Mrs Jfood politely points to the table she would like, smiles and the hostess smiles back and gladly takes the four of us to the requested table. Over the next 60 minutes we watched 12 other people taken to the "restroom" table and 11 turned it down. You should have seen the hostess' smile when someone finally agreed to sit there. Priceless!!
At the end of the meal as we were leaving I stopped at the hostess stand and asked if the 12 people who turned down the table were the most, and was tonight particularly difficult to give that table away. She said it was about average and the bartenders have a nightly pool to see how many people turn the table down each night. The winning number tonight was actually 15 because people turned it down before we arrived.
Gotta give the crew credit for making it a game.
There are many reasons that restaurants put people at different tables, and reasons that folks want to sit certain places.
First, restaurants try to balance out the tables among the wait staff so that not all the guests are in one server's section, and fewer are in another's. Also, sometimes restaurants put people in certain tables to make an impression on the public, like putting folks in the window tables to make the restaurant seem busy, or just the opposite to make it inviting since it appears that there is a table available if you just walk in.
As to why people want certain tables, again many reasons. I do not like sitting in a booth, mainly because I am a large person and I don't like being squeezed into a booth where I have little room and can't move the table to give me more room (especially when my son who is also big is sitting on the other side of the booth.) Besides, I find booths to be less comfortable than a chair for the most part, even when there is plenty of room.
My wife is not comfortable in a tall chair or stool, even if there is a back to it. So the hightops in the lounge are out for dining. If we are only waiting there for 5 or 10 minutes, ok, but not to dine at. She wants to be able to have her feet on the floor, it is easier on her back. When we dined at Hugo's in Portland ME, we had to ask that we not be seated in the front of the restaurant since they only had hightops. I have longer legs and don't have the same problem. I also do not like sitting in the aisle so whenever possible, I take the seat at a table that is away from the walkway. Not that I'm that afraid of being bumped or spilled on, I just don't want to have my back to folks constantly going by me, servers or patrons, since being bumped is uncomfortable. I also do not want the seat next to the bar or the servers station if possible for the same reason. However, I have a friend who always sits near the bathrooms because he knows that that way he will get a look at every woman who comes into the restaurant at least once (obviously he is single) so he thinks it is the best seat in the house. Of course, since we tend to be in restaurants with hot bar scenes whenever we dine together, I guess he has a point, not that it matters to me, having been married for over 20 years. So I let him have the seat facing the bathrooms.
As a woman who used to travel alone this was a constant game I played with hostesses. Let me prelude by saying that I traveled in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan. Most of the cities I traveled in are less than 500,000 people( Often less than 100,000). I enter the estabishment and say that I am dining alone. I am offered a table in the bar. If it is 8:00pm on Thursday night and the resturant is at least one half full then I accept. If it is 8:00pm on Tuesday night and the resturant is less than half full, I will refuse. ( most of the cities I traveled to have peak dining hours of 6pm to 8pm on Monday through Wednesday) Now, I will be taken to the worst table in the resturant no matter what its size. In other words I go from the bar to a four top next the restrooms, kitchen, or family with misbehaving children. If I refuse this choice table, I will shown to the worst two-top in the resturant. If that table is not too bad, I usually give up and say yes. It is standard hostess traning and if applied correctly, i.e., on a busy night when the resturant's choices are limited I accepted it but when simply applied because that is what they do, it was refused. My problem with it was not the policy itself but that it was often applied without thought to the actual situation. A dining rush at 9:00 pm in Evansville Indiana on a Tuesday night is not very common.
I'm easy to get along with, BUT...
I have a walker, and I can't get into (or, more importantly, out of) a booth.
I'm glad to accept a table where I will be out of people's way when I park my walker - if I really like the restaurant, I'll even let them wheel it away until I need it, but I'm not shy about asking for the table I want. If I can't be comfortable while dining there, there are plenty of other places and I will leave.
I've left a restaurant in similar circumstances, Hotoynoodle. To me it's preposterous -- and more to the point -- insulting, for the hostess to claim a place will be 'full in 20 minutes' & offer us a sub-par seat. Restaurants should plan for walk-ins and not shun them. (We've been known to wait for hours for a great restaurant, or even go 'belly-up' to the bar for a bit of great nosh.) We utlimately chose to leave because the place looked unappealing with no one in it. Trust me, I will consciously avoid that restaurant in the future.
My husband and I tend to ask for the table we prefer out of the available tables when we are seated at area restaurants. We did have one place tell ask us if we could "finish our meal quickly" because they had a reservation coming in at 7:30. It was 6. I told them it depended more on how fast their kitchen was. And I actually appreciate it when we are seated away from other diners when we go out with my 9-month-old grandson because he IS a baby.
The table matters a great deal to me. I always request a quiet table when I make a reservation. I am soft-spoken and have ended up hoarse at the end of an evening of shouting across the table to be heard by my dining companions. I will ask to be reseated if the table is in a draft or has noisy/badly behaved customers nearby. Once, in an open-air restaurant we asked to be moved mid-meal because the table next to us had two chain-smoking guests who weren't eating, just smoking over their glasses of wine. The staff weren't surprised at all, seems they had been doing this most of the evening.
I'm usually pretty easy to please, as long as we are AWAY from the smoking section - since I'm asthmatic. We did have an ordeal recently - I was newly on crutches due to a broken ankle - first excursion out. We met another couple and their two kids at a Bucca di Beppo. I had made a reservation and requested a table near the door, due to my inept-ness on crutches. The "host" (I think he was just the first guy to pass through the waiting area) led us through the very large, totally empty restaurant to the very back room, because "that's where the big table is." If I could have kept my balance I would have smacked the smug smile off his face with my crutch. ;-)
I don't really care WHERE my table is in the restaurant, as long as it IS a table and not a booth... if I wanted a booth I would have asked for it. I'm about as large a person as can squeeze into a booth without cutting off circulation, and my husband is much larger so any host worth a darn ought to take one look at him and KNOW that we won't fit in. If we're led to a booth after asking clearly for a table, we just tell them we need a table...
And I hate to have my back to the open restaurant, but that's usually easy to fix - since there's only two of us I just make sure to sit at the side I want.
I don't want to sit near a bathroom, a kitchen, or a draft - and that includes the entrance. Other than that, it's more a matter of where around the table I am. I don't like having my back to the room, or being between two people.