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Mar 25, 2008 09:34 PM

Threesome at a Two-Top

This was mentioned on an L.A.-area thread and has happened to me / us several times as of late - I'm interested in getting feedback about what might done, if anything.

I live with two other adults and we dine out, together, at least one night a week (often more than that). We tend to expect that we'll be seated at a four-top (since I've yet to be somewhere that has special set-ups for three diners) and, if we're walk-ins, will wait for a four-top to be available rather than maneuvering into a two-top. However, since mid-January, we've been to four different restaurants in the L.A.-area - each time with reservations for three people - and found ourselves being ushered to a two-top that has had an extra chair drawn-up and an extra place setting crowded onto the table.

Needless to say, we decline being seated where we'll be squeezed in and uncomfortable, and ask for another table, preferably a four-top - sometimes one is available (with little or no wait) and twice we've been told that there will be a long wait for such a table (in the latter situations we have left and are not likely to return).

Is it unreasonable to expect that three guests would be seated at a four-top rather than wedged into a two-top? Should I start mentioning, when making reservations, that we'd like a four-top?

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  1. Wedged onto a two-top for 3 is rude, unless you've been forewarned (eg. we're full, we only have tables for two left, but we can add a chair for your extra guest). If you made a reservation and got wedged, you're totally right to have left or otherwise expressed your displeasure, We dine out quite frequently with my widowed mother and I certainly wouldn't tolerate being crowded onto a small table intended for two.

    1. get devious and make reservations for 4 with a "last minute drop-out" when you show. never had that problem with odd numbers in my City of All A$$>>!pes (DC).

      sounds like they're straining to maximize covers at all costs.

      request a booth if they have them.

      4 Replies
      1. re: hill food

        >>Is it unreasonable to expect that three guests would be seated at a four-top rather than wedged into a two-top?

        Absolutely not. Anything less is unacceptable. Don't settle or walk out.

        >>Should I start mentioning, when making reservations, that we'd like a four-top?

        You shouldn't have to. As hill food says, make a reservation for four if the restaurants want to treat you like children.

        1. re: dolores

          dolores, I'd have thought your response would have been more along the lines of agreeing with the OP about leaving and not returning. I agree they should, when making a reservation, get a table large enough to be seated comfortably, but I don't agree that lying to the restaurant is the right course of action. Especially since they won't be returning to restaurants that have already handled them this way.

          I'd take to asking when making the reservation whether they intend to seat you at a table they normally use for two people and squeezing in the third person, or whether they intend to seat you at a larger table that will allow enough space for comfort.

          1. re: ccbweb

            ccbweb, that was my first response of the two. Then I reread the OP's who said that this was occurring at more than one restaurant, and thought he/she might run out of restaurants!

            But yes, your direction of indicating their table preference at reservation is of course the more civilized way. Still and all, it shouldn't be necessary.

            It seems more and more of the responsibility for a good dining experience is being transferred to the diner.

        2. I agree with the others. We all need to unite and teach the restaurants that this is not going to fly. If I have to eat at HOME to get good service all the time, I will.

          2 Replies
          1. re: rockandroller1

            Right on, Brother! For Crikey's Sake...there is no room on most two tops these days for your bread plate and the bread. What are you supposed to do when you are a party of three at one of these, balance your dinner on your knees? We're mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore!!! You hear us restaurant owners and managers!!!! :-)=

            1. re: Servorg

              LOL! Well, you know what I mean. I guess I'm in an overly zealous mood.

          2. Making a reservation for four when only three are showing is as bad as placing three people at a 2-top. Jfood does not recommend lying as the first step to a good meal.

            Make the reservation for three and tell the person on the phone that you will not accept a converted 2-top. If on Opentable place in the comment section.

            When you arrive remind the host(ess) of this request.

            This should not be a battle of "gotchas".

            If the restaurant then tells you that there are no 4-tops available then you can decide to leave or stay and squeeze.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              my option was kind of snarky/passive-aggressive.

              1. re: hill food

                Of course, you didn't start this fire fight, hill food. Jay may be right, but some of these restaurants are not going to accmmodate you with an "up front" approach. In that case your "work around plan" is a fair response. I see the three people sitting down at the 4 top and then one of them pulls out their cell phone and mimes having a short conversation. I would probably see this after drinks and maybe app's are already on the table. Then the "cell phone mime" can inform the staff that their fourth just called and unfortunately got caught in a wood chipper on the I-95 and wouldn't be able to join them for dinner after all.

              2. re: jfood

                while i agree with you on principal, why should anyone who makes a RESERVATION be forced to decide whether or not to dine there based on not receiving adequate seating? that is even more ridiculous. if the three of them want to dine somewhere where reservations are necessary, why should they then leave due to this issue only to be stuck eating somewhere inferior? that in my mind is even worse.

              3. I don't think it is acceptable either, but I wouldn't necessarily lie and say you will be four, especially if it is a place you'd like to come back to more than once: in the long run, that doesn't let the restaurant know that you vote with your dining dollars and don't find being crowded in like little kids to be acceptable.

                I'd be upfront when making or confirming the reservation: "the last time the three of us dined together, they tried to put us at a table for two. We find that unacceptable and need a table that is comfortable for three adults. Is that going to be a problem?' If they are at all hesitant about it, tell them thanks but no thanks.... and if making it on Open Table, put a notation that 'we'd like a table that is large enough and comfortable for three people please, not a converted two top. thanks' . I'd even consider calling and reminding them when you reconfirm.

                IWhen you arrive, if they try to give you a two top, just say, 'I'm sorry, we have a reservation for three people, not two people, and that is a table for two.' If they refuse to seat you immediately at a four top, I'd consider etiher just leaving or , better yet, ask to speak to a manager, and tell him or her apologetically that you'd really been looking forward to dining at the restaurant in question, but can't stay because your reservation isn't being honored.

                Yes, it seems like a hassle. But just pretending to be four isn't going to get the message out that this practice is unacceptable. (and yes, I think leaving was the right choice when they told you there would be a long wait).

                If you don't have a reservation, then I think you need to be more flexible at a crowded popular spot, but you still of course have the option to just leave, saying politely as you do so, 'thanks, we can't fit at that table and will come back another time'.

                12 Replies
                1. re: susancinsf

                  i think that susan's approach is the best, but if i had to choose, i'd be siding with the restaurant on this one.
                  by seating the three of you at a four top, the restaurant looses the revenue of the fourth (empty) seat at the table. if they are full, that is pretty undesirable, and many people do not mind or percieve this as a big problem. (i wouldn't care at all, for instance.)
                  if you feel strongly about it, you should say so when you reserve. if the restaurant is too busy to accomodate you, you can either find a fourth person or go elsewhere.
                  it is just plain wrong to reserve for four when you only have 3. that just shows no respect at all. i never get the desire to manipulate the restaurant into doing what you want. do you not think that they are, uh, professionals? professionals who are there to make a living? are you not aware that they make choices based on sheer economics? this is just one of the many choices that have to be made sometimes.

                  1. re: pigtails

                    Customer goodwill is worth an infinitely larger amount of money in future receipts to a restaurant than any revenue lost with one seat at a four top going unused while three people dine. If you lose 3 customers over making a decision that jams them onto a table that won't hold their plates, drink and water glasses and any bread basket simultaneously without some serious juggling you have done unrepairable damage to your bottom line. Why risk it? Literally, a lot of 2 tops will hardly fit 2 these days. 3 is an absurdity.

                    1. re: pigtails

                      I was all set to agree with you when i recalled that an inordinate number of restaurants now do what a great many hoteliers do when trying to roject the illusion of a double bed. You have two two-tops shoved together (akin to the single beds with a double or queen-sized spread) and covered over with a tablecloth. Tell me again how they're losing money on the pull-apart tables intended only for two or four? (BTW - I write - professionally - about restaurants and hospitality business...I'm well aware of the economics of the industry)

                      1. re: Alice Letseat

                        not sure i completely understand the phrasing of your question, but if they could be having four ppl there - that would generally be more lucrative than three. that's all.

                        no, ordering extra food or wine does NOT make up for the extra person, because when you are seated, the restaurant has no idea what you will or will not order. they are just betting on the average ticket being $x per head.

                        for SOME restaurants, customer goodwill is not all that important - clearly! they'd rather be as full as possible than please you, sometimes. some restaurants can coast on their reputation or food or location or whatever, without needing to please 3 tops in order to stay afloat - and, let's face it, 3 tops are not exactly so common. i'm not saying it's right, but it is definitely a reality. for right now, today, the bottom line is how many people get in the door. and i do think that it is the restaurant's right to choose to do business that way, just like it is your right not to go there. sometimes when ppl start to talk about the injustices that occur to them in restaurants i feel that they seem to forget that the diner is not in charge! the illusion is that they are in charge and that they "deserve" things, but the reality is that the restaurant makes these choices, and you choose whether or not to spend money there.

                        i don't see how it matters if the 4 top is made of 2 small tables or not - if you're gonna be offended by that, that really is picky to the extreme, IMHO. not really like pushing two beds together (although i've never seen that done, either, but i've never been in the hotel biznez.) a table that seats 4 comfortably is a table that seats 4, no matter how many legs it has, right?
                        i think i might be misunderstanding you, alice?

                      2. re: pigtails

                        So what does this mean for a person dining alone? It would seem to imply that they should stay home or do take-out since there's no way they can maximize the revenue from the table.

                        1. re: Judith

                          Eat at the bar, Judith. Don't you pity those poor restaurants having to put up with inconvenient dining patrons?

                          Just kidding. If a person dining alone isn't happily given a table, leave the restaurant and never go back.

                          1. re: dolores

                            Some of these places plan on putting a small stool in front of your chair and calling that a "One Top".

                            1. re: dolores

                              LOL! My jaw dropped when I read the first paragraph of your post. I'm so happy you weren't serious.

                              It really seems as if dining out is more fraught with complications than I ever remember dealing with. Then again, I haven't been dining out regularly in 3 years.

                              1. re: Catskillgirl

                                I'm beginning to think that all these 'complications' are mostly created in people's heads. Then again, I only rarely have *really* bad experiences at restos... maybe just the luck of the draw :-D

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  same here. i rarely have these kinds of issues.

                          2. re: pigtails

                            A restaurant is in the service business. They need to accommodate dining parties comfortably. Squeezing 3 people around a table for 2 is unacceptable. If the restaurant owners are so greedy that they cannot or do not want to lose the revenues from a 4th diner at a 4-top, then maybe they should only allow reservations in even numbers to fit the exact number of seats at each of their tables. If you are a family of 5, too bad--either find a 6th person for your table or leave someone at home! Further, restaurants could then demand that each person sitting at the table order an appetizer, entree, dessert, and drink so they get the revenues they want, regardless of what the customers want.

                            1. re: brandygirl

                              The only thing in your response that I take issue with is the notion that its restaurant owners being "so greedy" that's at work here. Some diners wouldn't have an issue with being squeezed in and would, indeed, be happy to get the table and have dinner where they wish at the time they like. I can imagine many scenarios where doing the "service business" thing would call for squeezing people in at a table. At bottom, I agree that when one makes a reservation the restaurant should agree to take it only if they can reasonably expect at the time that they'll be able to seat the party comfortably at a table with plenty of space. But its not as straightforward as greedy restaurant owners causing problems.