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Threesome at a Two-Top

ElsieDee Mar 25, 2008 09:34 PM

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?

  1. h
    hsk Mar 25, 2008 10:11 PM

    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. hill food Mar 25, 2008 10:24 PM

      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
        d
        dolores Mar 26, 2008 03:58 AM

        >>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
          ccbweb Mar 26, 2008 05:15 PM

          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
            d
            dolores Mar 27, 2008 02:24 AM

            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. re: hill food
          lotta_cox Apr 1, 2008 01:00 PM

          i like the way you roll.

        3. rockandroller1 Mar 26, 2008 07:57 AM

          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
            Servorg Mar 26, 2008 08:17 AM

            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
              rockandroller1 Mar 26, 2008 08:46 AM

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

          2. jfood Mar 26, 2008 09:13 AM

            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
              hill food Mar 26, 2008 09:39 AM

              my option was kind of snarky/passive-aggressive.

              1. re: hill food
                Servorg Mar 26, 2008 09:50 AM

                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
                lotta_cox Apr 1, 2008 01:03 PM

                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. susancinsf Mar 26, 2008 10:23 AM

                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
                  p
                  pigtails Mar 26, 2008 04:51 PM

                  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
                    Servorg Mar 26, 2008 05:33 PM

                    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
                      a
                      Alice Letseat Mar 26, 2008 05:39 PM

                      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
                        p
                        pigtails Mar 26, 2008 08:49 PM

                        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
                        j
                        Judith Mar 27, 2008 05:18 AM

                        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
                          d
                          dolores Mar 27, 2008 05:27 AM

                          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
                            Servorg Mar 27, 2008 05:30 AM

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

                            1. re: dolores
                              Catskillgirl Mar 27, 2008 12:27 PM

                              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
                                linguafood Mar 31, 2008 12:45 PM

                                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
                                  lotta_cox Apr 1, 2008 01:04 PM

                                  same here. i rarely have these kinds of issues.

                          2. re: pigtails
                            b
                            brandygirl Mar 29, 2008 07:48 PM

                            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
                              ccbweb Mar 30, 2008 09:22 PM

                              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.

                        2. podunkboy Mar 26, 2008 08:36 PM

                          If a restaurant is making the assumption that seating 3 at a 4-top is losing the income of that 4th place, isn't it possible that those 3 guests seated at a 4-top might be happier and more comfortable, and more likely to order another appetizer, a nicer bottle of wine, after-dinner drinks? As opposed to crowding them around a too-small table and making them feel unwelcome and less deserving of comfort and service?
                          It's never been a problem any time I've been "in a threesome" (if you'll pardon the expression), we've always had a chair to spare. Maybe I'm just dining in a lower class of restaurant out here in the boonies.

                          1. Miss Needle Mar 26, 2008 09:38 PM

                            Try squeezing six people at a four-top, which is what happened to us a week and a half ago. Luckily, we were all on the smaller side which helped a lot and only a couple of people were drinking (less wine glasses on the table). In the restaurant's defense, DH originally had a reservation for four and called three days before to see if he could bump it up to six. They said yes. But we had no idea we were going to be squeezed at a four-top, especially since it was on the expensive side.

                            1. i
                              irishnyc Mar 27, 2008 05:42 AM

                              If I'd made a reservation for 3 and was squeezed in at a 2 top, I would absolutely tell the host it was unacceptable, and escalate to a manager if necessary. If I walked in and it was busy and 3 of us were seated at a 2 top, that's fine with me.

                              1. farmersdaughter Mar 27, 2008 08:49 PM

                                You are not being unreasonable. You are the customer and the one spending her money. Obviously the restaurant feels that it has enough business to be able to put diners in this type of (uncomfortable, literally) position. As the economy disintegrates into a recession, I hope we'll see less of this kind of behavior. As long as you have reserved for three, not two, I would be very clear when being shown to the table that we are a party of three, not two, and we have a reservation for three and would like a table for three. If they can't accommodate me, I would prefer to eat take out Chinese at home than sit for two hours at a tiny table. I would follow up with a call or a letter to the owner as well. But I agree with other posters that making a reservation for 4 is not the answer, but would definitely mention when making the reservation that you want a four-top and not a two-top, to address the situation in a non passive-aggressive way. But if I am a walk-in party of three at a busy restaurant, I'd take whatever I was offered if I wanted to eat there.

                                1. Caroline1 Mar 30, 2008 10:44 PM

                                  I don't see anything wrong at all with making reservations for four, then explaining that the fourth just called and can't make it. I doubt very much the restaurant will refuse to seat you and you have expeditiously avoided the problem of a table for two. Nothing wrong with that. Especially with restaurants you know will try to crowd you. Everyone deserves a bowl of soup without someone else's elbow in it!

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: Caroline1
                                    marmite Mar 31, 2008 10:03 AM

                                    But shouldn't one be able to enjoy the elbowless soup without having to lie to get it? I'd just go elsewhere if the restaurant can't/ won't accommodate.

                                    1. re: marmite
                                      Caroline1 Mar 31, 2008 12:41 PM

                                      For me it's more a matter of expediting things, not telling lies. I don't need to spend a lot of time on the phone explaining to a stranger how many are in my party, or how uncomfortable it is to be squeezed into the space normally alloted for 2/3rds of a human being. It's not a malicious lie. It's simply a way of making sure that those in my party are seated comfortably and conserving both my and the reservation clerk's time.

                                      1. re: Caroline1
                                        ccbweb Mar 31, 2008 02:15 PM

                                        And "I'd like to make a reservation for dinner for 3 at 6:45pm a week from Thursday and I want to be sure we will be comfortable, so if we'd have to squeeze into a table that's normally for 2 then we'd prefer a different time" or something similar takes too long? The person you're speaking with says whatever in response and you either have exactly what you want or decide whether the different time works for you or whether you move on to the next restaurant.

                                        Lying to the restaurant about how many people will be coming to eat there and then changing that number at the last minute creates more issues for the restaurant than I think it's reasonable to expect them to accommodate. Depending on the place, they'll order differently and staff differently. It's fairly easy to think "it's just one person" but if several people take that stance (and, clearly they do) then the restaurant is getting hosed when it doesn't need to happen. There will be enough times when honest and unforeseen issues change whether you can keep a reservation or whether the numbers you bring change...why make more than that?

                                        1. re: ccbweb
                                          Caroline1 Mar 31, 2008 08:21 PM

                                          So now the number of restaurants that try to squeeze OP and her companions into a table for two are NOT the problem? Okay. Say I'm the one who hypothetically is making the reservation for four knowing only three will show, but we won't be stuck with elbow soup. I'll order an extra entree to go. Will that help assuage your concerns for the restaurant going broke because we have one no-show in a party of four? Don't know what to tell you about the parties of four to six that are no shows every night of the week. If you run a restaurant, it's smart to do it with an eye to human nature. Some people are just not going to be there.

                                          1. re: Caroline1
                                            ccbweb Mar 31, 2008 10:56 PM

                                            I'm not arguing the restaurant is correct in planning to put 3 people at a two top when that party has made a reservation. And my concern isn't that the restaurant will go broke. I'm arguing that lying isn't a good practice to fall back on and that one should treat others with the respect they'd like to be treated with themselves and be straightforward about their expectations. On other threads, I've argued that one needn't worry about how much one orders or feel like they owe a minimum order to a restaurant. I don't think an outright lie is justified, is my point. Say what you want and if the restaurant says that they can't assure you of the sort of table you'd like, then move on to a different restaurant...that's true whether its a party of 3, or a preference for a table that isn't near the bathroom or kitchen or any other request you might have when making a reservation.

                                            1. re: ccbweb
                                              Caroline1 Apr 1, 2008 08:00 AM

                                              Okay, I've been censured by censorship (AGAIN!), so let's try this approach. Which do you prefer?

                                              CHOICE ONE:

                                              INT.MELANIE'S APARTMENT - DAY

                                              Melanie is on the telephone.

                                              VOICE ON PHONE (V.O.)
                                              Tavern on the Avenue.

                                              MELANIE
                                              Hi. I'd like to make a reservation for three.

                                              VOICE ON PHONE (V.O.)
                                              When would you like to dine with us?

                                              MELANIE
                                              Next Sunday around tenish.

                                              VOICE ON PHONE (V.O.)
                                              Sunday brunch, ten o'clock. We look forward
                                              to serving you.

                                              MELANIE
                                              Wait! Can you promise me you won't
                                              try to squeeze us into a table for two?

                                              VOICE ON PHONE (V.O.)
                                              That will depend entirely on table availability
                                              at the time of your arrival, madame.

                                              MELANIE
                                              But my great uncle Charlie will be with us, and
                                              he has a terrible tremor in his hands. He needs
                                              plenty of room while he's eating!

                                              VOICE ON PHONE (V.O.)
                                              Should we need to seat the three of you at a
                                              table for two, we will be more than happy to
                                              supply drinking straws for uncle Charlie with
                                              any liquids he orders.

                                              MELANIE
                                              No! I want a table for four, not drinking straws!

                                              VOICE ON PHONE (V.O.)
                                              Would madame like to cancel her reservation?
                                              .
                                              .
                                              .
                                              OR CHOICE TWO....
                                              .
                                              .
                                              .
                                              INT.MELANIE'S APARTMENT - DAY

                                              Melanie is on the telephone.

                                              VOICE ON PHONE (V.O.)
                                              Tavern on the Avenue.

                                              MELANIE
                                              Hi. I'd like to make a ten o'clock reservation
                                              for four this Sunday..

                                              VOICE ON PHONE (OS)
                                              Certainly, madame. Ten o'clock for bruch.
                                              Party of four. We look forward to serving you.

                                              1. re: Caroline1
                                                ccbweb Apr 1, 2008 08:10 AM

                                                I'd prefer: Melanie says "Hello, I'd like to make a reservation for 3 at 10 o'clock this Sunday and in looking at your availability would you please make certain that you'll be able to seat us at a table large enough for us to fit comfortably and not a table normally used for a party of two ."

                                                Ie. the truth.

                                                1. re: ccbweb
                                                  vvvindaloo Apr 1, 2008 08:33 AM

                                                  It is my experience that restaurants are loathe to make any sort of promise or guarantee re: seating over the phone (outdoor tables, booths, front room, back room, etc.). They look out for their bottom line and will seat customers according to availability and demand at the moment of their reservation. 99% of the time, a patron who has any kind of seating preference has to take their chances and request it when they arrive.
                                                  I don't think that anyone is denying that lying is disrespectful, but there are situations where one could argue that patrons are increasingly encouraged, however indirectly, to look out for themselves.

                                                2. re: Caroline1
                                                  lotta_cox Apr 1, 2008 01:06 PM

                                                  as much as I dislike feeling like I have to lie to get good service, i agree with you caroline.

                                                  1. re: lotta_cox
                                                    Servorg Apr 1, 2008 02:28 PM

                                                    And the customer didn't start this particular little battle, the restaurants did. I really don't feel too bad about countering the moves made against my care and comfort because some bean counter decides that there is a new way to skin this cat. This cat is putting on some kevlar and clawing up the furniture at the tiny table.

                                    2. vvvindaloo Mar 31, 2008 08:47 PM

                                      I know people who routinely round up when they need to make reservations for odd-number parties (for example, a party of 5 is reserved as 6) in order to avoid being squeezed at a table meant for one less person. I don't condone doing this, but I also know how prevalent the restaurant practice of "tacking on a chair" is, and I have a hard time feeling bad for them.

                                      1. Caroline1 Apr 1, 2008 04:22 PM

                                        vvvvindaloo, Lotta Cox, and Servorg, thanks for the kind words. I think I'm pretty much over my morning mad about being lectured about morals and then having my response deleted. I do value this board, and don't want to leave in a huff. But there are a few things I think may not be being looked at in a proper light.

                                        When you go to a restaurant, whether with or without reservations, by being in business that restaurant is offering an implied contract to provide you with a good meal in reasonable comfort. It's basically the same contract you have with a caterer, except the restaurant provides the roof and the furniture. Restaurants, especially high end restaurants that have high end overheads, often forget what their end of the contract is in order to maximize their bottom line.

                                        When I go to a restaurant, I don't want to be thought of as the bottom line. When I go to a restaurant, I am often the host with guests in tow. To use the caterer analogy again, would I allow a caterer to tell my guests they had to eat in the kitchen, or that they had to crowd in a corner to make it easier for the wait staff? No. Then why would I totally abandon my obligations as host in a restaurant and allow my guests to be boxed into a booth that doesn't allow them the elbow room to negotiate a knife and fork at the same time?

                                        My primary obligation as a host is my guests' comfort. If I have to lie by rounding up the number of people in my party in order to ensure my guests' comfort, then the lie is certainly the lesser of two evils. I will allow no one to impose discomfort on my guests. Period.

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