Dear Restaurant Guru,
Last Wednesday my boyfriend and I went out to dinner. We asked the hostess to sit at a table in the bar; the area was empty. She seated us at a two-top; five minutes later she seated two people to our right and another five minutes later two people on our left. We were crammed together yet there were several empty tables around us. It was a $100+ dinner, and the seating affected our experience. What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
This is quite the conundrum. You’re in a situation where you feel cramped, invaded upon and uncomfortable, telling other guests that you’d prefer more privacy. What was the hostess thinking? Was this a well thought-out plan constructed by the evil restaurant manager?
First, my opinion; then my solution: Sometimes we give more credit to those doing their jobs than we should. How many times have you seen a co-worker do something baffling? Why is Chad-from-accounting reheating his tuna sandwich in the microwave? Doesn’t he know the bread will get soggy?
The short answer is the hostess wasn’t thinking. She was simply filling up tables without regard to how a guest may feel about becoming temporary roommates with the neighboring table. Her boss may have told her to seat tables near the window to give the impression that the restaurant is busy. Or perhaps, they were expecting a larger group? Either way, the problem starts there. So what do you do?
In a situation where you’re the first group to be seated, you have no control as to where the next group sits. Perhaps, the onus is on the next couple being seated, to communicate they aren’t comfortable sitting shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger? (I put a small amount of blame on them.) The third couple doesn’t perceive it’s unusual at the moment and only realizes their discomfort after the menus are being handed to them, which is too late.
As a diner, you have a very small amount of control in your ‘seating’ destiny. If the place is empty, I typically scope out the floor, find the table that best fits my mood and ask to be seated there. If I’m on a date, I encourage the host to seat us somewhere comfortable and quiet, and I make sure to communicate the importance of our privacy. I may also put notes in my reservation. If I’m making a reservation online, OpenTable, Resy and Yelp offer that option. Communication is key, and most restaurants are happy to know a little back-story from their guests.
But let’s say it’s a spontaneous meet-up with a friend, and you still want a table-buffer. It’s ok to ask the host if the restaurant plans on being busy. They, most likely, will offer up information that will give you insight as to how the dinner service will be that evening. That’s where you might want to speak up and guard your territory.
Let’s be honest, the real problem was with the host, training and management.
Host of the NC F&B Podcast.