Friday, April 10, 2009

Tabling the issue

Ken Levine has a gripe about restaurants and the seating of customers:

I’m one of those people that hate to be shown to a bad table. In addition to the discomfort of being by the kitchen or next to the screaming baby, I always take it as a personal insult. The host just assumes I’m an idiot and doesn’t know the difference. Or I’m too unimportant to be shown a decent table. Better to leave the good one open just in case the Pope should happen in off the street.

This caused a number of bells to go off in my head, as a former restaurant manager, so here's what I wrote in his comments thread:

Not sure if this has been mentioned in the thread (I did read through it all but may have missed it), but all restaurants have bad tables, and all restaurants are aware of their existence. The problem is that bad tables are unavoidable; if you open a restaurant, you WILL have a bad table or two somewhere in your dining room. It's a fact of life. Like gravity.

The big factor that isn't mentioned here, I think, is that many, if not most, restaurants divide their dining rooms into "sections", with each server taking a particular section. This is to avoid the servers having to bounce all over the entire dining room and helps to ensure that no customers will be overlooked (if a server knows that this cluster of tables right here is his responsibility, then he presumably won't fail to notice a new group of people sitting in his station).

Now, most restaurants I've worked in rotate the stations so that you don't have the same person waiting the same section of the dining room each and every night. Thus, every night, someone else gets the section with the bad table or two. But here's the rub: hosts are trained to avoid filling sections too quickly -- i.e., you try to avoid giving a server two or three new tables in succession, which suddenly causes them to get overworked and make it possible to overlook customers.

This also implies that hosts will attempt to seat customers at the bad tables. They do this not to screw those customers, but to try to keep the serving staff evenly worked through, and to make sure that the poor server who has the crappy table(s) that day still gets a chance to earn some money. Believe me, if you're the server whose section includes the table everybody asks to be moved from, you take home less money that day than you would otherwise, through no fault of your own.

All I'm saying is that when you get put at a crappy table, there's a very good chance they're not assuming that you're too stupid to know it's a crap table.

Restaurants have crappy tables for the same reason that hotels in the Bahamas still have rooms that overlook the parking lot instead of the ocean. And they try to get customers to use those tables for the same reason that those hotels book those rooms.


Earl of Obvious said...

I bet your explanation was lost on Ken. He, like too many others, seems to feel that he is at the center of the universe. "I was put at the bad table because they don't like me".

Ego and pride are obstacles the enlightened must overcome.

Damn, I am insightful. I just made the best post ever. I must be...

just kidding

Earl of Obvious said...


A great mind

SK Waller said...

Except if you're a woman dining alone, or worse, two women who appear to be a couple. We've been seated at the worst table, nearest the door with the draft and with all of the other "man-less" women with screaming kids, only to watch, moments later, every couple with a man at the helm taken to the best tables.

We politely ask for a better table and are always accommodated.

It's a common complaint of women.

fillyjonk said...

And sometimes bad tables become bad tables unexpectedly.

I remember a meal out with my parents a few years back - it was the last day of my visit and we wanted to have a nice dinner out.

Unfortunately (and in no way could the seating person forsee this), the guy at the table next to us was talking to his travel agent on his cell phone. Apparently something was not going this guy's way, because he became progressively angrier, more abusive, and more profane (and obscene) in the language he used with the person on the other end of the phone.

Servers hurried over and tried to persuade him to be quiet - as there WERE other people dining in the restaurant, even if this guy's enormous ego blinded him to them - but it didn't help much. (I think he finally shut up after a manager told him he had two choices: quiet down or be escorted out, by police if necessary).

(And I'll say: were I that guy's travel agent, his next flight, he'd find himself routed through Nome, Alaska, Atlanta, Georgia, and Columbus, Ohio before reaching his final destination.)

The servers were all very apologetic to the other tables but gee, it wasn't their fault that a giant sucking vortex of ego showed up at their restaurant.

I will say - to follow up on Steph's comment - there are a couple restaurants around here I only ate in once, because they acted as if a woman dining alone was an aberration against nature. At one of them I waited nearly 10 minutes - during a late-lunch period - for someone to even come to my table and acknowledge that I was there. "We thought you were waiting for someone" was the lame response. Gee, then why did I tell the person seating people that I was alone? Grr. But in cases like that, I just vote with my wallet - eat at the places that treat me like a valuable customer and avoid the places that treat me like something best avoided.

Earl of Obvious said...

At least you did not include Cleveland, Ohio in your junket from hell, fillyjonk. Most people would find an unexpected trip to Cleveland to be a down right brush with paradise.

Earl of Obvious said...

It is hard for me to dine alone. When there is no one to talk to my eyes will wander while waiting, and almost ALWAYS I am caught looking at some ladies boots (especially if they are those thigh high boots grr) or something that inspires the person to think I am a creep.