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.