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Not About Food 33

When should a party of 2 expect to be seated at a table for 4?

Mickey C | Sep 22, 201103:46 PM

I've never posted on this board and I just read the "before you post" caveat, but I really believe that this is an appropriate "Not about food" subject -- and I definitely don't want responses to be influenced by the specifics of the restaurant in question, which shall remain anonymous.

So on Tuesday night, my wife and I went to one of our favorite restaurants. It's a well-known popular upscale restaurant in NYC -- the kind of place where a reservation is probably a necessity on busy nights and a good idea even on a Tuesday. They have outdoor seating too, but only if the weather cooperates, so they don't take reservations for the oudoor tables on any night.

On Tuesday the weather in NYC was favorable for outdoor eating -- about 70 degrees, not much wind, not too humid. We arrived at 9pm (the posted closing time on Tuesdays is 10) and asked to sit outside. We were escorted to the outdoor section, then asked to sit at a bar-like area and wait for our table to be ready. We were assured that this would not take long -- the couple sitting at one of the tables had already gotten their check and would presumably be leaving soon. So we waited.

The thing was, while we waited, we saw that there were 5 empty tables-for-4 available, and at least two of them were set and ready to go. In most restaurants, we're not shy about asking to sit at a larger table if there's one available -- it makes things much more pleasant and you don't have to sit nearly on top of other people, as tables for 2 are very often arranged when space is at a premium. So after waiting somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, wondering what the sense was of making us wait, we asked the chef/owner/manager if we could have one of the larger tables. We knew the manager from our prior visits – very involved, the kind of person who takes an interest in every table being served during the course of the evening. But the answer was no, the logic being, in essence, that if they did it for us they’d have to do it for everyone. To us this made no sense. There was no guarantee when the two people at the other table would actually leave despite having paid already. More importantly, there was no chance on a Tuesday night with less than an hour until quitting time that so many larger parties would arrive such that one of them would have to wait for a table because of us. A somewhat less rigid rule seemed perfectly appropriate under the circumstances.

We debated on this -- very politely on both sides, but pretty adamant at the same time. If it had not been one of our favorite places and such a pleasant night for eating outdoors, we would have walked out, and we told the chef/owner/manager as much. This went on until the table for 2 actually opened up. Our total wait time was between 10 and 15 minutes. But in our opinion, none of it was necessary and it left a pretty sour taste in our mouths.

As it turned out, dinner was great (that’s why we stayed). They had changed the menu a bit since the last time we were there and we tried one new starter and one new main, both of them quite good. Very attentive service, which is the norm there, and ultimately a very pleasant experience after the first 15 minutes. But I still believe we were the victims of bad judgment – of the type of rigid bureaucratic thinking I’d expect from government employees (where I work), not from someone for whom creativity (and flexibility?) is critical to success. And (of course) we were the next-to-last table to leave. None of the tables for 4 got used after 9pm that night.

Comments and opinions eagerly solicited.

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