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Are you properly seating guests?

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I recently had the pleasure of attending SXSW, an annual music, film and interactive conference held in Austin. The weather was a perfect 78 degrees each day, which meant this pale Cleveland boy spent every moment he could eating on restaurant patios, terraces and rooftops. Since this festival draws thousands from around the country, a lot of people from cold-weather places had the same idea.

One restaurant where I lunched had only eight-tops outside. This struck me as unusual because there were no accommodations made for couples or smaller groups. As I waited for a table with my daughter, I noticed mostly couples arriving for lunch. And as I looked out over the sun-drenched dining area, I saw that most tables had only two or three people eating at each. What a waste of space and money, I thought.

I would have guessed with such an arrangement that there would be communal seating, but that was not the case. This scenario did serve to push those waiting for a table to the bar, so drinks were bought and money was made. Unfortunately, the bar had only six seats and the only other places to wait were in traffic-flow areas.

As you can imagine on a perfect day, diners were in no hurry to give up their tables in the comfortable sun. Long after they had eaten, they would remain at the table nursing a drink. This is one more pet peeve of mine—thoughtless customers who don’t give a damn about other customers or a restaurant’s right to make a reasonable profit. I don’t know how you remain so patient.

Eventually, a table came free. There were the two of us with six empty seats around us. Having been a passionate observer of the restaurant industry for 25 years, this was driving me nuts. I said to the hostess, “We have six empty seats at this table, if anyone out there waiting wants to join us, feel free to escort them over.” She looked at me and said, “What?” I had to repeat myself and she looked at me like I was crazy.

Within a minute, the hostess brought over two young guys, a surfer and a skateboarder. They introduced themselves and explained they were doing live webcasts from SXSW and asked if we minded if they did one on the spot. It turns out they are pretty well known in Los Angeles and we became part of the webcast. Most importantly, we shared food, pitchers of margaritas and lots of laughs. Later that night they hosted a great music-based party, to which we were invited. Big fun.

The initial reaction of the hostess tells me customers don’t want to share or do communal dining. The two L.A. dudes told us as they sat down that they thought two swingers might be looking for a little action. How odd. Our willingness to share a table is apparently not common practice. Or is it? Nevertheless, was this restaurant’s seating setup as foolish as I think, or am I missing something? Also, what are your thoughts on communal dining? Is it something you do or have tried to do? Email me your thoughts.

e-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH

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