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Readers weigh in on properly seating guests

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In the May issue, editor Michael Sanson was confused by a restaurant that provided only eight-tops on its rooftop patio. Perhaps the larger tables would have made sense, he said, had communal seating been mandated, but that wasn’t the case. He asked readers about their seating policies. The following are excerpts from some of their responses.

I have been running my family’s restaurant full-time since 2000. We seat people who don’t know each other together all the time. However, we always ask first. Occasionally we get folks who prefer not to have strangers join them; others share your opinion and are excited to meet new people. I think the key is to respect the customer’s choice.

They often do things that may not be good for our business, but we all know the customer is always right. So when people don’t want strangers joining them, even though there are people waiting outside in the cold, I respect their choice and hope they enjoy their time in my restaurant. It’s not often folks won’t share, but it does happen.

Jim Flury
Jim & Milt’s BBQ
Tallahassee, FL

I can’t imagine having only eight-tops in any restaurant, inside or out. We have what we call our Compadres Table, which we offer as communal dining. However, there is very little interest from our guests. The table usually sits empty unless we have a large party of eight to ten.

Rick Enos
Compadres Rio Grille
Napa, CA

I work in downtown San Antonio in a small deli/ restaurant where we ask customers to share tables. Many people decline. I keep going down the line asking and some people get on board. I have been known to ask, “You won’t bite will you?” and everyone relaxes more.

Debbie Hahn
General Manager
San Antonio, TX

I have been reading your articles for several years, and you have made me look at my own habits, as well as be more attentive to guests’ needs. Your article about communal dining hit the nail on the head. The restaurant that you experienced is not only needlessly making people wait for tables, but sounds like it has completely mismanaged its demographics.

There are a lot of restaurants out there doing things right by taking care of guests and making them feel welcome, but there are also many that forget they are in the entertainment business. The part they play in a guest’s experience is crucial for our industry, not who they are or what their house rules are. They need to remember that the guest comes first, not their egos.

Bill John
Executive Chef
Scott’s Seafood Grill & Bar
Sacramento, CA

Regarding your editorial on correct patio seating, there seem to be two problems. The first is a holding bar with six seats. In an industry where everyone is trying to increase their check averages with alcohol sales, a bar with six seats, no drink rails or bar-stool-height seating would seem to lack an area for spontaneous socializing and informal guest interaction (the buzz). On the other hand, setting tables up for groups and then trying to blend separate and individual dining experiences seems cumbersome at best.

It’s easier to pull two tables on a level deck together for group seating than to orchestrate lunch with strangers.

Remember: Dining together is the second most intimate experience you can have with another human being.

Charles Senkler
In my opinion, I would much rather have four-tops as they are more flexible. You can combine tables to accommodate the size group you are trying to seat.  

Jim Cadelli
Taliano’s Italian Restaurant
Fort Smith, AR

I wanted to share an experience at a St. Louis popup dining concept. We went, and to our surprise, there was communal seating. My initial reaction was a bit snobbish. I had made dinner reservations for a chic evening out, and the menu was not inexpensive. I expected some privacy for the price. When we were seated, the group to our right was obnoxious, loud and kind of rude. Thankfully, they left, and the couple who replaced them was awesome. We met some great people we might not have otherwise spoken with, which was wonderful!

Though it ended up a great experience, I have really mixed feelings about it. If we had the expectation of communal seating, our minds would have been totally open and prepared for the evening. We wanted to chat about an upcoming wedding, and our “chat plans” were thwarted. This wasn’t necessarily bad, since we enjoyed our neighbors.

But I’m strongly of the opinion that making the seating style known is important. People dine out for different reasons. Sometimes it’s to celebrate, sometimes it’s to just enjoy a meal and sometimes it’s to conduct business.

I think we would have chosen a different time and place to have our conversation had we realized the seating was set up in this particular manner.

Leneia Weston
Catering Manager
Federal Reserve Bank
St. Louis

We have designed a 14-seat communal table at Avalon Bistro that sits alongside our new open kitchenette. It’s especially for walk-ins (no reservations). That means if you’ve had a long day, you can decide on the spur of the moment to let us do the cooking. It will be available on a first come/first served basis.  

When you’re sitting at the communal table, you’ll be able to watch the action. That makes it the ideal spot for cooking classes, cooking demonstrations and chef’s tables, where we’ll cook an off-the-menu dinner based on the likes/dislikes of the customer.

John Brandt-Lee
Avalon Restaurant
West Chester, PA

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