Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Restaurant Seating; Mafia Connections; and a Fable

I'm not a demanding person. I tend to be pretty flexible and easy going about most things. But when it comes to restaurant seating, I can be pretty territorial about staking my claim to the power seat; the chair that offers the most unobstructed view of the restaurant. My aversion to sitting with my back to the public makes me behave, somewhat uncharacteristically, like a little bitch brat.

When challenged, I'll use whatever means necessary to intimidate my dining companions into forfeiting their right to the coveted seat. With vague references to former mob connections, I use the “old habits die hard“ excuse. I tell them I'll watch their backs from my lookout position, because surely they wouldn't want the responsibility of watching mine, what with my dangerous past and all.

This doesn't work with everyone. My son doesn't fall for it and since he has an equally strong preference for the out-facing chair position, I have to resort to the intimidation-by-guilt method to get him to concede. Didn’t I endure 16 hours of hard labor to give him the gift of life? And, since I'm probably going to be the one to pick up the tab for this meal, the least he can do is grant his poor mom this one feeble request. This method only works about half the time.

As one of many functional elements in a restaurant's ambiance, seating should essentially go unnoticed. Like background music; it’s only noticeable when it’s annoying. But, even subtle annoyances can have a negative effect on a customer’s experience. I discovered this a few months ago at Hoovers north Austin location. While the food and the service were both good, for some reason I had no desire to go back again. I didn't give it much thought until a coworker mentioned how much he loves Hoover's food, but he only orders takeout since the chairs are so uncomfortable. So, that was it. The reason I had no desire to go back to Hoover's was because the chairs were painful to my delicate hindquarters. While I didn’t initially identify seating as the cause for my discomfort, the message got through to my brain where it was filed under the don’t go there category.

In my search for data on the subject of restaurant seating, I was surprised to find very little information regarding the importance of comfortable chairs. There were plenty of resources on table layout and interior design for maximum efficiency, but little reference to actual comfort. In fact, one report mentioned that less desirable tables, meaning those offering less overall comfort, were quite often the most profitable, encouraging higher turnover and a better spending per minute ratio.  A restaurant like Hoovers relies on moving tables quickly and that goal is reflected in the ambiance with bright lighting, the open dining room and hard chairs.

As long as we’re discussing restaurant seating, we should look into the reasoning behind bar stools. What possible benefit is derived from supplying bar patrons with alcohol while forcing them to balance atop extra tall, backless, three-legged bar stools? The original bar stool design just seems unfinished. Maybe some poor medieval bastard was working in his carpentry shop, trying to finish up a custom order for the local grog purveyor, when he fell over dead from a latent plague related complication. His untimely death left the incomplete chair with no back, only three legs and several loose bolts under the seat, a legacy known today as the swivel bar stool. At least that's the way it could have happened. I imagine the chair maker's last words were something along the lines of, “this chair is taking forever to finish.” Well, at least he got that part right.

Call me naïve, but what good is a high spending per minute average if you’re having to spend more on advertising to keep bringing in new customers? And why do restaurants offer tables of varying quality anyway? If there exists an architect who can design this then surely one could design a seating arrangement where no one is forced to sit with their back to a crowded room. Priorities, people. This is a matter of national security.

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1 comment:

  1. No matter where we are seated at a restaurant, my friend asks to be seated somewhere else. She says she always wants the best seat available, but I contend that we often give up the best seat for someplace inferior. It really is about her control issues. I suggested that she seek therapy. We haven't been to lunch since my recommendation. She is however dating a psychologist . . .