Common Restaurant Complaint Number 6: “I don’t like this table! Can I have a booth!” or “Is there anything by the fireplace/window/talking animal?”

When you go out to eat, you want everything to be perfect. I was a server for seven years at the Steak House and I worked very hard to make sure every customer I waited on had as close to a perfect experience as I could provide. It was in my best interest to. The better I did, the better my tip was. Honestly, this should be the goal of every server. Did this always happen in my case? Was I always “perfect”? Definitely not. Part of that is my fault. I am human and I make mistakes. Part of that is the restaurant’s fault because, lord knows, management wasn’t perfect. Some blame belongs to the corporation for inconsistent policies. Sometimes the people I worked with would makes mistakes (read: kitchen staff, hosts, bartenders, runners, etc.).

For most people, a perfect experience means your food should be prepared well, the server should be attentive and polite, and you shouldn’t have to wait to long for anything. These are completely reasonable demands. Common restaurant complaint number 6 addresses one of the first warning sign for restaurant staff that a guest with unrealistic expectations is dining in their establishment. The staff at the Steak House referred to these particular types of unreasonable people as the “Table Choosers”. Complaint 6 revolves around table selections.

A typical dining experience begins with a host saying hello and taking you a table. For most people, this is a simple matter. Unfortunately, there is a select group that will not be happy with any table the host brings them too. These people usually fall into three categories:

1) The upfront and honest types.

For me, the upfront and honest types are the most annoying. These customers, when brought to a table they don’t like, immediately start to complain about it. For example: “This is too close to the kitchen!” “This table is too dark!” “We are too far from the kitchen!” and of course “We want a booth, not a table”. This many not sound like a huge deal to someone who never worked in a restaurant. A table is a table right? Wrong. In the Steak House, each table was assigned to a server. The host usually has a rotation that fairly distributes customers to each server so everyone working can make money. Sometimes, when the restaurant isn’t fully staffed on a slow day, some of the tables in the restaurant will not be assigned to any particular server. In other words, hosts seat customers in certain locations for a reason. Usually the upfront and honest types will immediately asked to be moved if they don’t like their table. These same customers never seem to understand why it takes the hosts a minute to figure out where to put them. While seating a restaurant is not the hardest job in the world, there are a few things hosts should try to avoid doing. One of the cardinal rules of hosting is: don’t “triple seat” a server. Being “triple sat” sucks. That means three tables are sat in your section at the same exact time. As you can imagine, this makes servers insanely busy. Being triple sat takes years off your life. Obviously, when a server gets triple sat, it affects service for all the server’s tables. Again, this many not sound like a big deal to some, but I can feel my blood pressure rising as I write this. I still have nightmares about being triple sat. Usually the upfront types start pointing to tables they want to sit in and saying things like “I don’t understand what the big deal is! I’m the customer and I want to sit THERE!” The big deal is, by selecting your table, you may force the hosts to triple seat a server and your dining experience is going to suck because your server will be too busy to give you proper service… THAT is the big deal.

2) The silent but deadly types.

The silent but deadly types are just plain weird. Unlike the upfront and honest guests, the silent but deadly customers will sit in the table they are brought too, but will suddenly disappear only to reappear in a table of their choosing. The silent but deadly types are apparently too shy to complain and take a passive aggressive approach to their seating arrangements. These customers can lead to all types of problems. First of all, there is a good chance, on a slow day, they will seat themselves somewhere in the restaurant where no server is assigned to work. As a result, they sit in their chosen table for a LONG time fuming at the server who should be waiting on them (who doesn’t actually exist) before someone notices them and takes their order. Silent but deadly customers can also seat themselves into a section where the server is extremely busy. Again, these customers will sit, waiting for service, and generally get pissed at the slow waiters in the restaurant.

3) The driven by shiny objects and pretty things types.

Most of the time, these types of customers are driven by love: as in love of their children. At the Steak House, we had several “talking” animal puppets attached to the wall. I know. Don’t ask. The kids loved these animals and wanted to sit by them at ALL COSTS. It was not uncommon for these types of customers to be sat at a table only to ask for a different table “closer to the animals”. Also in this category are the customers who want to sit near windows or fireplaces. At the Steak House we had a very scenic view of a parking lot. Occasionally, we would have customers ask to be sat near a particular painting or photograph on the wall. It’s not like there was an ocean or something out those windows. We didn’t exactly have Ansel Adams’ hanging on our walls. But, inevitability, customers wanted to sit where they wanted to sit.

Sadly, the easiest way to deal with all three of these types of customers was to give them what they want and apologize, in advance, to whomever is forced to wait on them. You can forgive the parents who are just trying to make their kids happy. There is some nobility in that. Does that mean that I loved waiting on other people’s kids? God no, but that is a different story for a different day. The bottom line is, don’t be one of these people. The hosts are sitting you in specific areas for specific reasons. If you must change tables, be polite and patient. It will go a long way in avoiding spit in your food.


Anonymous said...

So you're basically telling me that if some idiot server sits me right next to the restroom, I have so sit there breathing in the smell of urine?!! Thanks, you've just given me another reason why I should avoid dining out: I have to tolerate a crappy table!

Mark Topping said...

Some good points in this particular blog. As a diner, I have asked to be moved to a better table. While I try to be understanding of the waiters' section (sorry, "server" is the most annoying PC phrase ever - "server" is even more degrading, implying you're a "servant". You guys act like you've been shot when someone calls you a waiter), some of the section assignments are pretty ridiculous.

Just because the manager or host wants every table in one part of the dining room filled up first doesn't make it fair to the guests. Why should I have to sit in the booth next to a whining kid or crying baby? Just because the restaurant doesn't want to mess up a table in an already "closed" section? Its convenient for the restaurant to stack every guest in one corner of the restaurant I guess, but it really does a disservice to the paying customers.

Or maybe they don't want to move you to an open section because they don't want to have to wipe down the salt and pepper shakers twice in one day? Good thing they make the Heinz bottles red now so you wouldn't have to refill the ketchup bottles too.

And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to shuffle a couple table assignments to make the diners happy. So you give waiter A an extra table now, then give waiter B the next group that comes in. It'll even out so the waiters aren't tripled up. It just takes a hostess or manager with half a brain (but they have to give a shit about the customers, which doesn't sound likely at chains like the "Steak House")

The "Steak House" you speak of sounds like a typical chain restaurant with one of those annoying managers walking around with a squigly key chain tied around her bicep. You know, Applebee's, Chili's, Outback, etc. Pretty well known for having micromanagers, which shows in the overall experience. That's why these suburban chain cookie-cutter restaurants suck for the most part.

Bottom line- I agree with you that most people who ask to be moved are pains in the ass. But not every guest should be pigeonholed as such. A large amount of diners care greatly about the atmosphere, and a good table away from the kitcher, waiters station, or restroom is a big deal. But I don't send glasses or silverware back for having spots on them, don't flag down the waiter (waiving my hand or saying "miss"), don't bitch to them, and I always leave a 20-25% tip.

I pay for the atmosphere. That's why I choose not to dine at places like your "Steak House" if I can avoid it.

Cool blog though. Just wanted to gripe from the customer's point of view on that subject. And yeah, I'm the one guy who actually uses his real name!

Anonymous said...

Well I am a host and this is why my job sucks. Customers are rude and inconsiderate to the servers. If they don't like their table then turn around and go home.