Photo: DjelicS (iStock), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio
The Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.  

Salty, I took my mother out to a small French restaurant this past Friday for her birthday. It was just the two of us (my father is dead and my brothers are, honestly, kind of deadbeats who don’t want to put on collared shirts). Anyway, we had a reservation even though the restaurant wasn’t very busy at this senior-friendly early dinner time. The hostess seated us at a smallish two-top table against the wall, but I saw there was a more spacious table—set for two—open in the middle of the dining room. I asked if we could sit there. The woman said no, that it was being saved. For the entire maybe 90 minutes we were eating, I didn’t see anyone seated there. What gives? Why didn’t we get the nice table?

Thanks,
Corner Table

Dear Cramped,

Something non-servers don’t realize is that a restaurant’s table plan is like Jenga. Or Battleship. Tetris? Whatever, it’s a complicated puzzle-game, is what I’m saying. A restaurant wants to maximize every single seat and table in the place, especially if it’s small. In an owner’s dream world, there’s an ass in every seat at every moment from opening to close. That’s how they make money. We’ve got this seating shit down to a science.

So, here’s what I’m guessing happened with you and your mama. I bet that luxurious table set for two was actually a four-top (that’s restaurant-speak for a table for four). The reason the restaurant didn’t want to give it to you is because if the host sat you there and a party of four walked in, she might not have room for them. Instead, she put you at a two-top to keep that four-top free for a potential walk-in party of four. Why it wasn’t set for four, I can’t say. Maybe someone didn’t want to polish those extra two place settings?

Here’s another possible scenario. You said you ate early, like 5:30-ish? Maybe there’s a high-roller pair of regular customers who have a 7:15 p.m. reservation that same night. The restaurant wants to keep that snazzy two-top for them, but doesn’t want to rush you out the door in less than two hours. So, they put you at a regular two-top and save the plush one for the fat cats.

If I sat here long enough, I could come up with a dozen possible reasons the server didn’t seat you at the big table. Maybe it’s the draftiest table and she didn’t want your mom to whine about the cold. Maybe that middle table tends to get bumped into, and that could disturb your mom’s cane. (I’m pretending she has a cane). Staff knows the restaurant’s layout better than you do, and sometimes you’ve just got to take what you’re given.

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Did the table suck? Were you uncomfortable? If not, then quit dwelling on the table you didn’t get and enjoy your mama’s company. If you were really cramped, then you could have spoken up to your server or manager and asked again to be reseated.