Restaurant patrons need their space

By Jeni Marinucci

Dining can be an intimate experience, but patrons usually like to limit that intimacy to their immediate parties. However, it’s becoming harder and harder to do so, with the new trend of restaurants creating closer-quarter dining areas. Some restaurants are now cramming as many tables physically possible into smaller dining areas, and the reasons are understandable. It’s all in a desire to seat as many patrons as possible in order to serve more customers and to watch profits grow, but is the trend starting to lose its allure?

A recent op-ed run in The Washington Post and syndicated by the Toronto Star showcases the increasing frustration with being wedged into a too-small space to bump elbows with strangers at dinner. The uncomfortable seating situation is addressed, somewhat directly, by writer and patron Tom Sietsema:

“To access some of the more tightly packed tables, anyone who’s not a string bean is forced to enter seats sideways, sometimes on tiptoe, and invade a neighbour’s space one of two ways: by butt or by crotch.”

Sietsema notes that while it’s definitely an issue for restaurant owners to consider, they’re not the only guilty parties; airlines too have started decreasing space for customers, despite the nation’s growing size. He references a recent Zagat survey outlining diners’ turn-offs when visiting restaurants and at the top of the list are “crowds.”

Additionally, the Post story mentions a 2009 study based on NYC restaurant Public, which found that “diners spent less time and less money at seats that were close together.”

Javier Candon is the owner of Joselito, where he created a close-quarters dining room earlier this year. It didn’t last long however, and despite his aim to “evoke Old World café charm” he says it created only chaos, with “servers (who) bumped into one another, silverware routinely fell to the floor and at least one chicken consommé created an oily slick when a diner bumped into a tray holding the broth.”

End result: Old World Charm = 0; frustration level = 10.

So while long banquet seating may have an appealing esthetic and have some potential for increased profit due to higher seating capacity, what you may get instead is fewer returned customers, and potential dry-cleaning bills for soup-covered pants.