The Art of Sitting Early

I’m not sure if its a new trend, luck, or my rapidly declining hipness. But why is it when you come to a restaurant early, say in the first hour after opening, they try to put you by the worst looking spot available. It happens from time to time, but way too often lately.

At Cafe Spaghetti they put us in the far left corner of an almost empty backyard. The type of corner I would put a misbehaved child. Yesterday at Lilia, the most awkward, isolated spot right by the entrance on the sidewalk with no other tables around. When I asked, “what about that area” pointing to the area with plenty of four tops, where there’s a bit more ambiance. She said “those are reserved…” and sort of stopped midway realizing we reserved as well. We ended up getting a table by the side.

Maybe an insider here can opine. How do they determine where to sit. Is it the timing of making the reservations, age, looks, or ?


One explanation I have read is that they have to fill every table, good and bad, so if they can unload the bad ones first, their job is easier. “Discussing” options for a different table is always a good option.


I generally make restaurant reservations and, when travelling, often do this quite far in advance if it’s a place where I particularly want to eat. Over the years, more often than pure co-incidence in my view, I’ve been seated at a shit table - like the one next to the toilets or the one next to the servers station.

I recall one dinner, at a Michelin starred London restaurant where we were not only next to the servers station but it was positioned such that every time a server walked past they banged into my chair. It was fucking irritating but there was nothing practical to be done by complaining as the place was full. After the meal, I asked the manager about their policy of table allocation and got some guff about giving priority to regulars (or celebs). And, no, even when pressed, he just didnt get it, even when I mentioned that I’d booked some two months prior.

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I think that, with the software they all have, they know quite a bit about you, especially including whether you’ve been there before, etc. & they can easily see what their night looks like (who else has reserved). I cant speak to Lilia (never managed to go) but our recent experiences at Cafe Spaghetti (we sit at the bar area and get to see/hear how the FOH are managing things) lead me to believe that its simply them trying to put pieces into an overall puzzle to their best advantage. I’d guess that, when you get there early, it’s easier for them to put new customers in the not so great tables & see if they complain, moving them if they do. No harm, no foul & everyone winds up happy. If they’re ok where put, then they have the better tables for others, especially regulars who they know have reserved for ½ or 1 hour later. Just my conjecture.
Of course, it’s possible that they’ve sized you up & made a specific decision. You wouldn’t believe how many times I turn to Ginny when we eat at a new place (to us) & immediately say “we’re not the target audience”. Sadly, with my advancing age & decreasing tolerance level , I find that the % of times we go to a place where we’re known (& liked) has increased dramatically. Having been to Cafe Spaghetti several times now & running into others that we know who are eating there, I cant believe that you were less desirable & that it was this reason you were poorly seated. :wink:


Now THAT would have pissed me off! But this ties in with what SteveR noted right below you.

My money is as good (albeit perhaps not as plentiful as a celeb’s!) as theirs. And the way to make regulars is to treat everyone with the same respect (provided the respect is given back by the diners as well). But like you, I tend to go to those places I’m (now) known and treated well.

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Oh, yes, indeed. There used to be a time Mrs H & I would look round the room and say “We’re old enough to be nearly everyone’s parents”. Now it’s grandparents.

As for repeats, yes, we have about a dozen places we return to but do like to try new ones now and again. Now, there’s our favourite South Asian place. I am on first name terms with the owner. At least, I call him by his first name. He calls me Mr Harters. Several times, I’ve asked him to call me John but he declines, stating that, in India, people are taught to show proper respect to old people. I’m not fecking old, Sandeep, just older!


I think that sitting someone at a shit table to see if he’ll complain is akin to knowingly serving an overcooked dry steak. If he’ll complain we’ll make another one. But there’s a chance that he wont, and maybe even like it like that.

If its a full room, and they take you to a shit table, its not only the luck of the draw, but there’s at least a certain ambiance. Quite different than doing it in an empty room.


There were two now closed restaurants in Boston’s Kenmore Sq. of which I have fond memories. One Saturday evening at Island Creek I was waiting for a couple who held the reservation. I was solo and yet I was promptly seated at a good table and offered a drink. It made for a very nice start to the night. None of the we won’t seat you until everyone in the party has arrived nonsense. When my friends arrived we ended up ordering more than we planned simply because the staff was so kind.
At Eastern Standard, I could order the least or the most expensive dish and there’d be no difference in the service. If they had a ‘bad’ table the food and service would compensate but I never had to complain about seating.


Yeah. I think its worth asking for a different table in this situation. You are right that overall, its nicer to be in a place where you are known and treated nicely, rather than as a second rate citizen and that it makes sense to go back to those places. I suspect many of us are hardened by years of eating in low budget chinatown and similar restaurants to indifferent and cold treatment due to language and cultural barriers. But when you are expecting an quality meal and good service at a high price point its a shock to be treated indifferently.

akin to most card games, get rid of the crap cards early, so that towards the end of the hand you have something that can win.

it’s simply a method to manage inventory. you reserve your most prized assets for peak traffic (and your regulars). you want to leave as much in hand as you can so that you have something tempting to offer when the time comes. it’s the often the same methodology when checking in to a hotel. earlier the arrival, the shittier the room all things being equal.

Have you been showering regularly?

Kidding, just kidding

At least once a week. At least! Heck, I even put my special Dolce cologne I use on very special occasions. I only have it for 10 years.

BTW, it was our third visit to Lilia. Instead of “Welcome back Mr Ziggy”, we get “Great, a boomer. Lets try this table with them. Probably bridge and tunnelers”

Pastas are still great, but the apps were kinda meh. The Cacio e Pepe Frittelle should be renamed to Cacio e Sale Frittelle


So you like the place? How does it compare to NP for you?

As to Ziggy’s original question, I can’t say I have experienced having an early dinner and getting a bad table as I rarely get to dinner before 8. A dinner at 5 is a late lunch. But that said I have a experienced getting a crap table at the later hours. If the place is empty I have no problem asking for a better table. I also have noticed that usually happens when were new to a place. My sense is that with all the software a restaurant soon learns who the regulars are and treat you quite nicely when you’re 3 or more times in.

Funny you mention this, because I noticed it on an early visit to El Fish Marisqueria. Almost the entire restaurant was empty, yet they tried to seat us at an awful table. Of course, that was remedied immediately and without demur when I pointed to a table I’d prefer. But why, I wondered?

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At the risk of reviving memories of my Paris posting about a newly minted one-star where (with several tables open downstairs before and after our meal) where my guest and I were seated upstairs in the English speakers’ ghetto, I will add my dismay at reading about these experiences.

I do give the benefit of the doubt to a totally empty restaurant where the maître d’ switches the table when the customer demurs (like El Fish Marisqueria where I think they are always open to a table choice, in my experience, if they have the choice open). However, restaurants where there is an open table, and I have reserved, and they won’t give me the table, does raise my hackles.

This is not the behavior I have seen at of my favorite restaurants (including fancy or starred places) where I have found that often, if there are several open tables, that the maître d’ will offer the choice of table before choosing a spot. Granted, this means that there is the potential that someone eating later will not get their choice of table, but I think this feels like a more equitable (and more confident) way to seat a restaurant.

Indeed, a few months after my terrible Paris experience, I had booked at another restaurant with a new star in Paris, and as my companion (same one, as it happened) and I were on our way to our table, I noticed a set-up, two-top, high-top table at the lip of the open kitchen and asked if we might sit there. The maître d’ seemed pleased that I had asked, sat us there, and we conversed with the chef during the whole meal. Made the evening extra special, and you know I will be back!


Illustrates that not every diner assigns the same value to every table. I remember when, before celeb chefs, being seated next to the kitchen was a insult, not the plum spot it is today for many people.


I think you might be overstating it, but I get your point and their attempt at giving a less desirable seating goes into my data bank when thinking about future visits. However, all their tables will probably be filled (therefore, someone will get the table they gave you - from their perspective, might as well be you), whereas no one should be given bad food. The 1st time we went to Cafe Spaghetti, we had reserved bar seats &, when we arrived, the bar was full. She sat us at the one 2 top basically on the path to the backyard & promised to move us as soon as a couple moved out of the bar (“soon”). When they did leave, a couple hovering tried to take the bar seats & I had to remind the FOH that we were reserved at the bar and had no intentions of staying at the temporary table. No problem… the other couple was informed that we were waiting for those seats and they waited for a table (not the one we vacated). I’m ok with that, even though she should’ve stayed on it & not figured we were fine at the hall table and wouldn’t care. She apologized, comp’ed a drink & subsequent visits have had no issues. Not sure what my point is, but I’m sure I have one somewhere :roll_eyes:


Of course, it’s possible that they’ve sized you up & made a specific decision. You wouldn’t believe how many times I turn to Ginny when we eat at a new place (to us) & immediately say “we’re not the target audience”.

It’s very possible. Sommeliers often say that as soon as someone walks in, they know what wine they are going to sell to them. (And indeed, my experience is that sommeliers can get very testy if you are independent in your choice of wines.)


Oh yes! This was Act II of the terrible Paris one-star ghetto experience: We ordered a bottle of wine, and the sommelier said it wasn’t cold (that it would take some 8 minutes to cool). He insisted we try a different bottle (though we clearly did not want to), and told us if we didn’t like it, he would cool the other one for us. He was pretty pissed that we didn’t like it and ordered the original bottle be cooled. :face_with_raised_eyebrow: