It happens at least once a week. A couple comes in for dinner, and as the host shows them to a lovely hightop built for two, the guy gestures to the neighboring table that’s twice the size and, you guessed it, meant for a party of four. The host’s smile flickers.
The table is empty, and the dining room isn’t (yet) full enough for her to be able to diplomatically say, “I’m sorry, but since there are two of you, I really can’t sit you at a four-top.” I’ve been there. I know how this will go. As a host, you’ve got to pick your battles, and this one is not worth fighting.
Her smile springs back to life, and she nods. The couple grins, and they both slide into the booth side of the table. So they can sit next to each other. While they eat.
Aw, that’s so sweet, you might think. It’s not sweet. It’s fucking ridiculous. It’s an incredible waste of space and, if we’re going to get really practical about it, money. Four people can sit at that table, but because Jack and Sally need to hold hands while they eat, the restaurant loses a potential party of four who would order twice the number of entrees.
It is even more ridiculous, however, because there is a designated space for people who want to sit next to each other when they go out for dinner.
It’s called the bar.
I’m always baffled by couples or small groups who insist on eating at a table. If all members of your party are over 21 and it’s not after 10 on Friday or Saturday night, when you’d likely have to contend with people ordering drinks over your head and bumping into your chair every five seconds, the bar is the best place to eat.
More Personal Service
I almost said better service, but that’s not true: What qualifies as good service is highly subjective: Some people prefer to exchange nothing more than the basic niceties and bare necessities with their server, others really enjoy some banter and back and forth conversation; but the thing about sitting at the bar instead of a table is that you have the option for both.
Table service isn’t designed for extended conversations between guests and staff, but the bar is — if that’s what you want. A huge part of my job is reading people; I know from the minute you’ve ordered a drink if you’re interested in chatting or would prefer to be left to your book, your phone, your date. And I respect that. I am rarely desperate for conversation while I’m at work, and even if I am, I’m certainly not going to foist my need for socializing on you. I talk to strangers for a living, I know what it’s like to be enmeshed in a conversation you just can’t wait to end. I don’t want that for you.
But if you are out by yourself and want to chat with someone, hey, man, I’m here for you. The native self-sufficiency of the bar means that unless I need to go talk to someone else, take an order, make a drink, we can talk all you want.
This goes for couples or small groups, too: Your date or friends aren’t any less fascinating because you also talk to your bartender. Good bartenders dip in and out of conversations almost seamlessly; sometimes you won’t even know we’ve broken the ice for you on what looked like a really awkward first date. If I’m doing my job right, you should never have to ask for anything, including an invitation to be social or left alone.
Fewer Time Constraints
The mathematics of the dining room are complicated. Reservations are only possible because they are based on predetermined lengths of time each party will be seated for: usually something like 60 minutes for parties of two to four. Basically, if you’re taking your sweet time at dinner at a table and it’s a busy night, you will be asked (kindly) to move it along.
There are no reservations at the bar. If you decide to get one more round, fine by me. There is no system to bar seats other than first come, first served.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can camp there all night. Don’t be a dick and sit with an empty glass and your check closed for 20 minutes while people are lined up for a seat. (Actually don’t do that, ever.)
I don’t feel the need to be coy about it: If you’re not spending money and taking a seat from people who would like to come and sit and spend money, your server is mad at you, and you should feel bad. Go home. This isn’t Panera. I am very liberal when it comes to giving my time, attention and energy — physical and emotional — to my guests. It’s what I love to do. But that bond of hospitality is built on respect. It’s no secret that bars and bartenders make money only when people spend it. Sitting at the bar well past the time you’re actively eating or drinking says, Fuck you, I don’t care about your livelihood or how you pay your bills.
It’s goddamn disrespectful.
But if you want to eat and drink and watch football for three hours? Awesome, man. Go Pats.
Dinner and a Show
Craft cocktails are, today, fairly ubiquitous in bars across the country, which is awesome: You can get a daiquiri anywhere! Amari are commonly stocked! No one’s going to shake your martini (unless you ask, which is weird, but totally your prerogative)!
Basically, people are doing really cool shit in bars, and not just with their cocktails or their inventory.
Craft cocktails are called such because, well, it’s a craft. There’s a lot of knowledge required to work in a cocktail bar. On top of learning the recipes, the flavor profiles of wines and beers and spirits, the zillion other weird and geeky things I won’t get into right now, there are the mechanics of actually putting it all together and making drinks. When we put it all together and get into the groove of service, we put on a helluva show.
We’ll add a little extra flair when we know you’re watching, but most of it is a personalized technique unconsciously honed from years of experience and the making of thousands of cocktails.
You’re never going to get that sitting at a table.