The next time you’re dining out at a nice restaurant and the hostess seats you next to the restrooms, don’t be insulted. That table just may be the best in the house.
That’s the story at Tony’s, at any rate, where a complex social hierarchy demands an equally complicated seating plan in the dining room each evening. Accordingly, the best seats in the house are close to les toilettes, where you can watch the parade of fabulousness march in and out of the powder room and the nearby kitchen, its servers emerging with towering soufflés or monstrous cuts of meat.
This structured dining arrangement also means that there are “bad” tables at Tony’s, of course. These would include the ones farthest away from the intricate flower arrangement and 12-foot tall Jesus Moroles sculpture “The Three Graces,” and the ones furthest from the restroom. Here’s another tip: the closer you are to the hostess stand, the closer you are to social suicide.
Dining arrangements are much looser elsewhere, luckily, and plenty of front-of-the-house staffers deny that their eateries even have a “best table.”
“In my restaurant, there are no bad tables,” says Staci Stephenson, who’s been a server at Fleming’s for nearly four years. “I think it’s up to the server to create a nice experience along with the rest of the staff.”
Front-of-house veteran Linda Salinas, currently ensconced at La Griglia, agrees. “What’s the best table?” muses Salinas about the power-lunch destination. “I don’t know. A lot of the time, great tables aren’t exactly about where you’re sitting, but how someone makes it the beginning of a great experience.” In years past, that someone was the maître d’, the person responsible for overseeing the restaurant’s entire front of house, including assigning guests to the perfect tables.
“The maître d’ is dying in Houston,” contends Salinas, who learned how to seat guests from the head captain at Brennan’s years ago. “As a maître d’, you’re the shepherd. You’re there to create the moment. But the art of the dance is getting lost.”
These days, it’s usually up to patrons to ensure they’re getting the “best table” for themselves. If you want a quiet table for your romantic evening, request one when you make the reservation. If you want to sit in the thick of the action, just say so. Prefer a booth to a table? Speak up.
“Most restaurants should be very accommodating to requests for certain areas,” says James Watkins, beverage director for the Cordúa group of restaurants that includes Américas and Churrascos. “Be specific with your preferences when making a reservation. Open lines of communication create better dining experiences for you and the service staff.”
Remember too that one diner’s best table is another’s ruined evening. At Brasserie 19, the favored spots are at the very front of the restaurant along the bank of windows, the better to view the parade of haute couture that marches through the dining room each night. But those who hate getting seated by the front door may find the quieter, so-called less desirable tables near the back, with a view onto the oyster bar, far more pleasant. And, as with Tony’s, the best tables may not be where you expect.
“Interestingly, the tables by the bathrooms are our two most popular tables,” says Blake Lewis, general manager at Kata Robata. Lewis credits the tables’ popularity with their view of the sushi bar and the bustling dining room—and possibly the very proximity to the loo itself. “Fortunately, we keep clean-smelling bathrooms.”
And sometimes you just don’t have a choice in the matter, which can come with its rewards as well. Over at small bistro Roost, chef/owner Kevin Naderi laughs: “Every table we have is by the restroom.”