December 3, 2008

Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

Your table is now available

Before I joined the restaurant industry, I often felt awkward when I was being seated at a restaurant. Is it OK to request a specific table? Is it OK to ask for a four-top when there are only two of us? Would it be OK to ask to sit by the fireplace? Good news: It is, it is and it is! The key to getting the table you want is knowing the basics of how tables are assigned to guests in most dining rooms.

Restaurant tables are numbered in sets. For instance, the tables along the windows might be the “10s” — table 10, table 11, 12, 13, etc. The tables along the wall adjoining the windows might then be the “20s,” the row of tables in the middle of the room the “30s” and the big modular table grouping in the corner might be “table 40,” or staff might have endowed it with a more colorful nickname.

At the beginning of service, the shift manager assigns “sections.” Each server is assigned certain table numbers for the duration of the shift. A good manager will spread reservations among servers for maximum efficiency. Almost invariably, the best plan is to have the tables in each server’s section be near or adjacent to each other. Fewer steps between tables (and the ability to keep all tables within eyeshot when busy) means faster, better service.

But what happens when regulars come in and ask for a specific server at their favorite table — and that table’s not in their server’s section? In a good restaurant, nothing you’d notice. You should be graciously seated at the table you requested (unless others have reserved it in advance), and you’ll be greeted by your favorite server. Servers swap tables in sections all the time when necessary to provide the best service to their guests.

If you ask for a particular server but are seated at what you consider a substandard table, don’t be afraid to ask to be moved. It would be very savvy of you to ask if you could get a better table within your favorite server’s section. Also, it would be much appreciated if you showed some extra tip love to a server who has to walk an extra few hundred feet because you asked for him or her.

But — please — ask to be moved before you unfold the napkins, before you drink out of the water glasses, before you ask for that first cocktail, no matter how dry you are. We’ll appreciate not having to re-do the table settings, and you’ll get better service for having caused less of a fuss.

And for goodness sake, if you become attached to a table at your favorite eatery and want to always sit there, ask what that table number is. Then, when you call for your next reservation, you’ll impress whomever you talk to when you request the table by number. This will signify that you’re a regular who knows what you’re talking about and deserves especially good service.

Marsha Lynch, a graduate of Sullivan University, has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s and L&N Wine Bar and Bistro. She is now the pastry chef at Café Lou Lou.