Is it just me, or do most of us have the same concerns when it comes to being seated in a restaurant? If I’m stuck in a seat I don’t like, it takes a huge amount of mental gymnastics to override my irritation. Positioning is paramount.
Choosing a seat in a restaurant is more complex than we think. Is it a random choice, or are our primeval instincts kicking in when we choose the corner seat, back to the wall, with a full room vista? If you take a moment to think about it, I bet most of us have seating foibles. Take Jack Nicholson, for example, in As Good As It Gets. Granted his character had a personality disorder, but his reaction did tickle me when he discovered someone else sitting at his preferred table; the pain an obsessive compulsive goes through if their routine forcibly changes was displayed superbly and acerbically by the character Melvin Udall. Heck, he got what he wanted in the end, though - a prime seat served by his favourite waitress.
One gentleman I heard about, the chairman of a rather salubrious business institution in London, was always intent on getting the best seat in the house when it came to in-house dining. This self-centred practice amused my neighbours no end when they lunched with him. The first time he asked my neighbour to move from his seat so he could sit there, and the second time he simply pointed to the chair up-front, and said, “That one’s mine”. No messing about there then. It was obviously the 'power seat', and one where he could see and be seen...which brings us nicely to celebrity seating arrangements.
The Ivy Restaurant in the heart of London and its namesake in the heart of Los Angeles each have their own personality and style. But everyone knows that The Ivy is the place to see celebrities. In LA they usually sit outside on the patio, penned in by the famous ivy covered, white-picket fence while paparazzi snap away. The Ivy isn’t about food, it’s about seating and being seen. Table 41 is the table to sit at, so with that in mind, don your best designer shades and be prepared to be photographed next time you’re in La-La Land and manage to secure a patio table. If you’re contemplating The Ivy in London, then be reassured that there are no bad seats in the restaurant, and everyone gets the same treatment whether they are an A-lister, a food writer or just a couple of friends popping in for a late lunch - which in my book is the best time to rock up. A girlfriend and I had no problem getting a table with a window vista at 2pm in spite of the place being crowded.
Booths are good. I like booths. They’re intimate, private, generally comfortable, and great for clandestine meetings. I can’t bear sitting next to a serving hatch (too noisy), a loo (too many disturbing mental visuals) or near a door (too drafty and active, but perfect if there’s a robbery). However, I will compromise and sit at a bar. The bar, kitchen or display cooking activity is a useful distraction if there’s a conversation lull (not one of my problems) or if you’re eating solo. Communal tables? Forget it, I did that at school.
There’s even a 'seating language'. Oh, the power struggle and headaches that accompany event seating: weddings, birthdays, dinner parties - need I say more? Whoever sits on the right of the host has a direct correlation to the social hierarchy, psychologically disturbing for those high maintenance friends who thought they were first on the list. I don’t do formal home entertaining any more, I ran out of Prozac!
So the next time you eat out, bear in mind that you’re going to be in for more than just a gastronomic experience at your chosen eatery. I suggest that you be table aware and ambiance astute to ensure you get that perfect dining experience.