Why a restaurant must pay attention to a wobbly table, miss-placed setups or back-achingly uncomfortable chairs.
It's been about a year and a half since I started this blog. Inspired by my glutinous love of food, a human necessity to eat, and the fact that I am often able to eat and get refunds or claim it on my tax (he...he...he), I felt the need to share my culinary thoughts with the world.
During this time I have visited close to 40 restaurants, and while that works out to an average of about only one per fortnight, blogging about the visits has been a little pleasure I afford myself with the little free time I have outside of my busy day job. The views have been steadily growing and I am now entering the dreaded PHASE 2; gettin a bit more serious.
So, welcome to the "State of Food", a new section for the blog that allows me to recap my thoughts around some of the learnings that have occurred.
Restaurant furniture. Tables, chairs. Right? There is so much more to these seemingly mundane pieces of plastic, timber and upholstery, yet, I'm going to say, restaurant furniture is quite possibly the most important asset a food establishment may neglect.
Lets start with tables. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Kendo's Irish Cafe on Ruthven Street (review coming soon). I was there for lunch and the place was kind of empty which I always like because it means my wait for the gastronomical onslaught is typically short. I was greeted and sat at a table of my choice by a cheery waitress, which of course is a lovely gesture, but it was here that I found that the table was wobbly. In fact, it was excessively wobbly to a point of distraction and actually made eating the stew I ordered problematic.
So? I hear you ask. Well, here is the thing. A part of the experience of dining out is of course the customer service and upon finding out that the table was indeed a bit wonky, the waitress did...nothing. She didn't offer a different table (even though there were numerous empty ones about), she didn't try to rectify the situation at all by fixing it on the spot and overall and it detracted from the experience. I sincerely hope that that table is now lying in some scrap heap, for Kendo's sake.
Table choice is critical; too large and it's difficult to talk to someone across the table (Carousel), too small and it's hard to fit the plates and glasses and handbags and wine (Sofra) and if it's too basic, you feel like the restaurateur just doesn't actually care. The table must also match the setting, just like at Hogs Breath Cafe, where the thick timber works well, but the same tables would look out of place at Bazzar.
Next are those wonderful bum-accommodating chairs. You may have possibly heard that some restaurants DELIBERATELY make you sit on chairs that were designed specifically to be uncomfortable so that you do not decide to camp for hours on end taking up precious floor space after devouring your meal. Places like McDonalds and KFC are the masters at this, but then again, should I really be referring to these as "restaurants"? Unfortunately, there appears to be some out there who pay very little attention to the comfort of their patrons and the decision to dump uncomfortable, although quite possibly stylish looking, chairs next to their tables comes at a hefty price. Subconsciously perhaps, diners may not want to stay for that second bottle of wine after their meal, or the place might miss out on a dessert order after the mains. Some of the best seating so far has been at Phat Burgers where there is a choice in seating, as well as the Federal Hotel, where the simple fabric chairs were quite comfortable.
Another area that is often neglected is waiting chairs/benches for take away customers, or while waiting to be seated. Wagaya definitely gets it right with a comfortable bench seat, while at Thai Tanee my little one and I had to sit at a table next to the busy entrance for a lengthy wait on mediocre no-thrills chairs.
Dining setup. All these tables and chairs need to be spread throughout the dining space and a bit of thought here goes a long way. A great example of good design is at Bistro Gitan where there appears to be some weird dark magic being used to organise formal seating, couple seating and bar-style tables highly effectively to cater for what seems like thousands. Phat Burgers too have a highly effective layout. In other places tables are crammed in, making for a "busy" experience especially at a buffet (read Bazzar) and at Sofra I continually felt squashed in while waitresses flashed by with plates of goodness. I think the key word here is 'balance' and it is this that I find quite a number of restaurants just do not think about. If they are a busy place, they cram more in, if it's doing mainly take-away trade, the tables and chairs are arranged in uninspiring army-dining-hall style lines.
So far it's been a mixed bag; there are some simply superb examples of well executed restaurants where the furniture augments the atmosphere, allows free movement throughout the place and makes you want to stay for another wine or two. But then again, there are dreadful examples of wonky furniture, uncomfortable seating and cramped setups that make you wish you were at one of those plastic booths at Hungry Jacks.