“We’ll take a booth, please.”
According to restaurant designers, one of the appeals of booths is that they can create perceived barriers between us and the rest of the diners in the restaurant. A booth can give at least the perception of privacy. The conventional wisdom from the other side of the table is that restaurant guests want to be able to carry on private conversations and enjoy their own personal space, even when they’re out in public.
According to Emily Fritz of East Coast Chair and Barstool, writing in Restaurant Hospitality magazine, “A restaurant booth creates the intimacy [customers] want.”
I was in a local restaurant just after the dinner rush relating to the owner a story told to me on my radio show by Sylvia Moubayed, the long-time proprietor of the popular CAV in Providence.
For the recent Valentine’s Day dining-out holiday, as she does each year, Moubayed reconfigured her eclectic dining room to accommodate the scores of romantic couples with reservations for the evening. She had all of the large, rectangular and round tables and banquettes removed from her cozy bistro in the city’s emerging Knowledge District. The dining room was then reset with intimate tables for two, referred to in the trade as “two-tops” or “deuces.” The rectangles and rounds, along with the handful of booths usually found inside CAV, made their return the following night. My other restaurateur friend – whose spot has not been in business as long as CAV – was impressed with Sylvia’s customer-pleasing gesture. “That is genius!” the restaurateur exclaimed admiringly.
One local chef-owner agrees with the designers. Chris Palios, whose popular Sophia’s Tuscan Grille in Warwick often has a full reservation book, says that if he could, he would redesign his restaurant dining area to have only booths. With his intimate spot that has a maximum seating capacity of 49, that is just not practical. So Palios has booths on two walls of his Warwick Avenue bistro, with an attractive grouping of open tables in the center of his dining room.
The individual tables can create a communal dining space which some of the chef’s customers enjoy. The remaining wall combines the best of both worlds, with a comfortable banquette – defined by Merriam-Webster as “a built-in, usually upholstered bench along a wall” – which diners can sit in twos or in larger groups facing their dining companions seated in chairs, which Palios recently upgraded.
Design consultants recommend booth seating to restaurant proprietors who want to offer their guests a more-relaxed dining experience, in other words, so guests stick around longer. Fritz cites studies that show people who sit in booths tend to spend more. “Guests are more likely to order an appetizer, dessert or after-dinner drink when they are not in a busy area or at a freestanding table in the center of the dining room,” she stated.
My listeners, who tend to dine out often, see things differently. I asked on the air for their seating preferences, booth or table? Doreen from Brimfield, Mass., looks for a banquette,”she said.
“It’s the best of both worlds. It’s half booth seat, which I like so I can keep my pocket book/coat/shopping bag beside me and not on the floor or back of the seat. And the chair and table which my husband likes are slideable, so he can attain a comfortable eating position – which one can’t always do with a booth.”
(Fun fact: A standard restaurant booth is 48 inches long and sits, on average, four people. But if a family of five comes in with small children, they most likely will have enough room in that same booth.)
Next to offer an opinion was “Shirley,” who said, “I always like a table. You can sit at a comfortable distance that you like from the table, whereas a booth is a set distance to the table, bad news if you are short and skinny or tall and large!”
Most restaurants offer a mix of seating styles that creates both a balanced look and a variety of seating choices for all patrons. In fact, at both CAV and Sophia’s, some of the most popular seats for dining are at the bar. These two restaurateurs and thousands more across the state will tell you that a happy customer is the best kind of customer to have. And if the customer – that would be you and I – are comfortable, that restaurant has gone a long way towards making us happy.