the table no one wanted to sit at

March 26, 2015
by marie murray

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there once was a lonely table
whose life can serve as a fable
she sat all alone
in her corner zone
and stared at the ceiling cable

but to her unlucky surprise
she found her choice was unwise
the door swung in and out
letting in every shout
all the cold and noise and street cries

her home was an airport café
where people entered all day
they filled each chair
but left hers bare
till she cried to herself in dismay

“well now, this is a riddle!
maybe I’ll just move to the middle!”
thinking this was the best
she waited for guests
…and waited…and started to fiddle

“why me?” she asked her friend table
“because,” he responded, “you smell.
the toilet is there
right past your chair
to eat with you wouldn’t be swell”

when, still no one came around
the little table started to frown
she looked up and saw
most would sit by a wall
her center spot was turned down

she decided to change her fate
and moved next to the entrance gate
she sat near the door
and thought “here! for sure
i’ll be the best table to date!”

“i’m hopeless!” she wanted to say
“this has been such a sad day”
what can I do
to become less blue?
there must be some better way!”

well, you get the point…

the sad story of the unwanted table actually brings up a lot of common mistakes. fortunately, in public spaces, there are ways to minimise problem areas like to those faced by the lonely table.

i interviewed a member of the wait staff at an Italian restaurant. i asked her about her own experience with the table no one wants to sit at. she didn’t even have to think about it long before remembering a handful of scenarios. she told me that guests are quick to notice the tables they don’t want to sit at. if those tables are the only ones available, most prefer to wait for another table to open up. they tend to choose the inconvenience of waiting rather than the inconvenience of sitting at a table in a problem area.

stories like this one, told by wait staff, are easy to remember1 because we have a natural ability to better remember negative feedback over positive ones2. a restaurant manager can use this natural ability of ours to interview wait staff, identify problem areas, then resolve them.

working with a furnishing solutions specialist avoids these problem areas from the start. alternately, a public space owner can try working closely with a design firm to attempt to minimize problem areas. here are some questions that can help with that:

  • how can you make strategic use of undesirable areas? no one wants to sit next to the drafty entrance. no one wants to be too close to the kitchen doors. the table next to the restroom is worse. instead of seating your guests in these zones, try using them as waiting areas or circulation areas. you arrange your setup so that those entering and waiting are not in the way of the guests who are already seated. or set up a partition to keep the dining area separated from the restrooms if the architecture doesn’t already do that.
     
  • often, guests prefer to be seated at the peripheries rather than in the center of the room. this isn’t always avoidable, but can often be minimized by using the center for circulation.
     
  • control the noise level3. public spaces can be enormous sound traps where every clink of glass and busy conversation gets reverberated. this is very likely to bring down the intended experience4. try sound-proofing your space and being minimal with the use of echoing materials, such as glass and mirrors.

what can that lonely little table tell you
to help you bring the best out of your venue?

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references:
  1. Baumeister, R. (2001) Bad is Stronger Than Good. The Review of General Psychology.
  2. Tugend, A. (2012) Praise is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall. NY Times.
  3. Hernandez, P. (2014) For restaurant owners, striking the right noise level is key. The Boston Globe: Food and Dining.
  4. Spence, C. (2014) Noise and its impact on the perception of food and drink. Flavour Review.

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