Few things can derail a fancy meal—especially a business meal—like getting stuck with the worst seat seat in the house. If you’ve ever been jammed into a table by the wait station, by the door, or by the bathroom, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But luckily, there’s a flip side. With a little extra planning you can score the best seat in the house. The question remains: Which seat is it?
Now, while many fine-dining experts say you should always forgo tables altogether and plop yourself at the bar for the best dining experience—everyone from the Wall Street Journal to culinary maestro David Chang swears by the practice—we’re here to tell you that there is, in fact, a better seat to score: One at the chef’s table.
According to data from the National Restaurant Association, a seat at the chef’s table—the counter-style eating section directly in front of a small kitchen, where you can witness firsthand any culinary wizardry at work—is far and away the most desirable seat in the house: 42 percent of diners would choose to sit at a chef’s table. That number jumps to a whopping 53 percent in the PR-desired 18-to-34-year-old age group. The reason these seats are so popular? Simply put, they’ve made dining fun.
“Guests love the experience as they are treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the action in our kitchens and a visit to the table by our amazingly talented chefs, who convey the passion they put into each dish,” says Kim Giguere-Lapine, vice president at the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, a collection of American-based high-end steak houses.
“It’s about making the meal fun and exciting, rather than just grabbing something to eat,” says Robert Gerstenecker, the executive chef of Park 75, a fine dining establishment in Atlanta.
To score a seat you’re going to need a reservation. And, although you can score these enviable seats from reservation apps like OpenTable and Resy, by typing in the “instructions” box that you’d like a seat at the chef’s table, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the exact seat you want. (If you’re going this route, Resy is your best bet. You put money down on seats, as opposed to OpenTable, which offers free reservations. This deposit can ensure better seats, but again, it’s no guarantee.) Instead, go the old fashioned route: Pick up the phone.
However, if your goal is to see and be seen, the best seat in the house is definitely not at the chef’s table, where you’re far from the action of the main dining room. You’ll find that seat at the restaurant’s power table (which every fancy restaurant is guaranteed to have).
The power table changes from restaurant to restaurant, of course, but it always shares a few common traits. “It will never out in the middle, where people walk around you,” Marco Maccioni, owner of New York’s power mecca Le Cirque, once told Bloomberg Businessweek. It will invariably be a booth, set against the wall, and have a full view of the restaurant’s floor. It will usually be elevated in some way—”It’s like in medieval times, when the king was sitting on a raised throne,” restaurant designer Martin Brudnizki, also told Bloomberg Businessweek—and it will always be round. (If it’s rectangular, say restaurant experts, it creates tension about who sits at the head.)
With a little due diligence, you’ll always be able to seek it out. At Michael’s, New York’s legendary wheeling-and-dealing establishment, it’s table number 1. At RL in Chicago, it’s number 68. At Prime 112 in Miami, it’s number 26.
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