Sunday, May 12, 2013

"Give Me My Space": Space Between Tables Can Make or Break a Restaurant Experience

By Sylvia Rector

Getting a table for two once meant you could look forward to a romantic meal.

That was before restaurants began installing yards-long banquettes and that endless row of two-person tables, lined up like piano keys.

I've always disliked those side-by-side seats, especially when they're so tightly spaced you end up sitting closer to the stranger beside you than your own dining partner.

If I can reach over and touch your table, I figure, you're too close for my comfort. But does that make me antisocial?

Not according to a 2009 study called "Don't Sit So Close to Me: Restaurant Table Characteristics and Guest Satisfaction," by Stephani Robson and Sheryl E. Kimes of Cornell University's Center for Hospitality Research.

They studied table size and spacing to find out what effect they had on a guest's satisfaction, spending and length of stay at the table. Their point was to help restaurant owners choose the most optimal seating.

For the rest of us, though, the paper not only sheds some light on our habits as diners, it may also tell us why we like dining at some places better than others.

Among those habits the researchers noted:

Most of us prefer to sit at right angles when we're in conversation with friends. Notice that two-person tables — deuces, in restaurant jargon — usually force us to sit face to face, which can feel confrontational.

We don't usually sit side-by-side when dining for business because it can be viewed as too intimate.

Our need for ample personal space and being able to control it is great — even in a public place — and when we lack that space and control, our stress level goes up. That may explain the popularity of booths, with their obvious physical barriers to other people.

Personal space needs vary among cultures. In Western society, when someone who isn't an intimate friend gets closer than 18 inches, we feel stressed and over-stimulated, the authors say, and we will either try to increase the distance or leave the area as soon as possible.

Read the rest here.

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