That special table!

Thought I would put this on a seperate post. I have read multiple times on trip adivisor that Americans have had difficulty in securing a table at some restaurants, especially one with a view, even though there are some empty. Then when an Italian enters, he/she gets one even without a reservation. Has this happened to anyone? What about a tip (ie bribe) of 5 -10 Euros for the person who does the seating at the restaurant? Or is that a no-no in Europe?

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4899 posts

So, how is it, exactly, that the trip adviser folks know said Italian gets the "special table" without a reservation? Sounds like paranoia to me. Is it only Americans who are subject to this terrible discrimination? Russians, Brits, Scandinavians all get the "special table" without reserving? Alert the War Department.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
22595 posts

Don, There could be a lot of different explanations for the situation you're describing. I suspect that it's not only Americans that may be affected, but other non-Italian nationalities as well. A few possible explanations..... > Perhaps the owner has a "standing reservation" for a particular table for regulars, either for all nights of the week or just a particular night (ie: Saturday night)? > Although the table is empty, perhaps it was previously reserved but no sign was placed (Italians tend to be a bit "informal" at times)? > Based on my observations, there seems to be a "protocol" in Italian restaurants, based on familiarity. Patrons (friends) who know the owner well (and presumably dine there regularly) are often greeted by a handshake and /or an embrace. It's likely they'll be getting better service (and a better table) than strangers. In my own experience, there are a few restaurants where I know the owners (since I've been visiting them for awhile), and I usually get a nice greeting and don't usually have to wait too long for a table (if at all). These are only a few thoughts, and perhaps my perceptions are not accurate. Cheers!

Posted by Don
Santa Fe, NM, USA
175 posts

It was Americans who made the comments......but it may be all non Italians. Anyway, I thought I would post it to get people's experiences. That being said, what about the payment for getting that special table you might really want, but do not have a reservation?

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
6625 posts

How does this person know that the Italian doesn't have a reservation? Here's an equally likely scenario in my mind: The Italian customer actually DOES have a reservation but is also a regular customer so the host/hostess doesn't have to look at a reservation sheet before seating them. This makes me think of those tourists who think that all Romans are scamming the bus system because they don't validate a ticket when they get on. The truth is that most of them have passes that don't require validation. As for bribing the host/hostess, I've only seen that done in old movies. It could backfire and be perceived as an insult. Good luck getting any table at that point.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
22595 posts

Don, I've never used the "greasing palms" approach to getting a table. I suppose that happens, but probably varies from one restaurant to the next. If a particular restaurant is busy and it looks like there will be a long wait, I usually just go elsewhere. There are lots of restaurants. I'm not too concerned about a "good table" when looking for chow. I'll sit at the bar or a corner table if necessary. However, if there's a "view table" available, I'll sit there.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3399 posts

Another explaination is that Americans have a stereotype of eating only a small amount and quickly. For dinner, a restaurant expects its patrons will sit for several hours and eat several courses. So for those customers they give the best tables. Americans might get lumped in to one stereotype and typically seated at less desireable tables. If this is the case, one way around it is to explain that you are there for a full dinner meal and wish to relax and enjoy the evening. That will get better results than slipping a few euro. Another reason is that Americans tend to arrive early for dinner, before 8:00. Their regular customers won't arrive until after 8:00 and so if they gave all the good tables to the early-birds, the regular customers are stuck at the "bad" tables. And as explained above, the best and regular customers are going to get better tables than a tourist only visiting the restaurant once in their lives. Makes sense to me.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
13395 posts

My experience/observation is that Italian restaurants, especially the nicer one, are big on reservations even if the place is nearly empty. Don't know if it is part of the restaurant culture or just the way things are done. But if it is, then I would assume the walk up customer (American tourist?) is going to get seated in the corner. It is now our practice to always make a reservation even if it only an hour ahead of time. A few years ago we were in London visiting one of my former, more successful, students who has lived in a London suburb for nearly 35 years. He took us to a very nice neighborhood, Italian restaurant on a Saturday evening. It was not large but quite crowded with a waiting crowd outside of about 10 to 15 people. Our host said something to the head waiter who walked away and within a few seconds the owner appears to whom we are introduced. He shows us to a table in back. Within another minute or two the chef comes to our table to inquire about what we like - chicken, beef, veal - various preparations, cheeses, pastas, salads but no specific dishes. Our host has another minute or two conversations about a fish dish that the chef had prepared last week. The bread comes,anti-pasta and the owner returns with some wine that is a subject of discussion with our host. Soon plates of food appear, more wine, then some dessert, and more wine. The chef returns to inquire about what we liked and didn't like (nothing), the owner stops by a couple more times. It was a very leisurely dinner. When everyone had finish, Jim (our host) said farewell to the owner, spoke with a couple of waiters on the way out. Never saw a menu or a bill. Obviously he had a long standing relationship with this restaurant which probably ensures that he always gets a table when he wants one.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
5997 posts

Don't be paranoid. Just get inside, get the attention of the closest waiter (99% of Italian restaurants have no dedicated "host" at a podium in front of the door) point at the table you want to sit (while you walk to it), and sit down before the waiter has a chance to say no. S/he won't ask you to get up. That's the way it's done, the Italian way. What's this American business of "please wait to be seated"? You won't see such sign in Italian restaurants. Stop being so nice and polite, Americans! And stop leaving tips to Italians. You are giving them another opportunity to evade taxes (as if they don't do that enough already).

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
711 posts

lol @ Roberto - "Tax Evasion: the national sport of Italy!"

Posted by Andrea
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
646 posts

When we were in the Italian Lakes we got terrific tables right on the water by choosing our dinner restaurants while we were out and about during the day and stopping in for a reservation. No sign was ever on the table.