This post originally appeared in the May 20, 2019 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
As someone who dines out a lot — and dines out a lot while it’s still daytime — I love when a dining room has some light in it. Natural light makes me happy; it also means the photos that I tell myself I must take for my work (but really are, at this point, a compulsion) turn out well. If a dining room has a section that’s dim and a section that’s light, I’ll choose the bright section each time.
Likewise lively versus dead zones in dining rooms. If a part of the restaurant feels like it’s got some verve to it, and I end up in an area of empty tables — or near the entrance to the bathroom — I always see if there’s a way to relocate. To put it plainly: I ask, with alarming frequency, “Would it be at all possible for me to move to that empty table over there?” So should you. You’ve come to this restaurant to spend your money and have a great time. If you feel that would be more easily achieved in a different spot, there’s no harm in asking politely. The way I see it, asking for the table you want means taking some responsibility for your own happiness — the ultimate move.
The restaurant can’t read your mind, and what makes a table sad for you might be just what another patron wants, and vice versa. The worst thing is feeling uncomfortable or off for some reason, quietly pouting and simmering during your meal about how it would be perfect if only you were just over there, where it’s better. And at most restaurants, your experience is the staff’s number-one priority. If a restaurant has a flexible floorplan; if there were some no-shows; if the staffer you’re talking to is simply in a good mood: There are plenty of reasons why a host might say yes to your request. The ask, when made in good spirits, doesn’t inconvenience anyone.
The major caveat here is that you must also take the response you get in good spirits. If the answer is no, don’t get huffy with the server or maitre d’. They are just doing their job, and should be met with a respectful, “Oh, well!” If the answer is yes, but only after someone gets up, and maybe you have to have your appetizers at your current table? “That would be great, thank you!” If the answer is yes, follow me: “Amazing, thank you so much!” Kindly asking for what you want — and accepting the answer, whatever it is — is absolutely the move. And when you’re in a dining room with a few empty tables, you can usually end up where you want to be.