Q. I am from a large family, and I have a large family of my own now, all grown up but still very close. When all of us want to go out to dinner together, when we add in the significant others, we usually wind up with about a dozen people. Sometimes, like around the holidays in particular, we wind up with as many as sixteen. We have found that the restaurants do not really want our business. They often won’t give us a reservation for a table of twelve, no matter how far in advance we call, or for what time. If we call separately and ask for three tables of four each, they are happy to accommodate all of us. How is it that they have the room for three times four, but not twelve? It doesn’t make sense.
And here’s another thing. We’ve seen that some restaurant with summer specials or Reveillons refuse to give us those special menus when we can manage to get the big table. Why should four times four get a menu that sixteen can’t have?
A. There is no doubt that you are being discriminated against–if you see only the viewpoint of the diner. Which is logical enough. But large tables present such a challenge to restaurants, and result in so much lower income, that these rules make sense from the restaurant’s perspective.
It mostly comes down to table turnover. A table set up for twelve people doesn’t just require that all the tables needed must be shoved together, but that any table involved will not be usable by anyone else either before or after the big party comes in. Since big parties typically sit there longer than a table of four would, the problem is compounded. Also, when you push two tables of four together you get not eight but six seats. Four tables pushed together doesn’t give you sixteen seats, but at most twelve. And there are other problems. Let’s not even begin to talk about the whole splitting of checks issue.
Groups larger than about fifteen people are difficult and inefficient for restaurants to serve, unless they’re converted into a private dining situation. If you have the entire room, you can do anything you want. But you will pay for that. It’s like Champagne in large-format bottles: the bigger the bottle, the more expensive the ounce of wine.
The solution is to get fours and sixes and ask for them to be close to one another. That way the restaurant’s dining room setup isn’t violated, you can bounce around between courses, and you get the price promotions with no arguments.