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restaurant chairs!


violetfox
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Dear Chefs and Restaurateurs;

Have you considered sitting in the chairs in your fine establishment? If not, I encourage you to do so at your earliest convenience. You'll need to spend at least an hour in said chair.

I do not make this request randomly. I really should start to make a list of otherwise fine restaurants which need to reconsider seating. The cuisine can be perfect, the service flawless, the ambience charming, but if your butt hurts from the chair, you will not have a pleasant evening.

(Yes, I am a pretty average-sized person, although I'm not sure that that means much. )

Conversely, a restaurant where the seating is truly comfortable makes me feel cared for in a good way, and is one to which I'm anxious to return. I doubt that it's much an issue of cost, it appears to be an issue of design.

Perhaps I'm the only one who's had this experience, but perhaps not.

Thank you!

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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My pet peeve is places where the backs of chairs are sloped, meaning that a purse cannot be reliably hung on the back. I greatly appreciate chairs where the uprights of the back are slightly higher than the center of the back, so a purse will stay hooked on fairly securely.

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When we purchased ours, the sales guy asked what kind of a business we had:

"I've got chairs that are comfortable for a half hour, for two hours, and for all day. How long do you want your customer to spend in your place?"

We chose the two hour ones......

I remember working at the last place before opening up our our own, nice little 50 seat French Bistro. Staff bathroom was crammedwith broken chairs and parts. The owner had bought his chairs at Ikea, and painted them to match the decor. Cute, looked nice, but the chairs only cost $49.00 and were made of softwood, Pine, I think, and fatigued usually after a year. Either the wood fatigued, cracked, or split, the glued joints failed, or the mechanical fastners loosened up and then failed. Every Saturday the owner would fix 4 or 5 chairs from the parts of 5 or 6 older un-repairable ones, and once every few months he would buy new chairs to replace the broken ones. Expensive habit.....

A good chair that goes into a dining room where, say you and your partner would spend over $200 per meal, should cost at least $2-300. Yes it is expensive, but your guest's butts don't hurt, and you don't have to constantly repair/replace them, they should last for a good 15 -20 years.

A chair withstands more abuse and use than any other piece of furniture, and you really get what you pay for. Many owners fool themselves into thinking they can get away with cheap chairs--like my previous employer.

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Edward, truer words never spoken. I am in the office furniture biz and can't tell you how many times the $99 desk chair at Staples (or the Ikea stuff) gets brought up. Spend $300 on a chair that will last you 10 years or spend $30 on a chair that will last you 10 months! When I'm selling a desk chair, I leave a sample to have the person sit for at least 4 hours. Too much furniture is style over substance (or comfort) and part of hospitality is making people feel comfortable!

"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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What I hate is the current trend around here toward metal chairs. Yes they look neat if one is a hip bistro, but they're always cold. I always end up putting my coat on the seat so I don't freeze.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Unfortunately, I'm afraid the trend in restaurants these days is just going to exacerbate the problem. 20, 30, 40 years ago or more, people ate out much less, and they expected the nights that they did eat out to be special. They wanted to arrive and have cocktails at a leisurely pace, peruse the menu at will, order appetizers, casually decide what they'd like for an entree and then pick the perfect bottle of wine to accompany it. They wanted a brief break between courses, after the plates were cleared, in order to ready themselves for the salad, or soup, and then the main course. After all of the savory courses were enjoyed, they wanted a little time to decide on dessert and choose whether a digestif or dessert wine, or just coffee would be the proper accompaniment. That was the classic ideal of fine dining.

These days hardly anyone wants this. And when today's fast-paced folks are confronted with that kind of slow, relaxing dining experience, most of them just get angry that things aren't moving quickly enough. This is a discussion that's come up many times before, and I have a very hard time relating this to eGullet folks, who really do appreciate food and who would enjoy this exact experience, but the truth is, the art of this sort of dining is long since dead, buried and the bones have turned to dust. If you want to dine this way, I think you're just going to have to try to get invited to slkinsey's home. (This is meant to be a compliment to Mr. Kinsey, lest anyone should think otherwise.)

Because people have drastically increased the number of restaurant meals they eat per week, to the point that it really is just a routine, daily, sometimes several times per day experience, restaurants have had to respond to the needs of the market. Service is faster. Plates are cleared much faster. You want to just eat the entree and leave? Fine. You want just small plates to nosh for the amount of time that it takes to consume a cocktail on the way to the theatre? Fine. Tapas? You got it. You want sushi and bruschetta on the same menu? Fine.

But the upshot of this is that, because restaurants make a much smaller sale per person, and most people take much less time to dine, they actually have to rush things along a good bit. It is not in most restaurants' best interest to provide a chair that is comfortable to sit in for more than half an hour, because frankly, the restaurant is probably going to need that table pretty soon, and if it doesn't, then it will probably be going out of business soon.

I do agree about the metal chairs, though. That's a little harsh to sit in for even a half hour. Nobody likes a cold butt.

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I really disagree.

Almost every time I've been to a decent restaurant in the past two years, even - as bad as the economy is now - there have been plenty of diners quite eager to have the relatively inexpensive pleasure of sitting for a couple of hours, enjoying a nice dinner, quiet conversation, some good wine. I hardly think this experience is "dead" or will be within my lifetime, thank God.

If your hypothesis were correct, the Slow Food movement would be long gone rather than expanding. There would be far fewer people here on eGullet, who clearly enjoy the experience you categorize as passe. Beyond that, those interested in a pleasant evening at a nice restaurant extend far beyond those of us who consdier ourselves "food nerds" or whatever.

Regardless, there remain those of us who enjoy "fine dining" and who want and frankly deserve comfortable seating, and I have no interest in a restaurant with a lack of concern for my comfort. The food business remains, last time I checked, part of the hospitality industry, and thus being hospitable comes with the territory. Honestly, I've eaten in enough diners and roadside joints with perfectly comfortable booths and chairs. I expect - OK, demand - that a fancier and more expensive restaurant provide me with comfortable seating, for crying out loud.

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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I really disagree.

Almost every time I've been to a decent restaurant in the past two years, even - as bad as the economy is now - there have been plenty of diners quite eager to have the relatively inexpensive pleasure of sitting for a couple of hours, enjoying a nice dinner, quiet conversation, some good wine.

The economy must be doing a lot better in Maine, then. Here in Atlanta we're losing about 2 or 3 good restaurants per week. And I'm not talking about the total number of restaurants closing, either. Those are just the independently owned places that are good enough that I'd care.

I think I may be misunderstanding you here. I think the problem is the lack of specifics and abundance of generalizations on either side of this. When talking about "decent" restaurants, what price point are we talking about here? I can only think of a few places here that I would be willing to sit and dine in for 2 hours, and I'd say Restaurant Eugene is firmly in that category. However, it's also expensive enough that I can only eat there once or twice a year, so I'd expect to stay longer in that case. And they already have nice, comfortable seating. The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead would be another good example, but while they do have very nice seating, they are now closed. Ironically enough, Restaurant Eugene had to change their menu and style of dining toward a more casual, small plate sort of format, just to keep business coming in the doors.

And then there is the fact that "comfortable" is a very subjective term. What makes you feel comfy might not be amenable to others. The last restaurant I worked in had some pretty amazing leather chairs that were custom designed and cost about $600 each. I thought they were cozy as all get out, but wouldn't you know it, some customers complained about them. I think we can all agree that cold, metal chairs are uncomfortable, but I haven't run into them outside of little noodle joints and lunch counters. Certainly not at any place I'd spend 2 hours in.

It would really help me to visualize what your problem is if you gave me some specific examples. What kind of seating and what kind of restaurant are we talking about here? Because we're definitely not reading the same page.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I really disagree.

Almost every time I've been to a decent restaurant in the past two years, even - as bad as the economy is now - there have been plenty of diners quite eager to have the relatively inexpensive pleasure of sitting for a couple of hours, enjoying a nice dinner, quiet conversation, some good wine.

The economy must be doing a lot better in Maine, then. Here in Atlanta we're losing about 2 or 3 good restaurants per week. And I'm not talking about the total number of restaurants closing, either. Those are just the independently owned places that are good enough that I'd care.

I think I may be misunderstanding you here. I think the problem is the lack of specifics and abundance of generalizations on either side of this. When talking about "decent" restaurants, what price point are we talking about here? I can only think of a few places here that I would be willing to sit and dine in for 2 hours, and I'd say Restaurant Eugene is firmly in that category. However, it's also expensive enough that I can only eat there once or twice a year, so I'd expect to stay longer in that case. And they already have nice, comfortable seating. The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead would be another good example, but while they do have very nice seating, they are now closed. Ironically enough, Restaurant Eugene had to change their menu and style of dining toward a more casual, small plate sort of format, just to keep business coming in the doors.

And then there is the fact that "comfortable" is a very subjective term. What makes you feel comfy might not be amenable to others. The last restaurant I worked in had some pretty amazing leather chairs that were custom designed and cost about $600 each. I thought they were cozy as all get out, but wouldn't you know it, some customers complained about them. I think we can all agree that cold, metal chairs are uncomfortable, but I haven't run into them outside of little noodle joints and lunch counters. Certainly not at any place I'd spend 2 hours in.

It would really help me to visualize what your problem is if you gave me some specific examples. What kind of seating and what kind of restaurant are we talking about here? Because we're definitely not reading the same page.

My problem is restaurant chairs that are uncomfortable, which is really perfectly clear from all of my posts here.

I am certainly not questioning that the economy is a mess and that restaurants are closing. I stated a fact that I had been out to eat at nice retsaurants numerous times throughout New England and Quebec recently, and that many times, those restaurants were full and actually turning people away, even on midweek nights. The fact that some restaurants are closing hardly means that "no one" is going out to eat lately.

I'm talking about decent restaurants where I'm likely to have three courses and spend some time. Considering that I routinely find perfectly comfortable chairs and seating in diners and coffeeshops, it seems not really too much to ask for the same consideration at a restaurant where I'll probably spend at least 3X as much.

"Comfortable" is absolutely not subjective. Comfortable means not painful, not awkward and not poorly constructed and flimsy. Perhaps I need to repeat, though I'm not sure why, the fact that I have dined at a number of "fine dining" restaurants (and not just recently) where the chairs were indeed painful, awkward and poorly made, though not necessarily of metal. To suggest that you don't understand what I mean by uncomfortable seems more than a little disingenuous.

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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  • 2 weeks later...
The fact that some restaurants are closing hardly means that "no one" is going out to eat lately.

I never said that "no one" is going out to eat lately. Clearly, people are still going out to eat, even in Atlanta, or maybe even especially in Atlanta. What I suggested was that there are a heck of a lot of restaurants that are closing these days, and the ones that are staying open have a business model that is proven to work, and in many cases across the country, the business model that is the current trend is toward shorter meals, especially since high unemployment means that the people who are employed tend to spend more time working than they used to. The average restaurant meal time for most people is about 30 minutes at lunch, but it only goes up to about 45 minutes to an hour at dinner. Restaurants do a lot of market research about such things, so that they can see how they compare to the average, in order to be more efficient.

I'm talking about decent restaurants where I'm likely to have three courses and spend some time. Considering that I routinely find perfectly comfortable chairs and seating in diners and coffeeshops, it seems not really too much to ask for the same consideration at a restaurant where I'll probably spend at least 3X as much.

Here, again, I don't understand. On the one hand, I don't think I've ever spent 2 hours in a restaurant and only had 3 courses, and on the other hand, I doubt that I've ever sat in a restaurant that costs 3 times what a diner or coffee shop costs and not been comfortable in my chair. The few times that I've spent a really long time in a restaurant were times that I got tasting menus, sometimes of 17 courses or more, and the only time I can remember where I wished the seats were a little more comfortable was at Sotohiro Kosugi's restaurant, Soto, when he was here in Atlanta, because it really did take almost 3 hours to eat. Still, I didn't find the situation dire enough to even mention it.

"Comfortable" is absolutely not subjective. Comfortable means not painful, not awkward and not poorly constructed and flimsy.

Here, we seem to have reached an impasse. I mentioned a specific case in which a fairly nice restaurant had custom leather chairs with a cost of $600 apiece, and there were a small number of customers that complained about them, while many others thought that they were a spiffy and extravagant addition to the dining room. And that's not the only example I could provide. I could provide links to photos of different types of chairs, with multitudes of people writing reviews of each one, stating that they thought one was comfy, while others thought them a literal "pain in the butt."

But let's concede that you're right here, and I'm totally willing to do that. Let's assume that there are chairs that are empirically uncomfortable to every human being who might be likely to sit in them, and they are the preferred choice of multiple fine dining establishments in your area - I haven't dined there recently, so I can't attest - why have you not mentioned this to management directly? It would seem a rather simple matter to just tell them, "Look, I come here often, love your food, think the service is impeccable, but really, these chairs are just so terribly uncomfortable that no one could like them. Couldn't you, at least, offer another option for seating?" Given the volatile nature of the restaurant business, it seems that most are willing to change just about anything to accommodate the guests they still have left, so why not talk to them about it?

To suggest that you don't understand what I mean by uncomfortable seems more than a little disingenuous.

Well, now, I'd have to say that's assuming a lot. Why would I be disingenuous? What do I have to gain from "winning" this argument? Not much, certainly, since I don't have any stock in restaurants that you frequent, who are trying to save money at the expense of the comfort of your hindquarters. I can pretty much guarantee that I don't even know any of the chefs or restaurateurs in that vicinity. And I've been a contributor on this board for quite a long time, so it's not likely that I'm just trying to stir up trouble, especially since I'm likely to keep contributing.

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  • 3 weeks later...

When I say "disingenuous" I am specifically referring to your claiming to not understand what I mean by uncomfortable chairs. Implying that you don't know what constitutes a comfortable chair is ridiculous. If you can sit in a chair without being uncomfortable, without being in pain, and able to focus on your meal, not the chair - the chair is comfortable. I think that's pretty obvious to anyone.

I'm merely saying that it seems like not too much to ask that restaurant owners spend the amount of time in a chair in their own restaurant as the average diner will spend. I have indeed been in "fine dining" restaurants - and not a few, either - where I was actively uncomfortable and was more aware of the discomfort of the chair than I was of the quality of the food. Teetering chairs balanced precariously over a heating duct. Narrow, hard wooden chairs which are uncomfortable from the first moment you sit down. Chairs which give you no place for your elbows, no place to lift a glass or cut your food. When paying top dollar - or not, for that matter - this is just unacceptable. It screams to me that the owner can't be bothered with the comfort of the GUEST.

Conversely, I have been in plenty of reasonably-priced restaurants where the seating is perfectly comfortable. Neither am I saying that this is a widespread problem - just something that I've encountered and feel that I shouldn't. If this is an unreasonable attitude for a customer to have, that's a restaurant which doesn't interest me in the slightest. The restaurant business is, last I checked, part of the HOSPITALITY industry.

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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