That Seat Better Be Taken
I'm generally a pretty tolerant person in bars. I don't correct the knuckleheads who wave $20 bills at bartenders to attract attention, and I rarely complain when someone squeezes in between my friend and me when we're sitting at the bar and then starts passing precariously full drinks over my head. Whatever.
But lately, I've begun to get more and more ticked off by people who think that they're on a school bus or in their third-grade lunchroom and they can save seats for their friends who haven't shown up yet.
A few weeks ago, I was at Bourbon to write about Uncle Q's DJ night. I walked in to the crowded bar, and lit for the far end, where there were fewer people. The last stool was open, so I took off my coat and began to sit down. "Sorry, my friend's sitting there," said the guy at the adjacent seat. That would probably explain an empty seat at 11 p.m., I thought. He might be in the bathroom or outside having a smoke. No worries. I ordered a cocktail and stood at the end of the bar, chatting with the bartender. Then, like 10 or 15 minutes later, the guy's friend shows up, wearing a jacket. "Sorry," he says. "I couldn't find the place." Bartender, who had heard the original "someone's sitting there" exchange, shoots the dude a look.
Example number two: Last week, I dropped by Founding Farmers to see if its new spring cocktail list was ready yet. (It was not, but man, do those bartenders make a fine mint julep.) The bar was packed, and several people were hovering along the bar, looking for signs that someone with a precious stool or two would be leaving soon. In the middle of it all was an older man on a cell phone. He had a cocktail in front of him and was sitting with his bent right leg resting on the edge of an empty stool next to him. From the way he was glancing back over his should towards the door, it's obvious that he's waiting someone who isn't here. One solo man approaches and asks if the seat in taken. Man in seat nods, still on phone. Solo man walks away to look for another seat.
Eventually, date and I get seats at the end of the bar. Then we notice a woman come rushing in, making a beeline for seat-saver. She begins apologizing for not being able to find parking, knowing where the restaurant was, etc. Those of us who couldn't get seats are fuming.
We live in a world where most restaurants won't give tables to incomplete parties, but incomplete parties think they can take over most of the bar? Makes me happy to visit the Saloon, where one of the myriad rules governing customer behavior is that you have to give an open seat to anyone who asks, whether you're expecting a companion or not.
So what's the solution? Part of me thinks the onus is on the bartender to say something to customers along the lines of "Sir, when the bar is busy, we don't allow customers to hold seats for people who have not yet arrived." Of course, that runs the risk of alienating one, if not two, potential customers, which no business wants to do. On the other hand, people who want seats -- even if it's only one seat, which should always be offered to your date -- might get fed up and leave, too.
I've heard some people say "Well, it's generally accepted to save seats for people at movies." And yes, that's true -- but a movie theater (theoretically) only allows in as many people as it has seats for, so if you're saving a seat for a friend, it doesn't mean that someone else is going to have to stand for two hours. On the other hand, in most coffeeshops, it's perfectly acceptable to take up a table for two when you're waiting for a friend, and no one thinks twice about it.
But honestly, everyone should be responsible for policing their own behavior. When you walk into a bar, please don't leave your etiquette at the door.
What behavior ticks you off at bars? Tell us about it in the comments.
| April 29, 2009; 1:49 PM ET
Categories: Bars and Clubs
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