As a chef I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question. My usual response is ‘I have several, depends on what we’re hungry for’ and that usually satisfies most inquirers. People rarely ask ‘What’s the most comfortable dining experience you’ve enjoyed?’ That might be a better question.
Recently Jud and I had the honor of being in Tampa to receive an award for the restaurant and we were able to eat some really good food in some really nice restaurants. I’m talking food that we want to do and some we don’t, doesn’t mean it wasn’t tasty, just not our style. Check out Bern’s Steak House and Edison Food Lab, both in Tampa, Florida. They had some winners on their menus that we enjoyed. Great food, really top notch and friendly service, however, they also had one thing in common that we talked about at great length, their chairs.
At Bern’s we were in a group of fourteen so we were crammed at a table and might have had different chairs than normal diners to save space. I’d bet the normal dining room chairs are very comfortable based on the atmosphere, the level of service, and the comfort we felt in their atrium waiting area. At Edison, we were two guys at a table for four, so the chairs were the everyday put your fanny on a space kind of chair. Both, in my opinion, might have been two of the most uncomfortable seats I’ve experienced outside of a full airplane. It was sad too, the food was great. Bern’s has some wonderful dry aged prime beef that was fabulous. Edison had the best bone marrow I’d tasted in a while and absolutely delicious potato crusted oysters. The chairs were just uncomfortable. I mentioned it to Jud and he was quick with his ‘I know! I couldn’t get comfortable.’
I understand back some time some genius restaurateur came up with the North American version of Bistro, tons of tables and chairs, really uncomfortable, with the idea to turn tables quickly and make more money, I get it. Those of us that have fortunate enough to experience Milan or Paris understand the concept. The chairs aren’t quite as uncomfortable with the Mount Blanc views or fresh croissants on the Siene.
My wife and I love a restaurant in Kansas City called the Classic Cup. Pretty good food, really uncomfortable seating, but it’s right on the Country Club Plaza with outdoor seating if you’re lucky enough to get there early. The person watching is top notch, the buzz is great, and you almost forget your rear end is numb. There are a couple other spots like that but Webster’s will never be one of them.
Our chairs are comfortable. We’ve had a guest describe our booth seating as his ‘food cockpit’. He requests it every time he’s in for a giant steak and twice baked. Its home to him and his guest, they’re comfortable. Zazios downstairs in the Radisson is the same way, great chairs, super comfortable. You don’t want to leave. We let guests linger, that’s just our style. We want you to be comfortable and enjoy the experience.
Call me crazy but part of the experience of dining out is the ambiance and comfort. You don’t expect a great seat at the food truck or the luncheonette, but you should at a sit down dinner. We’ve all experienced the table by the kitchen or the server side station and commented on what a bad table we had, but do we consider our actual seat?
So, here’s the question; is your favorite restaurant due to food or ambiance? Perhaps both. I’d argue that comfort has something to do with your answer, be it comfortable with the level of service or relationship (think Norm from ‘Cheers’) or the ability of a kitchen to prepare something you love and can’t recreate at home (that’s me with some Asian places). Regardless, we think less about how comfortable our seat is than we deserve. Think of your favorite ‘chair’ at your home. Do we deserve anything less when we spend a buck on a meal????