Finding the best table in a restaurant involves a complex interaction of interests, and varies according to what a customer is looking for at a given moment. At least, that's what restaurants would have you belive. Ask gatekeepers at some of America's most-heralded restaurants and you'll hear a similar refrain. There really is no such thing as "the best table." Customers’ preferences, they claim, are never the same. Sure, intimate, private tables are highly sought after, but some diners want to get as close as possible to the kitchen for a front row view of the action.
Still, some tables are inherently better than others. There have to be tables that the maître d' keeps free, or clears fast when a boldface name strolls in. Seriously, where does Jake Gyllenhaal get seated when he goes to Zuni Café? Does Jane Fonda get a primo table at Chez Panisse when she visits the Café for lunch on New Year's? Think local Tampa Bay radio host Todd Schnitt of the MJ Morning Show, a reported regular at Bern's, gets seated near the kitchen? Doubtful. Heck, some restaurants have been known to have entire floors that are off-limits to the hoi polloi (try getting into that top room at The Spotted Pig in New York's West Village).
But, surprise, it's tough to get restaurants to cop to the truth. What they will tell you is that when it comes to optimizing your restaurant experience, it's important to make your ideal situation known during the reservation process. And hey, that makes sense. After all, as anyone with restaurant work experience knows, juggling customers’ interests is not easy.
Jean-Jacques Retourné, maître d' of Citronelle, shared a telling example: “Guests should understand that the seating [at Citronelle] is broken down into four sections. Everything is prepared à la minute, so spacing out the arrival of the guests evens out things for the kitchen and allows for better service.”
Landing the eight o’clock reservation for the romantic corner table won’t always happen. But as this survey of a selection of some of the 101 Best Restaurants in America reveals, there’s an ample supply of unique options available for diners ready to experience something new.