Eating at the Counter, either alone or with a more intimate friend, partner, lover, or family member is better than a table.
I traveled and dined alone for over 10 years, while now, grounded to a more regular schedule with the ability to dine with closer friends and relatives more frequently, I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is a counter/bar that regularly seats guests, eating at the counter is a more intimate experience with your meal (if dining alone) or your dining companion.
And let’s get something clear about dining at the counter. I’m not talking Applebee’s, Chili’s, or the neighborhood pub with bar seating, with 8 big screens and 22 different sporting venues from around the world and servers in their Game Day uniform. There’s nothing intimate or special about game day dining over a trough of nachos or 22oz Budweiser.
SPQR, Flour+Water, Diavola, Zin, Scopa, Locanda, Cotogna, now gone Cyrus, the old Petite Syrah, Enoteca Molinari, Bellanico, Trelio, Parma, Ruth’s Chris in Fresno during happy hour, any sushi restaurant, or Pizzeria Bussola in Florence all are or were more fun to eat at the counter. Let me reiterate and emphasize, eating at the counter is better ONLY if you’re alone or with someone you’re close to. Eating at the counter with four people defeats the purpose of intimacy.
Why the Counter over the Table?
Why separate your meal with a table when you could eat side-by-side with someone you may not see again for several weeks? Why sit at a table with 3 x3 feet of pine between you and your smokin’ hot wife when you could have your hand on her thigh during dessert or better yet, her hand on yours? Why share parallel space with other guests on the banquette overhearing their boorish conversation?
Reasons to sit at the counter if you’re a single diner:
- Chances are, there is a bartender you can talk to
- If the counter is purpose built for the kitchen, there is plenty of action as food is prepared
- You’ve increased your chances of meeting someone new on either side of you
- You wanna get to know the owner or the chef? Eat at the counter.
Reasons to sit at the counter if you’re a couple:
- As “The Gentleman” you never have to face the back wall again. I was told many years ago that women should be able to face the main restaurant, while we should have all our attention on our girlfriend/wife/wall. Fabulous, but if it’s a date and it isn’t going so well, at least you can watch food prepared.
- It’s creepy to sit side-by-side at a table. I recall being seated side-by-side, facing the main dining room at Lacroix in Philadelphia. We felt like we were posing for a formal picture or on display for other guests to discuss.
- Sharing food with your friend/lover/relative is much easier. The counter will generally have more space than a table and a server that can be more attentive because they are generally expediting food from the counter or window.
"We’re fully committed this evening"
For very busy restaurants and for restaurants that don’t take reservations, the only dining option may be the counter/bar. As a single and two-top diner, I may not have had the chance to eat at Flour+Water, Locanda, or Cotogna unless I ate at the bar. In fact, many restaurants declare first-come-first-serve at the counter, as if it’s a bad thing or as if there is a limited menu served there.
“Welcome to Hard to Get Into Restaurant…how many?”
“While we are fully committed for the next 90 minutes in the main dining room, there is seating at the counter”
It’s almost a pejorative declaration from the host “There is seating at the counter.” And then the unsettled moment comes to the inexperienced or parochial diner after they look at their guest; with the responses, “Thank you, we’ll come back another time” or “We’ll wait for a table”.
Idiots. This isn’t Denny’s. You could have sat down immediately at a one-star Michelin rated restaurant, with a one-month reservation queue and you passed up two seats. Now you’re going to wait 90 minutes for the same food at a “corner” table with full view or perhaps full “smell” of the lavatory; or your wife is going to complain that you got the cold, breezy table next to the door, or worse, you’re not going to eat at the Michelin one-star because of your preconceived notion that you only dine at a table.
Tables at restaurants should be for parties of four or more, business transactions, people you want to keep at a distance, in-laws, an uncompromising dullard of a wife or husband and escort services.
And restaurants, install hooks under the counter for purses and coats.