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Diners Dissatisfied with Close-Set Tables warns Cornell Study

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Restaurateurs should make sure that their customers have sufficient personal space, according to a newly released restaurant study conducted by two researchers at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

In a survey of nearly 300 dinner customers at a fine-dining restaurant in New York City, senior lecturer Stephani Robson and professor Sheryl Kimes tested the effects of crowded tables on satisfaction and spending.

“At least when it comes to fine dining, these restaurant customers were happiest when their tables are at least a meter apart,” said Robson. “Satisfaction dropped off noticeably when we tested tables that were as close as a half meter apart. While we did not see significant differences in spending levels, we did notice that the couples at the closely spaced tables tended to leave the restaurant much faster.”

Kimes points out that more research is needed, because this involves dinner customers at just one restaurant. “Despite the study's limitations, the indications of dissatisfaction were strong when the tables were not generously spaced. The parties at the closely spaced tables were more likely to say that they were not planning to return. Thus, we conclude that personal space is important to American restaurant customers.”

Oversize Tables Not Needed for Guest Satisfaction

The restaurant study also examined whether parties of two would be more satisfied if they were seated at oversize tables, in this case, four-top tables. Because the restaurant offered an appropriate mix of two and four-top tables, few couples were seated at the four-tops. Those parties were not significantly more satisfied by having more space, nor did they spend more or stay longer than couples at regular two-tops. Thus, Robson and Kimes conclude that the restaurant research study supports the recommendation of seating parties at right-size tables.

“We know that managers may question the recommendation of having more two-tops, because they think that parties of two are much happier at larger tables,” Kimes said. “We found that this is not the case. Guests' discomfort increases when those tables are set too close together.”

The restaurant research report, “Don't Sit So Close to Me: Restaurant Table Characteristics and Guest Satisfaction”, is available at no charge from Cornell's Center for Hospitality Research.

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