The unconventional table

Cutler & Co.

Lisa Hasen urges restaurants and cafes to reconsider the tools they use to put bums on seats, and to offer would-be diners a range of seating options including informal and uncustomary.


Doesn’t everyone prefer to belly up to the bar for a meal like I do? Have FOMO when seated in the main dining room but are longing to be amidst the action of the communal high-top section?

Sometimes it’s more fun to dine at the counter, entertained by street life facing outwards or by the amazing kitchen line. Outdoor tables are also enticing, with the ability to replenish both vitamin D and our stomachs all at once.

Are the possible experiences of the unconventional table as exciting to you as they are to me?

As it turns out not everyone feels the same way, which is one reason why, until now, restaurants have been hesitant to count these unconventional tables as available inventory and make them bookable online.

Some of our recent research has shown the majority of Australians (83 per cent) love a mid-afternoon meal on a Sunday, and as an example of an unconventional table, the outdoor seats becomes a more valuable commodity in warmer weather to help restaurants drive revenue.

However, it can be challenging for restaurateurs to juggle – some diners don’t care for noise, others want an assured seat-back or simply a table to call their own; others want to be seated outside on a hot day, others do not.

We’ve all been on both sides when an unconventional table type is assigned to us randomly and our expectations are not met. It’s no fun to disappoint a customer or have to manage this in addition to all the other goings on in the middle of service.

The good news is restaurants can now promote specific table categories online and enable diners to choose if they want to be outside, at a high top or at a counter seat, by utilising the new table categories feature within OpenTable’s GuestCenter. There are meaningful benefits to your business, including:

  • Increase available inventory, while setting expectations. By allowing the guest to choose a specific table type, such as the bar, counter, high-top or outdoor, venues can expand capacity with the diner in the know about the table style they are choosing.
  • Control bookings of non-standard table types with extra controls to open / close availability as needed. If the bar is used as the holding area for diners arriving for the next service, close down availability for that 30 minute switch-over period and open it back up when you’re confident they’ll be comfortably seated at their table.
  • Deliver an alternative experience, attracting a wider array of diners. Be it solos who may prefer a bar table, those wanting a more casual feeling at the counter, or diners who would be overjoyed to secure a table outside after a long day inside the office.
  • Regulate who gets what might be your most prized tables. If you’ve traditionally used outdoor seating for walk-ins, why not let the planners/reservation seekers (and higher spenders, as all research attests) to have a shot at securing those seats.
  • Promote eating along with drinking at high-tops and bar seats. Guests booking a table online are looking for a meal and a reservation ensures the spend will include your lovely dishes along with beverages.

Now is a great time to consider promoting unconventional tables to attract and delight customers, and to deliver great hospitality.

See you at the bar for dinner!