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Table Jumpers: What Do You Do?

January 31, 2013

Recently, three of us went out to a much ballyhooed Brooklyn restaurant that's become as famous for its crowds and tightly packed tables as it is for its cuisine. As expected on a weekend night, there was quite a line and the hostess was upfront about the wait. (She told our leader it was a 90-minute wait. Our leader, in turn, knowing I wouldn't have waited that long packed into a mob of people for any meal, told me it was an hour.) The hour passed. Our third member, an out-of-town visitor who'd been working too hard all day to grab a bite, was ready to pass out. Another 50 minutes passed. Finally, the hostess told us a table had opened up and was being cleared for us. The skies parted and a ray of celestial light shone through to show us the promised land. But instead of watching the busboys wipe down our table, we saw a woman in red--part of a group that we'd noticed arrived after us--pushed her way to the table, had a few words with some of the staff, and sat down, followed by her two male friends. The hostess, looking totally at a loss at what to do, avoided meeting our befuddled and increasingly annoyed glances. Only when we tracked her down and asked her what had happened did she explain. "They basically kind of forced themselves into the table." At this point, still thinking we had waited twice as long as promised only to have our place snatched away from us by a trio of goons, I was furious. I weighed the possibilities: Confront the table jumpers? Demand an explanation from the managers? Simply walk out and get take-out on the way home? The bartender noticed our anger and offered us another round of drinks. We said no thanks, but he brought out a plate of olives, which saved our visitor from collapsing from hunger. Then the manager came out, offered her apologies for the long wait (though she did claim, incorrectly from what we observed and contradicting what the hostess had told us, that the table jumpers were ahead of us on the list), and bought us a round of drinks. They were gracious and understanding, but it would've been nice to see the table jumpers receive their comeuppance. At last, about two hours after we'd put our names on the list, we were seated. The kitchen sent us a free appetizer, which we appreciated, and we finally got to eat. So the most important question of the night: How was the food? Well, I've eaten at nearly every imaginable type of restaurant in existence from street carts to the hallowed temples of epicurean delights, in the near and far corners of the world. And I can say there are only a few restaurant meals out there in the world that are worth waiting two hours for. This wasn't one of them. Now the fact is, the maddening experience of the ridiculously...

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