How close is “too close for comfort” at a restaurant? A 2009 study called “Don’t Sit So Close to Me: Restaurant Characteristics and Guest Satisfaction” asked just this questions and set out to find the answer at a restaurant in New York City’s SoHo. Stephani Robson and Sheryl E. Kimes of Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality conducted the study to see how the size of the table and the spacing between table affected the guests’ experiences.
The study found that while groups of two dining with a business associate prefer to sit on opposite sides of the table, friends often chose to sit at right angles so that conversation is easier. If you’ve ever seen restaurant tables that are placed right next to each other or restaurants that seat all of their guests at long banquet tables, this setup does not seem ideal. When you take into account the fact that the average person doesn’t want to be less than 18 inches from the person next to them, it definitely suggests that there may be a problem!
The overall results from the study found that guests had a better experience if they felt less crowded, which can causes stress and feelings of over-stimulation. In fact, table size did not make a huge difference on the results, but the distance between tables did. Guest that were close together spent less time at the restaurant and were less likely to return.
Of course, these facts don’t pertain to all restaurants and all people. If you think that perhaps arranging your restaurant tables in a different way would give you guests a more positive experience, do a test run and see how it goes!