It was a slow Tuesday night, and I was scheduled to get the first table. The restaurant, an upscale steakhouse, was empty, all 100-plus seats of it. Finally the doors opened and our first guests arrived: a tall older gentleman, the first of a party of two. Katherine, our host, asked if he would like to be seated while he waited. He would. She led him down the stairs from the front desk and straight to table 33. This was always where we seated the first table. It was the most popular table in the restaurant—a booth, of course, centrally located. Better to seat it first, so the next and the next and the next won’t ask for it. Yet it was also situated by the corner that led to both the bar and the restrooms, a fact I had never considered in my ten years at the restaurant until that night.
Katherine dropped the menus and began scooping up the extra settings. The man, however, did not sit. He looked once around the empty restaurant, and then back at his table with an expression of disappointment and defeat.
“Do you have to seat me at the worst table in the restaurant?” he asked.
Katherine, a recently divorced suburban housewife who always spoke to each guest as if she were offering them cookies, began to stammer. “I—I’m sorry.” She snatched the menus from the table.
“I mean really,” moaned the man. “It’s right by the bathrooms.”
Katherine was already on her way to table 23. “How about this?”
“Well, yes,” said the man. “Yes, that’s better. I mean why would you sit me at that table?”
Katherine began to formulate her response, but the man was not done.
“Why me?” he implored. “Why me?”
Katherine was not at that moment equipped for such an existential request. She seated him, apologized, and wished him a nice dinner. Fortunately, in moving from 33 to 23 he had also moved from my station to my friend Blake’s station. Blake emerged from the kitchen, surprised to see himself seated first. I was supposed to have been seated first. Seating order mattered to waiters.
“Didn’t like 33,” I said.
“You want to take him?” Blake offered.
Blake eyed me suspiciously. “What’s wrong with him?”
“We’re all against him.”
Blake sighed and rolled his eyes. “Why do I always get the crazies? Huh? Why is it always me?”
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