Siberia, you may not know, is the part of the restaurant where they most want you to sit. It is also the part of the restaurant where you least want to sit. It will have the gents on one side and the ladies on the other. They will try to insist you sit there because, even though there are five empty tables, they want to save them for someone who isn’t yet there. President Obama, maybe, or Kate Moss. You aren’t charged less to sit there, you pay as much as Kate Moss will, if, indeed, her dinner isn’t comped. You will be cramped and uncomfortable, there will be a cold (Siberian, even) draught. Every waiter’s backside will brush against you each time he passes. People will jog your elbow every time they go to or return from the toilet. You will lose your wine down the front of your shirt, and worse, you will lose your appetite. Every part of your meal, the meal you’re paying good money for, will be hell. This, in my humble opinion, is wrong.
The picture at the top of this post is something I saw. It actually happened. At a restaurant I otherwise love in Stockholm, Nybrogaten 38. I wrote a little about it here, how they sat me at a communal table. There were small groups of people but, brilliantly, the manager put the three people eating by themselves that night together. We began eating alone and were friends by the time the main course arrived. That same busy night, look, he sat these poor fools at a table behind the bar. Do they look happy? Would you be happy sitting next to the sink behind the bar?
My friend Andrea, who hadn’t heard of Siberia in this context before I told her about it, went to a smart restaurant with her husband the other evening in Primrose Hill. £50 a head smart, plus booze. They’d been to this place many times before. The maître d’ recognised them, greeted them like returned lost children, and led them to a table between the coats and the kitchen door. They sat down, asked for some drinks. They looked at the menu. The waiter was poised to take their order. I’ll tell you what I want, Andrea said to him, but if, when it arrives, I’m still sitting in Siberia, I’ll leave and never come back. Andrea was surprised (and thrilled) that she hadn’t had to explain ‘Siberia’ to the waiter, he knew what she meant. Oh, yes, he knew. Andrea and her husband were led to the best table in the house, like royalty or pop stars or something. They weren’t charged for the wine. They had a lovely time and are looking forward to going back. Everyone wins.
Don’t let them make you sit at the worst table. It’s especially difficult to make them let you move when you’re by yourself. Leave if they refuse. They will change their minds. And if they don’t, you will know how much your custom is worth to them. Ask for a discount. If you stay ask for the service charge to be removed. I’ve done this and each time the waiter has been so nice about it I’ve left a cash tip on the table. But I’m a big softie. Be brave, comrades, don’t allow this injustice to continue. I’ve begun writing a manifesto for all the things that are bad about restaurants. Sometimes those things are us, the customers. If there’s anything you’d like to be put in the manifesto please let me know and the committee will consider it. Vive la revolution, mes militaires!