If you and a spouse/mate/lover/friend head out for dinner, sometimes it ain't easy. As the plates keep landing on your table for two, dinner becomes a game of Jenga. The half-eaten bowl of Brussels sprouts balances at the table's edge. A slight reach for a morsel of meat risks sending a $12 cocktail flying.
This balancing act awaits diners with reservations at so-called two tops, even at some of Miami's best restaurants. One night, my server at José Andrés' the Bazaar had no place on our minuscule table to rest the Spanish chef's artfully plated bone marrow. We were seated next to the SLS Hotel South Beach's front door, a prime spot to see a column of fist-pumping bros make their way toward the dance music thumping by the pool.
At 27 Restaurant & Bar, I sent my smoky calabaza -- mezcal shaken with a savory blend of egg whites, charred squash, and the pungent Indian spice garam masala -- flying while reaching for a bite of the braised and fried pork shoulder called griot. Cue the single tear.
It's not that restaurants intentionally relegate parties of two into a lower class. It happens naturally.
"Let's be honest. This is a business, and sometimes it's a situation where you have to squeeze in another table anywhere you can," says 27's executive chef, James Seyba, who says he loves cooking for parties of two.
In a former life in fine dining, Sakaya Kitchen and Blackbrick chef and owner Richard Hales says he learned that dining rooms weren't laid out with two-tops in mind. They were just squeezed in after the larger tables were given prime position.
One reason is lower check averages, Seyba says. Another, according to Hales, is that sections full of twos spawn a lot of turnover, often overwhelming even the best servers.
Still, these legitimate reasons don't justify jamming full-paying customers into a small space. The answer isn't for restaurants to rent larger spaces and inflate their overhead, or for diners to visit early or late when the room isn't as full. The answer is the communal table.
"Ours is five feet wide," Hales says of his new table, decked out in Miami artist AholSniffsGlue's signature droopy eyes. "We'll put two people there before we seat them at a smaller table, and it helps get more people in the dining room."
With more space for diners and more diners for restaurants, the communal table seems like a win-win. Such a setup might not appear conducive to fine dining, but a number of lauded restaurants around the country -- Brooklyn Fare, Jose Andres' place in Las Vegas, for example -- that sit high-paying strangers side by side at a bar. The best way to enjoy Naoe's nearly $200-per-person omakase menu is at the sushi bar, next to whoever also happens to secure a reservation that night.
Let's hope we'll see more of these tables with strangers instead of tiny tables for two. And perhaps we'll all be saved from nights marred by the threat of sending drinks and plates crashing to the floor.
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