By Sandra Storey / Special to the Gazette
Restaurants and snack places in Jamaica Plain are mostly hip and comfortable, and we love them. Overall, they offer us delicious food from here and around the world and good service, too. Lucky us! JP folks and our neighbors love to eat out in our neighborhood.
Recently, though, in an effort to be au courant it seems, some well-meaning local restaurants have adopted a furnishings trend that doesn’t work well for this community. I am referring to tall tables, or what are sometimes called “high tops.”
Tall tables seat customers at a typical 42-inch high dining surface—a height which is not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. By law, the restaurant must, therefore, have plenty of other eating surfaces that are compliant, that is, 28-34 inches high.
High top diners, commonly four per table, perch on tall, hard stools, usually with low backs and no arm rests, and a rung for their feet between legs of the stool.
Lots of high tops in one eating place border on offensive. Their presence states to potential customers and the world that senior citizens, children, disabled people, and shorter adults (mostly women) are not particularly welcome. Balance, height, and upper and lower body strength are needed to access the tables and even to sit at them, feet firmly on rungs, comfortably and safely.
About 36 percent of JP residents are ages 18-35 (as of the 2010 census), but that’s no excuse for providing lots of this awkward seating. Tall tables aren’t very comfortable for most people, including millennials.
If you drop anything or have a backpack, baby stroller, purse, or shopping bag you want to access, or even if you wear a skirt, good luck at a tall surface. The light-weight metal stools that can easily tip add to the high top seating challenges some places.
How tall tables came into being and why they have been proliferating is a mystery, except that they seem to be the proverbial “latest thing.” One theory I heard from a former restaurant professional is that they are so uncomfortable they promote turnover of customers, which busy restaurants like. Another is that sitting on a stool reminds people of sitting at a bar, so they order more drinks.
I saw one person conjecture on line that the tall tables are from the Wild West days when the floors were dirty from tracked in mud, food, and spilled beer.
I’ve read in the tables’ defense that modern people at high tops can see a TV better; can talk to any friends face to face if they stop by the table; and servers don’t have to look or reach down—pretty flimsy reasons for existence compared to the drawbacks.
I sincerely hope the true appeal of tall tables isn’t that they allow people who sit at them to enjoy literally looking down on others.
Tall tables are irritating lots of “others” who find them difficult, if not impossible, to use, and I’ve been hearing from them. Some people said that if they go to an establishment where all the regular tables are taken, even if they see an empty tall table, they turn around and leave. No one I’ve talked to has said they mentioned their problem to any restaurant staff before they walked away.
Maybe high tops are so limiting they aren’t that good for business; restauranteurs should evaluate their worth, even if it means ditching some furnishings. At least if the tall tables are wooden, the legs can be sawed off to make them regular height. (There are instructions on line for how to add to ordinary table legs to make tall tables; the opposite must work as well.)
One place a few tall tables may be very appropriate and useful is near a bar in an establishment where all the bar stools are often taken—if there are other accessible surfaces, that is.
I went to a restaurant for a fundraiser last year that had refreshments and a guest speaker. A row of tall tables ran through the dining area. After a while, some attendees were standing, looking for seats, though the tall tables were unoccupied. Since some of my disabled friends were standing, I pointed out the situation to one of the organizers. At first, she and others resisted. Finally, as the standing crowd grew, I saw them call a crew to bring out more regular height chairs. The tall tables stood empty—awkward sentinels—for the rest of the event.
Tall tables are a fad. Let’s hope they soon go the way of other mostly useless fads like tail fins on cars and spinning serving platters.
Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.