We’re in Murphy’s, the breakfasty-brunchy joint “where Virginia Highlands meets.” (You know — it’s the place Thrillist.com claims is the best restaurant in the Highlands neighborhood.) We’ve been here before, and know it can get busy on weekends. This morning, though, only three couples are seated out on the patio and perhaps four groups are seated inside. The restaurant is virtually empty.
When we enter, we’re surprised to see two members of our party being held at bay by the diminutive hostess. She gives us a plastic smile. “We can’t seat anyone until the entire party arrives,” she says.
I gaze out at the sea of untaken tables. “Okay.”
She leads our party of five past open, spacious tables and bench-seats to a tiny table for four, transformed into a table for five by squeezing a fifth chair between two others. It’s right up against another table of six: four adults and two squealing babies.
Our waiter, barely awake, appears. One member of our party asks if the sausages on the menu are patties or links.
He blinks. “They’re chicken?”
“Okay,” our friend says. “And are they patties or links?”
He blinks. “Um?”
“Are they flat and round,” our friend asks, “or round and long?”
He blinks. “Round and long?”
Breakfast comes. I eat my pancakes with my elbows pinned to my sides. They’re good, but I’m distracted by my awkward posture and the fact that we’re surrounded by unused, more spacious tables.
When we’re done, we try to linger over coffee.
Our waiter drops off our check, asking if we need anything else. A minute later, he hastily clears our table, asking if we need anything else. A minute later, he snatches up our water glasses, asking we we need anything else. A minute later, he gathers stray silverware, asking if we need anything else.
A word, then, to the management at Murphy’s: when lines are out the door, a policy of seating complete parties, a practice of wedging people into the smallest table possible, and a strategy of shooing chatty diners out of the restaurant might make sense. But when things are quiet and tables are empty, you might train your crew to treat folks more humanely …
… or else, despite your reputation, a quiet and empty restaurant may become the rule instead of the exception.