The Cold Table at Northeast Social

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The following essay is not intended to detract from the magic of Northeast Social, a relatively new and instantly popular restaurant that is winning friendly reviews from all corners of the Twin Cities. The menu is nicely balanced, the food is well-executed, the staff is gracious and enthusiastic — as restaurants go, it’s a clear winner.

And yet.

Northeast Social is doing a thing that a number of local restaurants do.

It is not a good thing, and it needs to be talked about.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

There is a four-top just inside of Northeast Social’s front door. On a recent 10-degree night, a party of four seated at that table grumbled darkly about the temperature for the entire two-hour duration of the meal, because every time the single front door opened — and it opened a lot — a blast of weather would enter and chill the hell out of everyone.

A nearby space heater was a thoughtful but ineffective gesture — it helped speed up recovery time, but did nothing to blunt the constant stabbing of cold air that made the entire meal an exercise in recurring annoyance.

To greater and lesser degrees, there are a number of other restaurants that suffer from a similar problem. Due to a lack of (insert one: heavy velvet curtain, double-paned vestibule entry, sufficient distance between door and closest table), the restaurants have one or more tables that are at the mercy of the elements, particularly when those elements are, for example, hovering right around zero.

The honorable thing to do would be to retire that four-top until the weather crawls back up into the 40s and 50s. A good hostess does not let her guests sit somewhere that’s subject to intermittent icy blasts, and neither should a restaurant, regardless of the potential impact on profit.

But maybe that’s just not practical, and nor is building a vestibule or some other kind of properly insulated buffer between world and diner. A very bad thing to do is to nervously pretend the problem is not a big deal. “It’ll get better soon,” said our waiter, which was a big fat load unless he was referring to “soon” in geological terms, as in, “it’ll be summer again in no time because millennia pass in the blink of an eye once you’ve got the right perspective on things.”

If ditching the table just isn’t an option, here’s something to consider: be forthright about it.

“So,” the waiter might say. “The only table we have open is The Cold Table. If you take that, all your hot drinks and soups are free, and we shave 10 percent off your bill. Or, you can wait for the next regular table, which should take 20-30 minutes.”

You’ve given your diners fair notice, and given them a choice: Suffer a bit — but enjoy a novel experience and a bunch of free soup and coffee — or wait a bit, and be seated somewhere where you can enjoy a proper civilized meal.

God knows we tolerate winter around here, but we shouldn’t have to do it while eating dinner indoors.


  1. geoff

    This needed to be written. This (as most service issues) is one of those things that is better / more respectfully explained prior that post. I particularly like the fact that Norton has given several creative suggestions to the restauranteurs who suffer the chills in lieu of the usual catty passive-aggressive blogger-bitching. Happy New Year.

  2. Dave

    Why didn’t you ask to speak with the manager on duty? It is not the hostess’s fault or the server’s fault that the restaurant is seating a cold table and if they refused to seat or serve that table because it is cold, what do you think would happen? Servers usually don’t have discretion to offer discounts either, so if you don’t like your table, then ask your hostess or the manager for a different one. If they don’t accomodate your request, then leave. It is just that simple.

  3. James Norton


    The point of the essay is this: I have a theory that restaurants should not have tables that routinely produce either customer complaints to management or frigid dining experiences. Your theory is that they should, and diners who don’t like it should either leave or argue their way up the command chain into a better table. Based on the idea of restaurants offering hospitality to all, I’ll stand behind my theory.

    James Norton

  4. Pam

    There are a number of restaurants on Michigan Avenue in Chicago who have constructed exterior vestibules out of metal pipes and canvas…perhaps this would be a solution?

  5. geoff

    As to why many of these neighborhood places in MSP don’t have vestibules, my guess is that it’s a question of cost and code. If you have sunk several million into building out a large corporate chain restaurant that seats 300 ppl on Michigan Ave, you can afford to build a vestibule into your plans. If you’re a mom & pop shop in NE MPLS who rents a space and barely breaks even monthly, you may not have the money, permission or expertise to build a proper vestibule that really only helps you a few months out of the year. Norton understands this and offers solutions for the service-minded but under-funded restaurant operator.

  6. Shogunmoom

    One can just walk down the street to the Modern and see the solution: a giant, heavy, velvet curtain. Ideally with some insulatuon in the middle. Take it down in the summer, obviously.

    My restaurant has one of these as well.

  7. David

    the Strip Club in Saint Paul does the same thing. In our case we did talk to management, but the attitude was love it or leave it. I expect a bit more for a $170 tab, but as you know with restaurants regularly filled tables often equals poor service.

  8. njg

    Shogunmoom is right on the money. Heidi’s Minneapolis does this too, and it seems to work very well.

  9. EddieP

    Geoff’s comment about the difference between moneyed businesses vs. ma&pa joints is well taken. And kudos to the both of you for suggesting lower cost alternatives.
    David, if what you said about the Strip Club is true, that’s very disappointing and goes against every fundamental of properly servicing paying customers.

  10. Carla

    I couldn’t agree more. Nothing ruins a meal more than frostbite. Thanks for the creative suggestions.

  11. Lisa

    Whenever I get seated by the kitchen or the door, particularly during winter, I always respectfully turn the table down and wait to be seated somewhere reasonable. The additional wait is always worth it.

  12. pete

    great post, james. this is a big problem with dining out in MN during these months.

    IMO, it is also the responsibility of patrons to keep the door closed when entering or exiting a restaurant. this is one of my biggest pet peeves: people who hold the door open for their entire party as they arrive one by one, or who enter a restaurant in mid conversation…pausing at the door with it wide open as they complete their thought and then enter, all the while forgetting that they are blasting the nearby tables with sub-zero wind. and don’t get me started on people who don’t make sure the door has completely closed behind them. i can’t count how many times i’ve gotten up from a table across the room to shut the door for others. egads.

  13. Jen

    I can sympathize with restaurants that are in an old building, but even brand new buildings are not installing double doors to keep out the cold. Shouldn’t current building codes require this in a cold climate?

  14. Barb Bullemer

    My husband & I had a cold unpleasant experience there a couple weeks ago, made it a less than optimal experience.

  15. BNL

    My wife and I had an awesome meal, awesome wait staff, great time at the NE Social Club. But have to agree with the author. If we had known that it was going to be THAT COLD … We would have gladly waited for another table.

    We look forward to going back but most likely will wait for Summer.

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