The best seat in the Coffee House

Have you ever been in a Viennese coffee house? 

If you have you’ll know that the waiters wear jackets with tails, white waistcoats and bow ties because Coffee is serious in Vienna.

They don’t smile, these Waiters. If they’re exceedingly jolly, they’ll have a twinkle in their eye or slightly upturned mouth edges but never any teeth on show. Definitely no laughing or merrymaking of that sort.

When you walk into a Viennese coffee house, you’ll notice all the best tables – you know, the corner tables or the nice little window booths have little plates on them saying reserviert (reserved).

You could sit your whole coffee out on a tiny chair and table that barely have space for your coffee and water, never mind a book or your laptop –  and as you leave, notice that the reserviert tables (there could be several) don’t get used while you’re there.

It’s because they’re not really reserviert, they’re simply being held under the control of the waiter, because they want to be sure that every patron entering knows that they, the Waiters are in charge of the domain that is their coffee house.

When I figured out that in Vienna, reserved doesn’t really mean reserved, I started asking for the reserviert table.

Waiters usually don’t like it that I do.

And still I (almost) always get the reserviert table.


Because I can stand the waiter’s annoyance at my cheek to ask for the table that would be much more comfortable to sit at and will often be empty anyway.

How far does this go? 

If a waiter tells me that he has a standing customer who will most likely come in and he’d like that table, do I throw a fit and insist? 

Of course not. That would feel obnoxious. 

But I’m also ok with my discomfort at being told that and so I ask…on the off chance that it might be free. When it is, I love it. If there’s someone with me, they love it too…even when they were cringing as I asked (perfectly politely) if I could sit there.

In any negotiation or agreeing of positions, the person who ‘wins’ is the person who is willing to be ok with the other person’s discomfort – longest.

In order to be ok with someone else’s discomfort, you have to be clear on your position.

My position on the Coffee shop’s best tables is that the Waiters play games with them and I’ve no problem as a paying customer asking for one of them if I have a hunch it’s free.

In any discussion, negotiation or even exchange of views, the extent to which you are unclear about your position will ability or otherwise to tolerate someone else’s discomfort at what you have to say.

Are you sufficiently supportive of your own position to tolerate someone else’s discomfort with your position?

Once you are clear on what you really think – once you have your own back on what you’re asking for and why – being ok with someone else’s discomfort is just part of the exchange.

I see people going to astonishing lengths to avoid other people’s discomfort. Causing themselves huge discomfort because they prioritised someone else’s preference to do things a particular way.

Do you do this?

If yes, the solution is teaching yourself how to form your view – completely and cleanly – ahead of time. 

I can teach you how to form your position and then advocate for it cleanly. To speak, message me at [email protected]

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