As the weather gets nicer, I’ve been spending more time at bars and restaurants, especially in the patios and beer gardens. However, I noticed some of the chairs in these outdoor spaces are less than comfortable. I figured I could write a column about it, so I asked my friends on social media for their most-hated chairs in town, and hooo boy, I got enough suggestions for stiff, fragile, inaccessible, and downright hazardous chairs to fill multiple columns. Let’s take a look!
WARNING: THIS FOLLOWING CONTAINS MANY PHOTOS OF MY CLOTHED BUTT AND GLIMPSES OF MY WHITE WHITE THIGHS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
The Ubiquitous Butt-Cruncher
When I started paying attention to the seating at local businesses some weeks back I immediately noticed that one particular model was especially common. This stamped metal number is the primary type of chair at many restaurants around town.
They’re at Cracked and Thai Fusion in Campustown, at the brand new spot The Space in Downtown Champaign, and Broadway Food Hall has the taller version of this same chair for its high tables.
If you Google “metal restaurant chair” this same design shows up dozens of times. I kinda get it, these chairs look pretty cool and modern, plus they come in a bunch of colors.
Here’s the thing though, these chairs kinda suck. The main issue here is that, if you’ve got a tuchus that’s even slightly larger than the average child’s, and you attempt to sit fully centered on these chairs, your cheeks will get cruelly squeezed by the steel tubing that holds up the back. You can of course slide your bum more forward and be “on the edge of your seat,” but that’s just uncomfortable in a different way.
There’s worse chairs on this list according to me, but this is apparently one of the cheapest and most popular chair options around and I wish it was better for more body types.
The Ubiquitous Steel Stools
Clearly related to the Butt-Crunchers are these high, backless, metal stools that also show up at a bunch of places. Now, high tables and chairs look cool, but they’ve got their own accessibility problems. They can be straight-up dangerous for some people, especially children. These aren’t the most comfortable bar stools I’ve ever sat in, but I’d still take one over the Butt-Cruncher variety.
Frankly, I don’t expect as much comfort from a stool.
Harvest Market’s Captive Stools
If you didn’t know, Harvest Market is more than just a place to get overpriced groceries; it’s also a cool spot to hang out, with a bar and lots of places to sit up on the 2nd floor. I enjoy relaxing up there and watching strangers pick out produce. While overall the seating options at HarvMark are solid, there is one glaring exception: these big wooden and metal tables with built-in stools that swing out from the table legs.
These are a bit harrowing to sit in. When you bring your weight down, you can feel the whole table shift. I’m not actually worried about the table flipping over cuz it is very hefty, but still. The general sitting experience ain’t great. The seat of the stool is a bit small for me and they’ve got a very limited range of motion.
I will say, these could be worse though. I remember similar chair/table combos in fast food restaurants in the 1990s. Some of these had spring-loaded arms so they were automatically tucked under the table when not in use. However, this meant the chairs were tough to get into as you had to hold them steady while sitting down. Also, if you were a child like me, it was possible to get fully body-slammed by a chair swiftly shooting back to its resting position if you weren’t careful. Anyway these HarvMark ones don’t have that issue. You can move them freely within their arc and they’ll stay there.
Clearly a function following form situation. These table/chair combos look cool but ain’t great for spending much time in and could be difficult for some users.
The Cafe & Co. “Whale Tail”
Absolutely one of my least favorite chairs in town are these ones at Cafeteria & Company. Wait a minute…. These look suspiciously like the Ubiquitous Butt-Crunchers! Yes definitely the same seat and legs but with a different and somehow even worse back!
Look, I know that manspreading is a whole meme and dudes on subways getting greedy by splaying their legs far and wide deserve our ridicule, but I don’t have to spread at all in these chairs for the arms to be actively cutting into my thighs/hips.
Unlike with the Butt Crunchers, moving forward or back isn’t really a helpful option here.
I hate these chairs so much I developed this hack to make them actually sit-able. Just rotate the chair 90 degrees in either direction then slip your leg through one of the holes. No more hip pinching! Other patrons will either view you as a weirdo or a genius for pulling this move. Also, this hack definitely won’t work for some body types and movement abilities. Be careful.
So why do I call these the “Whale Tail?” Well from the back these chairs make it look like you’re wearing a very large thong over your clothes. How fashionable!
I’m not increasing the grade because of my cool hack. You shouldn’t have to sit in chairs wrong to feel right.
Maize Patio Chairs
Let’s talk for a second about armrests on chairs. They’re more than just a place to put your sleepy arms, for some people they’re a necessary thing to hold onto when sitting down, or getting up out of a chair. That said, often armrests hinder a chair’s accessibility in other ways. For instance, these armrests on the chairs in the Maize patio are so narrow they’re painful in much the same way as the Whale Tails.
I attempted the 90 degree turn trick on these chairs as well, but the hole is much smaller. It kinda worked but getting in and out was much tougher. I don’t recommend.
Luckily, Maize has a large collection of different patio chairs sitting on the sidelines!
I’m sure they’d let you take your pick if you wanted. (I did not actually try all these different chairs while I was there because I’m not a real journalist.)
I just want to drink a margarita in a chair that fits my body!
Alright, enough negativity, let’s end with a few chairs I like.
Though they look very similar to some of the others, these chairs at Sun Singer I found to be much more comfortable simply because they are a few inches wider. Obviously that won’t make them work for everyone, but it sure made a big difference for me!
Since I was at Broadway Food Hall, I did sample all of their seating options. Of course the most comfortable are the couches, but you don’t always want to be eating dinner on a couch.
I like these lightweight metal lads quite a bit. Maybe still not comfortable for bigger bums, but at least they’re not constricting.
The big picnic-style benches are very flat and very hard, but they do let you sit however you want.
To wrap things up, I’m obviously no accessibility or ergonomics expert, but the fact that I find some of these chairs uncomfortable means a sizable portion of the population must as well. It’s a bummer that customer seating feels like an afterthought at some of these establishments. No chair is perfect for every person and all situations, but I think just having some different options for people goes a long way.
I’ve only scratched the surface of subpar seating in this city. Got some chairs you can’t stand to sit in? Let me know and I’ll do a part two sometime!