At a recent meal in a very sparsely attended restaurant, the hostess led us to a banquette table and installed us next to the only other group in the room. Seated a butt's width away on the same bench, that party was conducting business, and they proceeded to fling around some high-profile names with a few dollar figures attached. The conversation we inevitably overheard was almost more delicious than the food.
But if you aren't inveterately nosey, that kind of snug seating arrangement can be very off-putting, hampering conversation among both parties. (I can only assume the proximity of strangers accounts for why my husband didn't spend much time extolling my beauty that night?)
I get that if you have only one server on duty, you might want to cluster your guests, and it might help create a little energy by placing everyone together.
On the other hand, we were seated so close to the only other humans in the room that we could have asked them to pass the salt. It was a little awkward.
So, I throw this question out to diners: In a restaurant so empty you can hear crickets chirping, where do you want to sit? And for servers and hosts, where do want to seat your guests?