A seat at table 13? Not at some superstitious restaurants

July 13, 2012 at 9:01 AM ET

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There's a restaurant industry tradition to skip table 13 in the U.S. and U.K.

Top Michelin-starred restaurants like Gilt and Le Bernardin in Manhattan are famous for always being fully booked, even on Friday the 13th. But if you request a spot at table 13, you’ll be denied not because the dining room is full, but because the table doesn’t exist.

Gilt, which commands two Michelin stars and is located in New York’s Palace Hotel, has no table 13 for little reason other than that it’s the cool thing to do. "They didn’t want any unluckiness within Gilt. Everybody does it, so it’s following a trend,” said Gilt’s general manager, Robert Honeycutt, through his publicist. He noted that as an elite restaurant, having tables 12 and 14 but no 13 is all part of a long-running restaurant tradition. He doesn’t give the belief any merit though. “It’s all based on superstition.” 

Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13, is, however, very real for some people. Although its origins are unknown, for some it goes back to Christian theology, specifically, the Last Supper, in which Jesus and his 12 disciples broke bread and drank wine the night before he was betrayed by Judas – the 13th member of the party to arrive.

The creepiness of the number persists and some say that if 13 dine together, one will be dead within a year. It’s not exactly something you want to be thinking about while cutting up a steak or uncorking a bottle of wine.

While these top Manhattan restaurants avoid the number 13, it’s also viewed as an unlucky number across the United Kingdom. The Guardian reports that only two of the nation’s top 14 restaurants (as determined by a variety of critics and publications) have a table 13. For many other American and British restaurants, however, little thought is given to the number’s significance.

There is a table 13 at New York’s Parm. The reservationist even laughed when I asked about its existence. Likewise, at The Palm Downtown in Los Angeles, the “unlucky 13” belief holds no sway. Founded by Italian immigrants, Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi, in 1926, the restaurateurs had little reason to omit the thirteenth table. “They didn’t even give it any thought,” said Sara Kim, The Palm Downtown’s general manager. “It’s a cultural thing.”

Indeed, in Italy, the number 13 has no significance, but 17 is a dreadfully unlucky number – few Italian restaurants have a table 17.  

Whatever causes it, the tradition continues, and many superstitious diners avoid both eating at table 13 and on the 13th.  Tell us, does Friday the 13th or dining at table 13 hold any significance to you?