Dealing With Loiterers

February 15, 2010

in Non-Stories

Hey Dev,

This happened a few years ago but it still bothers me to think about it. My wife and I attended a family wedding out of town. After a long afternoon, 11 relatives wanted to go out to dinner. We called a restaurant near our motel (chain, not pricey, not fast food.) They told us they could seat us at 7:30 and we made the reservation.

The walk over took 15 minutes and we were there by 7:20, aware we might have to wait a bit past the promised time. The hostess identified the tables we’d be sitting at. One of them was being cleared, and the other had a party of five who had just paid their bill. We expected to to be seated shortly. Except that the other party decided to stay and talk. And talk. And talk some more. Even though we were waiting, even though other later arrivals had a 45 to 60 minute wait, the restaurant wouldn’t ask the loiterers to move. The restaurant couldn’t find another place for us, moving to another establishment would have added another hour or more before we’d be seated and one couple in our party gave up in exhaustion and went back to their room.

After the other ex-diners had sat 40 minutes after paying, I went to the table and firmly requested they they vacate their table. They left, but not after complaining to the hostess about how rude I’d been. The hostess was not happy with me either, but at least the delayed meal went well. Given the circumstances, I felt I’d done the only thing I could. How else might I have handled this? Remember, changing restaurants was not a viable option.

Disgruntled in Denver

Dear Disgruntled,

While your frustration was understandable, you shouldn’t have “firmly requested” that the diners leave their table. The other party had a right to relax after dinner; the table was their piece of real estate that they paid for. All too often diners in the U.S. don’t take the time to leisurely savor their dining experience, including the afterglow that follows a sumptuous meal. People are either in a hurry, or servers rush the courses. In many other countries, lingering over a meal is actually a part of the cultural fabric. Of course, with tipping constituting a good chunk of a server’s pay in the U.S., servers don’t get paid as much when tables aren’t turned over. Therefore those who linger should take that into consideration when tipping their server.

But your party had a right to expect to be seated within a reasonable duration following the time for which the reservation was made. The restaurant should have addressed the matter before your annoyance reached the boiling point, which created an uncomfortable situation for everyone. Here is what they could have done:

If there was another table available, they could have politely approached the diners and informed them that a large party had been waiting for a good while, and that if they’d be willing to move to an available table, they’d be given complimentary desserts (for example). If there weren’t any tables available, the restaurant could have offered to comp a free appetizer on their next visit if they’d leave.

By seeking out a win-win the restaurant would, at the least, had partially satisfied customers instead of everyone with a sour taste in their mouth.

Dev the Dining Devil

[Note: Dev the Dining Devil mysteriously disappeared into parts unknown and therefore we’re no longer able to continue this feature.]

Mrs. K. March 17, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I used to work at a restaurant and customers lingering long after they paid is just really annoying. I get it though, I've done it too because I wanted to make the night last with my boyfriend etc, but the reality is it's rude and bad for business. You may want to stay and enjoy the atmosphere and whatever, but that means you are also making other customers wait especially if it's a busy night like Friday or Saturday. That in turn makes these angry customers turn on the hosts for something that cannot be controlled. Customers treated us like dirt because obviously if you're in the service industry you're less than human. In addition to that if you stay for a long time you are taking a table away from a server who could be making tips which may not seem like a big deal to most people but servers are not paid minimum wage or if they are it is the bare minimum, and many servers rely on tips to get through school, pay bills, feed their families, etc.

I suggest if you want to continue your evening go to a coffeehouse or somewhere where you staying isn't actually causing a ripple effect of bad situations for other people and loss of income. The only situation I can think of where staying isn't a big deal is when the restaurant isn't busy and there are plenty of tables for everyone.

Jane July 21, 2015 at 10:29 am

Throughout my lifetime I was conscious of: not taking up a table for too long; the presumed bad income of servers, even in higher-end restaurants; the amount of time I could reasonably sit at a table once finished, etc., etc., etc…. I've advised hosts and hostesses if I wanted to stay seated for some time – that I'd be willing to pay for the extra time – anything to have a relaxed meal. Has having all this consideration made an iota of difference? I once had an former long-time friend and restaurant owner tell me: "If you can't afford to tip well, you shouldn't eat out." This from people who went to illegal lengths to make an extra penny. The heck with that. I don't make demands. Never have. I am not responsible for the welfare of the owners of a restaurant, it's servers, its suppliers, the other patrons…Increasingly not eating out at all, because it just isn't pleasant anymore. Maybe if one downs several drinks before or during the meal, it makes for "happy times," but I don't think patrons should have to drug themselves in order to spend money and not get a sour stomach.

Laura January 20, 2011 at 9:16 pm

We have an israeli restaurant here in Winnipeg where the owner actually yells "no camping here, out, out! This is a restaurant, not a hotel!", but he does it in a (semi) joking manner, in his thick israeli accent. The owner is well known for his antics, and it's actually part of the charm

Alina September 6, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Where I'm from, people usually stay at least half an hour after dinner. Restaurants know that and arrange the reservations accordingly.
However, this doesn't seem to be the custom in the US… so when I dine in a restaurant in the US, I try to keep that in mind.
"When in Rome…" and all^^

Jane July 21, 2015 at 10:31 am

I don't understand this. It certainly used to be the norm in the US to linger after a meal.

Amber May 12, 2016 at 11:22 am

When there is an obvious long wait for a table placed on arriving customers, it's rude to sit around after paying. If you want to keep chatting then don't pay and keep ordering drinks and food, otherwise move your butt and be considerate to not only your server but the other waiting customers. If the place is empty and you're one of only a couple tables with guests, go ahead and hang around longer, since you aren't causing other customers to wait or worse just leave, then it's less rude to hang out for a bit. Regardless, if you keep your server running out drink top-ups long after you paid, you better be tipping to account for the extra work.

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