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What happens when they just won't leave?


Dave Weinstein
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HAAAAAAY, Rebecca!!! I'm so glad you're feeling like joining in---and that's twice this week, I think---so good you're feeling up to it.

Just this Thanksgiving, I (for the FIRST TIME, EVER) stood up from the table and sort of stayed inclined toward the seated guests. The kids had long ago cleared the table as we talked, dessert and coffee had been served and eaten, liqueurs declined, and the clock was clicking toward ten after a 5:30 twilight seating.

I had worked hard on the meal, serving every traditional item in our Southern family's usual menu. I had super-cleaned and arranged and defrosted and scrubbed and tidied the kitchen and dining area, for I was doing the eGullet blog that week, and had cabinets and refrigerators ready for picture-taking (that eG crowd insists on fridge shots, hands, cabinets, coffee shots, etc---they're a hard crowd to work).

I had also blogged day and night since Sunday, was having a hard time with my poor computer skills, and kept losing whole posts into the ether trying to segue back and forth from my own eG identity to the nom-de-keyboard they gave me for the week, in order to post pictures.

PLUS, and this is the worst plus---Chris had been in hospital for three days, wrestling with a kidney stone, and came home on Wednesday afternoon. I knew he needed to lie down soon, and I was just worn out, and could have gone to sleep in that stiff dining room chair, had I not kept my mannerly eyes open by sheer force of will and several espressos.

But I DID stand at the stroke of ten, and didn't do any little busywork. I gave them my full attention, sort of leaning their way in an expectant posture (Louis B. Mayer, I think, or some other tycoon said when the conference/interview has gone on too long, stand and lean---they feel they have to respond, and will stand as well).

And they did stand, and say it was getting late; we packed up leftovers for their Friday lunch, wrapped the half-pie left from the two they had brought, and saw them happily up the stairs and out. I may have even closed the front door before their lights swept out of the driveway---I DO know those dishes waited patiently for Friday.

Never before or since have I prodded a guest to leave. Chris needed his rest, and so did I. It worked, and they're coming to his Birthday Brunch next Sunday, so I guess no hard feelings.

(I do remember seeing two aunts of the bride stripping the wedding tables of all their finery and exposing the old brown wood of the folding tables before the B&G and guests had even left the premises---now THEY needed a lesson in tact).

Edited by racheld (log)
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Once, when we were the last customers in a well-known small county town restaurant, the last remaining visible member of staff slipped on her coat, picked up her shopping bags and, without saying a single word, walked out the front door.

We had already paid, and the atmosphere was such that we felt entirely comfortable left to our own devices to finish off the wine or whatever it was that was holding us up!

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In Italy, the waiter came over, to ask our large party if we had a last order & to give us our bill, because they were closing soon. We all rushed to apologize and pay and stand. He assured us that we were welcome to stay (outdoor tables) as long as we liked, and to simply leave the carafes and glasses on the table when we left. They would clean up in the am.

We stayed for at least another hour and walked by several times during the night (one of those where you see both the sunset and the following sunrise) and the glassware remained undisturbed. Not a risk that could be taken in the US, I think sadly.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I am a slow eater myself, but sometimes I am shocked at how long people will stay at a table! I have seen four, going on five hours! Don't people have homes and jobs and lives?!

Last week I was working a lunch shift. We serve lunch from 11:30 until 2. Then from 2 until 5 the main dining room is closed, but you can hang out in the bar/lounge and order from a tavern menu if you wish. At 5, we start serving dinner. A group of people came in and sat down for lunch at about 1:30. They were there until about 4:45! We had to hold the pre-shift meeting upstairs, and it made trying to get ready for dinner a huge pain. I really thought they were going to try and stay past when dinner started, and I'm not sure what we would have done then. This was on a weekday, too, which made it especially odd. Around 4 we were all like, screw it, we're eating our staff meal, and if they don't like seeing us scarf down some penne and packaged salad so we can keep going until 11, too bad! It was v. awkward.

"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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I'm of the philosophy that if they are coming in and paying their money, the table's theirs for as long as they want it. They are there to enjoy themselves, at their pace, not mine. On the rare (actually, I can only think of one time) instance where this truly is a problem, I'm afraid it's the restaurant's problem, not the guest's.

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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It may be different in a bar situation, but one of the things I love most about my favorite haunt is that I've never ever been hustled out.

The way I see it is this: If the management is content to let a group sit and BS for a half hour after the check's paid, I don't have any qualms occupying a table by myself for a few hours (accompanied by a cigar or two) as long as I keep ordering.

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it depends on the level of service.

in a NY 4 stars the captain will have all soiled and empty dishes cleared from the table as you decline a 10th cup of coffee. pretty soon you'll have only a flower vase and a glass of water in front of you.

If you don't get the drift then, he'll come back to your table and ask you if you need anything else...

by then most people would have undestood it's time to leave.

if not you might be offered a glass of bubbly at the bar by a very apologetic manager because he/she needs the table fot that party of four that's been waiting for 45mts at the bar.

i remember a single belgian woman who would come inthe middle of the winter at 10.55 seat in an almost empty dining room and orderthe tasting menu with 2 or 3extra dishes. she would eventually fall asleep and i would go to her tableand ask her if she was enjpyingher meal. she must have done that a dozen times until oneday her Visa card got denied and i said to her ah madame, american express, never leave home without...

she never cameback.

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I guess I see both sides of this issue; on the one hand, restaurants need to turn tables to survive (and, certainly, eventually need to close for the night) and folks just squatting for hours disrupt reservations later in the evening. On the other hand, customers should (usually) feel free to relax over a nice dinner, linger after coffee and enjoy themselves, dinner (particularly at an upscale place) is often a night out in itself and restaurants should recognize this.

It's also quite circumstantial; if I drop by a place at 6 pm hoping to sneak in for an early dinner, I have no problem "rushing" if the table is booked for later. On the other hand, if I book a table for 6 at 8 pm, I have no problem taking a few hours to dine and lingering over that last glass of wine.

Still, both sides can contribute to solutions here (I'm talking fine dining):

Customers

1) If you're coming early or getting into a normally busy place without a reservation, don't plan on lingering. Particularly early walk ins to a fully booked joint. The place is doing you a favor and you should recognize this.

2) If you're coming in fairly late, be sensitive to closing times

3) If you know you want a table for a long time (Aunt Edna's birthday referenced above), tell the restaurant. I'll often say "I'd like a table for the evening" trying to make it clear that we'll be there for a bit

4) Be flexible, if they ask you to move to the bar and you've already had a nice meal and are just chatting, then do it. This is not an out of line request.

Restaurants

1) You're not the airlines, don't overbook. If you overbook, don't ruin your customer's experience just to satisfy your greed or your inability to judge capacity and pacing.

2) Some turning is fine but be reasonable. Folks want to linger and should be able to. If you're that worry about, do fixed seatings. If your business model requires 3 full seatings a night and you close anytime before 2 am, I'd say your problem is in your model, not those damn customers who won't leave. Likewise, if they're a party for 10 and it's an 8 pm booking, the table is done for the night. Accept it or don't take the booking.

3) Have options. As others have pointed out, offering free drinks/dessert at the bar or in a lounge is brilliant - good for the diners, good for the restaurant, good for everyone (Auy Lyonnais has space upstairs just for post-dinner lounging and I love it).

4) Teach your staff and kitchen about pacing. You can make a dinner last two hours or last five. In either case, it can be relaxing and pleasant or not. I've been in places where the night felt full and wonderful and we were "amazed" at how early it was when we left. I've been to other places where we felt either ignored then rushed even though it was quite late when we left.

5) If you need a table back, tell the person either when they make the reservation or when they arrive, whichever comes FIRST. If I call for a table and you tell me "well, we can squeeze you in but we have another party coming later that evening" I can make the decision and no harm, no foul. Likewise, if I'm a walk in and you explain the situation, I'll most likely be fine. BUT, what I find inexcusable is relaxing over coffee and being pushed to leave (closing time being the exception). I booked the table, it's mine.

6) As others have pointed out; in the end, it's your problem. You are inconveniencing two sets of customers (the ones waiting and the ones relaxing) and thus should be properly accommodating.

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  • 5 months later...

When we have lingered at tables, it was always a special night, and what was spent most likely paid for another turn of the table.

Nevertheless, we have never been treated less than gracious, so I believe most people in the restaurant business understand that they are in the hospitality business and we understand how to be good guests.

The previous poster said it best -- don't overbook.

And don't forget that your guests are guests--paying guests, mind you, but guests nonetheless. They are not friends who love you anyway and will come back no matter what. If you offend them, they will just choose to dine at another establishment.

So, just a warning - before you ask a guest to leave, be prepared to never see that guest again. If I were ever asked to leave a table, that restaurant would be scratched off my list no matter how "nicely" they asked me.

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Every time I see the image of a couple sitting in a resturant, and they are staring into eachothers eyes, the chairs are on the tables and someone is vacuming, I scream and throw something at the screen. It is not cool, romantic, fun or anyting else to keep someone waiting around for you. Go to a f#*king bar, have a cocktail, dance, for-play and then go home and do nice things to eachother. Don't sit in the resturant holding up your waiter, the manager, the dish washer, the bartender, it's rude and selfish.

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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At closing after 3:00 a.m. turning on the lights, stacking the chairs on the tables and mopping usually worked. Of couse with a good paying group we stayed to 6:00 a.m. What the hell, its the bizz.

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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And don't forget that your guests are guests--paying guests, mind you, but guests nonetheless.  They are not friends who love you anyway and will come back no matter what.  If you offend them, they will just choose to dine at another establishment.

So, just a warning - before you ask a guest to leave, be prepared to never see that guest again.  If I were ever asked to leave a table, that restaurant would be scratched off my list no matter how "nicely" they asked me.

The problem is that you may have two sets of guests (paying guests), both who have special occasions (and in fact, in the case that started this thread, it was birthday groups), and the choice is between asking a group that has finished its meal to move on, or asking the group that has arrived at the time of their reservation (for the same, specific seats) to wait.

--Dave

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:huh:

Customers

1) If you're coming early or getting into a normally busy place without a reservation, don't plan on lingering. Particularly early walk ins to a fully booked joint. The place is doing you a favor and you should recognize this.

Ummm, I don't really understand this. How is the restaurant doing me a favour by allowing me to patronize it? :hmmm: And how am I (your customer) supposed to know if the place is normally busy or if it is fully booked?

It seems to me that there are two situations here. The first is people who are done eating and drinking and are just sitting there. I think you can employ many of the techniques cited earlier. The second is trickier but as a customer, I believe that as long as I am continuing to eat my dessert, drink my bottle of wine, linger over coffee, order after-dinner drinks etc., I'm entitled to take my time and enjoy the company of those with whom I am dining. Am I wrong? :huh:

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When I first moved out at 19, I worked at the Parthenon restaurant in Champaign, Ill. We weren't too subtle, and were not beyond vacuuming around them if it got ridiculously late. Also turning out all the lights except those right in their area of the dining room.

One evening a couple came in at around 9, and after gazing lovingly into each other's eyes for hours, the time was past 2:00. The place was empty, the bar had been shut down, and there they sat. We decided to refill salt shakers to pass the time.

As I walked by their table to put the shakers back, I heard the guy say to the girl:

"What did you say your name was again?"

It almost made it worth it. :)

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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