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Feb 25, 2007 07:34 PM

sharing/seating charges in a restaurant

what do you think of a seating or sharing charge in a restaurant?

many places charge if one member of a party doesn't want to order anything but still sits at the table and has water (with ice lemon and sweet n low), eats bread and butter, unrolls a roll up and sticks his fork into his friends' dinners or puts some on a sideplate.

Is it reasonable for a restaurant to charge for this?

I think yes it is. Especially if the seating charge includes a soup or salad.

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  1. i don't think i understand your question. if someone sits down and only orders water, i can't imagine charging them anything. tehn again, if they're making faux iced tea and eating bread and sharing your dinner, they sound like a freeloader.

    are you asking that if a place charges a *seating fee* (i've never heard of this btw) the person should get a salad? why? every so often, i'll meet friends and not want any food, even if they're having dinner. i'll have a drink and nothing else. if the restaurant charged me merely for sitting down, i'd never go back.

    1. So

      1 - if i take my kids to a resto before their dance lessons, they order a sandwich, fries and a coke, and I have a few of their fries, the resto is going to charge me for sitting there. OMG you must be kidding.
      2 - my 80 year old mother joins her three friends after playing cards and they have a scoop of chicken salad and coffee and she has a glass of water to enjoy their company, your going to force her to "buy" a cup of soup

      This is extremely greedy on the part of the resto and indicates it will do anything for a few extra nickles.

      I do not agree with these type of charges.

      1. My husband and I like to go out and one of us orders a dinner salad and one orders an entree- and halfway through we switch. We HAVE been charged a plate/share fee, even though sometime this salad is as expensive as the entree. I think chains tend to do this- seems like PF chang's did something, as well as some chain steakhouse. Ridiculous!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Lazy Susan

          That's just wrong. Did you call the waiter over and explain that there must have been a mistake?

          I can understand if there are extra dishes, or the kitchen makes two plates out of a single entree order, but this is ridiculous.

          1. re: Lazy Susan

            Carnegie Deli pastrami and corned beef sandwiches are so big that it's almost impossible to eat one by one's self, but the sandwiches are nearly $30 a piece. A lot of people ordered them to split. Not sure when the shared plate fee was implemented, but they charge $10 extra if you buy one sandwich and decide to share it at the restaurant. ...Then again I can eat about $10 worth of their pickles at the table, so I make up for it.

            1. re: ballulah

              If you paid $30 for a pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie, you got robbed B. The single sandwich is $13 and a triple decker is under $21. I think the Woody Allen in a cb/p combo and its $16. Heck their 4-meat combo is $24 and feeds a small nation. I never heard that they charged for splitting, but then again you touch my Carnegie sandwich you get hurt.

              Yes I have eaten a combo by myself. Sick for a day or so, but well worth it.

              1. re: jfood

                That's so weird, I just looked up their menu on Menupages, and your pricing is correct. The menu I was handed when I got a table at Carnegie had a pastrami or corned beef for something like $27, with a $10 sharing fee. Maybe I'm guilty of a little self deluding hyperbole, but I know for sure it wasn't $13 or even under $20, and I remember being shocked that a SANDWICH was so expensive. I might be confusing the almost $30 total with the total for a shared sandwich. I'm by no means a regular there, I usually get a hot pastrami from Eisenbergs when I'm craving one. Could it be the prices are different for sit down service?

                PS I ate the combo by myself too and could barely get home on the subway without passing right out asleep.

          2. If a booking is made for 8 people and only 7 want to eat, I think the 8th should be charged. If a restaurant is full with people waiting for a seat a "loafer" is taking up, they should be charged. If the restaurant has empty seats available, then I don't think its acceptable to charge....however, the "I'll just have hot water with lemon and some more bread" crowd need to be charged through the nose.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Le Den

              So you have an 8-top and all are seated. One does not want to eat. Your solution is charge the 8th person? Now you have pissed off 8 customers. If people are waiting are you suggesting you pick someone out of the crowd and place them with the seven eaters?

              Please, where does it stop. If four order a salad you charge the other 3 for not, and if three order dessert, do you surcharge the non-desserters.

              1. re: jfood

                The original post was about people sitting at a table and ordering nothing at all, not people skipping courses.

                I pay rent for the space the person not eating is sitting in, a diner spending money is returning that rent in kind......which is the basis of the arrangement. Anyone sitting in that space (if I have other diners who would like to sit waiting at the bar) can also pay the rent on the seat they are taking. 7 diners could be seated at a different table making the extra seat available or a table pulled from the group. Restaurants are not public spaces, they are businesses. All that bread and water costs money and the expectation is that the people who come in the door are going to help pay for it.

                1. re: Le Den

                  but to jfood's point (i think, or maybe it's a new point) - you could have (a) 7 people who order appetizers, entrees, dessert, wine, etc. and one who orders nothing, or (b) 8 people who each order only an entree and drink water. group (a)'s bill is probably going to be bigger than group (b)'s, and yet you would put a surcharge on group (a) for the person who doesn't order anything?

                  1. re: Le Den

                    i've been in this business a long time and could count on one hand how many times i've seen people order NOTHING. charging them would be stupid. what might be considered lost potential revenue should be considered a gain in return on good will.

                    the difference between seating a 7-top and an 8-top is negligible. but making 8 guests feel nickel-and-dimed is completely unnecessary and bad business.

                    1. re: Le Den


                      Actually the OP had people sitting together with “one member (singular) of the party (plural)” not ordering. Nowhere does it state this was a group of interlopers.

                      But this is a difference of opinion like others in the past and I have differed with several posters. Many of us just have very different perspectives on these issues. No biggie but its good to see where others come out.

                      For example -
                      - Some believed it was OK to slip money to a maitre d’ (and the recommended amount is greater than $20) to cut the line, I think everyone should be treated the same;
                      - I remember a post that stated a >50% tip is the amount one should leave the staff if the chef treats good customers to a meal. I think that the waiters should not make a windfall on the chef’s generosity, and if I were the chef I would be outraged if someone suggested my good customers paid such an amount;
                      - Unbelievably someone actually stated that the wait staff should pick up their share of the 3% credit card service fee. I find this ridiculous and view the acceptance of CC’s a business decision of the resto, not the wait staff.

                      Now you want to charge customers for sitting with their friends? I just don’t agree that the goal of a restaurateur is to take as many dollars out of every wallet that walks in the door. Every business, including mine has something called good will, customer service, loss leaders and do the right thing. I think allowing someone to sit with his or her friends, especially with a 7-top is just good business sense. One cannot maximize every customer with every course for every minute.

                      1. re: jfood

                        I'm flattered that you have followed so many of my posts. Wish I had so much leisure time.

                        Slipping money to the maitre d' may not be fair, but it is reality. My post dealt with the why and how, not the ethical aspects.

                        I have seen the reaction of a chef when the staff tells him that his friends, the ones he had asked for special attention, left a paltry tip. It sours the moment. Sort of like when you open the door for a stranger as a gesture of good will and they sail through without acknowledgement. You still did the right thing and yes, we should never give a gift with the expectation of receiving one in return, but how much does it cost to say "Thank you" and whats a few dollars to show your appreciation.

                        As for the 3%. The questions have all been as to the legality of the restaurant collecting this money. It has been challenged in court and the court held firm. There are restaurants that don't collect it, but they are fewer and fewer as the money is just too great an amount. And, as I posted, the waiter can choose to work in a restaurant that doesn't accept credit cards. Its just that most restaurants accept CC, because most customers choose to use them. When the waiter takes the job, they choose to pay the 3%. Just like they choose to abide the other rules of the management.

                        Guests sitting in a busy restaurant not spending money are draining the life from the restaurant. In London, most restaurants have a 2 hour limit on tables. It has started in NYC. And its very attractive to owners and guests who are tired of being kept waiting becuase of the selfish guests ahead of them who won't leave the table once they have completed their meal. Guests who aren't actually dining are asked to move to the bar. If they still refrain from purchasing, they are asked to leave. Clubs have cover charges to make up for the number of guests who only come to dance and not spend money.

                        I can't imagine another industry where people would expect to be given free reign without actually making a payment. Do you park at the gas pumps in the shade, holding other drivers at bay while you take a nap? Do you have your cosmetics done for free each morning at the demo counter at Saks promising to purchase in the future? Do you tell the airline that you aren't really going anywhere, just keeping your friends company while they fly and that you will happily go right back home, but you don't want to pay..................

                        Restaurants are businesses. Get used to it. Good will works both ways.

                        1. re: Le Den

                          To clear up any misconceptions of which I am sorry if i did:

                          - I agree that this is a reality and you shrug your shoulders and move on with the guy and the $20.
                          - I firmly agree and have posted many times that the comped dinner, the dinner with a coupon and the like should be greeted with a tip on the FULL amount sans comp/coupon. I do not agree that a person should leave a >50% tip to the waitstaff but a 15-25% on the full menu value of the meal (let's not get into the wine).
                          - As for the 3%. I think it is bad form for theowner of the resto to ask the wait staff to pick up the 3% on their portion of the tips. Pay the waitstaff the full tip left and absorb the 3%. It's the rest's decision on how payment should be made. The suggestion that the employee can work elsewhere in an establishment that does not accept CC means that the employer feels the person is completely expendable and that they are just moles walking through the tunnel. I would hope the owner has a higher regards for his employees.
                          - Amazingly it is not always the custo's fault for the delay. I can not tell you how many times i was seated late, the wait staff were slow, the time between courses was excrutiating, and when the dessert menu was presented i would wait 15-20 minutes for someone to take my order. Then I wouldorder something that would take 15 minutes to prepare. That is not the custo's fault. Now you suggest they vacate the table in 5 minutes after the dessert is served. Ouch.
                          - "Free reign". Never said that and the analogies make no sense so cannot even comment.

                          I agree that good will goes both ways. And as i and others have pointed out, the owner that asks someone in a group to pay while others are eating is being penny wise and pound foolish. The others will probably never come back. You can bet that their friends will hear of this ridiculous behavior and probably never go back, on and on.

                          Restaurants are business, yes, but they are service businesses. And without the customers and their good will you have no business.

                          1. re: Le Den

                            'In London, most restaurants have a 2 hour limit on tables'.

                            Huh? Really? I was in London for almost a week this December, ate out for every meal except breakfast, and no restaurant told me about a limit, nor did I *ever* see a notation of one posted on a menu. The ONLY exception to that was New Year's Eve, where we were seated at a fairly popular spot without a reservation but specifically told when we entered that , 'because it is New Year's Eve, we can sit you now, but will need the table back for a second seating in two hours'. But again, that was NYE, not an ordinary night.

                            You might want to re-think your business plan and your definition of good will. It isn't attractive to me as a guest. Oh, and by the way, Sak's would be thrilled to do my makeup every am for free, if the way the practically kidnap me when I walk by that counter is any indication....

                            as for the airliner analogy: it doesn't work: because otherwise the seat could be filled with a paying customer. If you are telling me that you would seat a stranger at the empty seat at my table, well, I'd leave at that point. .

                            1. re: Le Den

                              Please let us know the name of your restaurant(s) so we can all avoid them in the future.

                    2. I am not talking about the 8 top where 7 order food and one person has absolutely nothing except perhaps a glass of water. In this case there is no reason to charge them. When you have a 3 top where 2 order and the third uses a side plate and shares the other people;'s food, water with lemon, sweetnlow, eats the bread and butter, unravels a roll up etc then I don't see why a restaurant shouldn't charge that person to do all that. Dishwashers have to be paid, laundry, etc and the server ends up running probably more for the third person eating 'nothing'.

                      15 Replies
                      1. re: smartie

                        I think it would be penny wise but pound foolish to do such a thing. Charging for the non-eater means you now have three dissatisfied guests who will all tell people "Of all the nerve, Chez Smartie charged us for him just sitting there minding his own business!" While the immediate financial effect of not charging them is more easily noticeable (all the bread and such getting nibbled up), the long term effect of charging them could wind up disastrous. The only time I'd even think about doing it is if there is a fairly significant amount of people coming in and not eating much of anything. I think that in such a case, there would be a better way of putting it than a seating charge. One that comes to mind is setting a nominal per-person minimum, and printing that on the menu.

                        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                          If there is a lot of sharing going on, the restaurant might also want to revisit its portion size...if all of the options are about 2000 calories, then it makes complete sense for the customers to share two entrees among three (or whatever).

                          1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                            Almost all fast food (or fast food-ish) restaurants that I have seen have "minimum purchase $ for seating" posted. Why should a restaurant (who's overhead is significatly higher) not be allowed to enforce such a policy?
                            Now, before people get all wound up, I am merely suggesting that it should be "ok" for restaurants to have the policy, and IF NECESSARY, to be able to enforce it. Not as the norm, but, as a defense against "customers" taking advantage of the situation.

                            1. re: troutpoint


                              I'm not quite sure which restos or chains you refer to that have this policy. It would be helpful to hear which you have seen.

                              If your post reflect your locale, do you think this might be a Canadian thing?


                              1. re: jfood

                                I am refering to places in Canada.

                                1. re: troutpoint

                                  Interesting, that's not usual south of the border yet. Thanks TP

                                  1. re: troutpoint

                                    OK, I should have read further. You won't find this in the US.

                                    1. re: JaneRI

                                      I've seen this in several diners in Westchester county, NY, and a few non-diner places too.

                                    2. re: troutpoint

                                      Which places in CDN? I am in BC and haven't seen this...

                                      1. re: starlady

                                        I split my time between Toronto and NC, and I've never seen it, either.

                                  2. re: troutpoint

                                    "Almost all fast food (or fast food-ish) restaurants that I have seen have "minimum purchase $ for seating" posted."

                                    Where do you live that the fast food restaurants have these signs posted? I've NEVER seen one in my entire life. Not in a ff place, nor in a diner or coffee shop.

                                    1. re: JaneRI

                                      well, you can't just go into a Tim Horton's and sit down and read your paper. They'll ask you to leave;I believe this is what TP is referring to.

                                      1. re: nummanumma


                                        And, for most people, the signs wouldn't be something you'd notice. Cause you'd be ordering something...(Somewhat like when you are pregnant, it seems like every other person is too-so I'm told....) :)

                                      2. re: JaneRI

                                        i've seen minimum purchase notices in diners in nyc. along the same lines, all the mcdonald's branches i've been to in the city (yes, i do occasionally set foot in one) have signs giving a 20 minute time limit for seating though i don't think it's strictly enforced.

                                        1. re: JaneRI

                                          I've seen those signs in FF places also- I think it's to prevent loitering and to keep the homeless from coming in during the winter.