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Table events - unfair to the server? what about the resto?

jfood Apr 17, 2007 07:50 PM

All the talk about up-tipping if you are a single at a one-top, order two apps, loiter for an extended period of time. We have all voiced opinions on how to tip the server.

But what about the resto owner. How does he get compensated for these events?

Just curious.

Drove almost 400 miles today so have no thoughts just yet.

TIA

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  1. m
    mojoeater RE: jfood Apr 17, 2007 08:29 PM

    As someone who has managed a restaurant and has been a solo diner on more than one occasion. I'll say the following:

    - If the restaurant is very busy and you plan on reading/doing a crossword/taking up a table for far longer than average, please sit at the bar. If you prefer a table, you are entitled to hang out as long as you are still eating or drinking, unless you are having six cups of coffee and sitting there for well over the average time. Please be considerate of other diners. If we aren't that busy, stay as long as you want. Just don't be offended if the server eventually asks you to settle up so they can go home.

    - If you are a regular, I will be more forgiving. Your ongoing support of my business is very important to me. However if it is a drastic situation, I may venture to ask if you wouldn't mind moving to the bar in exchange for a free glass of wine/dessert. Most regulars would not mind. Restaurant owners don't often make a ton of money. When they do, it is largely due to regular business as opposed to one-offs.

    1. t
      tokyorosa RE: jfood Apr 17, 2007 11:51 PM

      It took a while for me to figure out what you were asking...but, in my experience, restaurant owners expect a fair amount of the kind of behavior to which you refer. (Notice I said "fair amount" because, well, if you're coming in with a table of six people at dinner and two of you order appetizers and the other four have coffee and you take up the table for three hours having some kind of meeting? Well, no owner in the world is going to be happy with your patronage.) Restaurant owners/management build it into their financial considerations.

      One of the ways owners/mgrs get around those "cheap" tables is by putting pressure on servers to upsell. Wonder why that whole "charging for bottled water" issue has gotten out of hand? Wonder why your server sometimes pushes Grey Goose for that mixed drink rather than assuming you mean you want a well pour? Well, often times that's not the server's own bright idea; the restaurant management is behind that.

      Anyway, most people don't just sit and order appetizers and most people don't dine alone, so it all evens out in the end. (And remember, the restaurant has a take of every table in the house, while the server has to make their money off a limited number of tables, so the impact on the server is higher than it is for the restaurant owner. --Sorry--I can't help but sneak the server's perspective in there!)

      1. cayjohan RE: jfood Apr 18, 2007 03:18 PM

        Random thoughts - please debunk if necessary (a probability). Also a probability: too long. But what the hey.

        In re: Restaurant owners - I think the restaurant owner who understands that the patron (whether they are spending $15.00 or ten times that) wants to spend a leisurely ten minutes over that last half-cup of coffee is a restaurant owner who will inspire loyalty. The wind-down from a meal, without upsell and - yes, sorry, any rush-along snottiness, is a very nice finish - better than any torte that is offered on the dessert menu. (‘Cept maybe a fresh raspberry trifle, but that’s just me.) I think most successful owners understand the leisure aspect of dining out, and want to promote this welcoming feeling of well-being in their customers.

        In re: Loitering - (Geez. I have a few conflicting thoughts on this - another time.) I think we are encouraged to loiter in our culture (argue if you must). Walk into a bookstore-with-a-coffee-bar, and you can, for $3.25 plus tax (or whatever your drink costs) sink into one of the cushy chairs and read an entire book without buying it. I’d guess the thinking is that you will maybe buy something eventually, but the system seems set up for gettin’ something for nothing, other than the cost of the coffee drink, if that. Or, take shopping malls. It’s not just going to stores to buy a shirt, a pair of tennies, and a gift for Dad, it’s an “experience” that is supposed to have some Gestalt aura. Cripes, even buying underpants can be a major production at some mall stores. Buying something needs to be an “event” rather than a transaction, in so many cases. (Yes, just my opinion.)

        So is it any wonder that we encounter loitering in restaurants; eating out, it seems to me, to be a bit more of a relaxation undertaking than, say, procurement of consumer goods.

        Which brings me to:

        In re: Events in restaurants, what’s in it for the owner, and where need the line be drawn - If you have a restaurant that seems to say “come in, sit down, relax and enjoy a meal that is not a-sandwich-on-the-run, you need to expect that people are going to want to do just that. Does that relaxation sometimes mean ten minutes over what the owner would like to see as table turnaround? Yep. Thems the breaks if you’re in the biz. By the same token, this culture-wide encouragement of loitering (see above) means your clientele might want to spend a whole heckuva lot of time at their table. Buying a book, tennis shoes, or underpants (BTW, this is my homage to the late Kurt Vonnegut, R.I.P.) pales in comparison, socially, to dinner with your spouse or friends or colleagues. Eating out is enjoyable. If one is enjoying oneself, human nature is to keep on enjoying oneself. Still, what’s in it for the resto? Well, good will (that of people enjoying themselves) will often result in a loyal repeat business. Sweet, if that’s what you want. If what you want is turnover (and who doesn’t), then maybe the discouragement of “loitering” is in order, perhaps by way of a different sort of establishment or hospitality practice. My college memories are of places with signs on the tables stating that the table time limit was one hour, usually to dissuade those with term papers due on Kirkegaard-and-his-pals from writing the whole dang thing while ordering one bottomless cup of coffee and nothing else. Restaurants need to find that balance vis-a-vis what clientele they want. If they want the loyalty of people staging “events” (whatever those may be), maybe they suck it up when a six-top lingers overlong. Or maybe they ask nicely for the party to move along, due to lines at the door. Maybe they put little signs on the table for time limits or maybe they just assume the (perceived) loss when that six-top is STILL there.

        (Disclosure: yes, I do have friends in the restaurant business (owners), and yes, I have discussed this issue with them. They’re doing well, thank you, after over twenty years of looking the other way when a table lingers. No, it’s not a mom-n-pop; they have an ethnic, mid-to-upper-level dining establishment.)

        Restaurant owners are not helpless in this issue. Are some people still a**holes when they eat out. Yep and double-yep. But they’re still eating out. In my world, that means the restaurant owners are collecting dollars and staying in business.

        I don’t even want to talk about tipping. Really. jfood’s post was about the resto.

        Thanks for dealing with the lengthy babble.

        1. Morton the Mousse RE: jfood Apr 18, 2007 04:19 PM

          Bruni blogged about this a few months back, including some good interviews with restaurant owners and managers. The most compelling comment was by Richard Coraine, COO for the Union Square Hospitality Group:

          ...the solo diner is giving a restaurant one of the greatest compliments it can get. “The single diner has no other agenda but to eat in your restaurant,” he said. “They’re not there for business, they’re not there for romance.” They’re there for the restaurant’s food and service.

          He added: “I think there are some operators who see someone walk in alone and say, ‘Here comes some lost revenue.’ I look at it as: here comes tomorrow’s six-top.”

          Full entry here: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

          1. b
            baconstrip RE: jfood Apr 19, 2007 09:29 AM

            it's not too different from sitting a 3-top at a 4-top table; or a 5-top on a 6-top table. just because you are a solo diner, it doesn't mean you are less profitable. if there are people waiting for your table when you are clearly, done, now, that's a different story. but that's not only for solo diners. that applies all guests lingering when there are other guests waiting.

            1 Reply
            1. re: baconstrip
              ccbweb RE: baconstrip Apr 19, 2007 08:21 PM

              Great great response. I hadn't thought about it this way but you're entirely correct. Ultimately, its pretty irrelevant unless the restaurant in packed and there's a line or its closing time.

            2. b
              bonmann RE: jfood Apr 19, 2007 03:57 PM

              On the issue of solo dining, I do this quite frequently as I often travel alone for business. I find that I eat faster when I am alone. No talking or listening to do (yes, sometimes listening will slow down my eating). This allows the restaurant to turn the table over faster reducing any lost revenue from a single diner. I think this, while not ideal, is not too bad unless I am total underestimating the total number of solo diners in a given night.

              Also the solo diner who orders an app, an entree and a glass of wine is probably more profitable than the three top ordering only appetizers. I have a feeling that restaurants understand this and appreciate the solo diner who orders a "full" meal.

              As for loitering, I think that it may depend on the circumstances. If these individuals are regulars then the ongoing business is may be more important than the loitering especially if the loitering is not habitual. Outside of that, I think it depends on how busy the establishment is. If the restaurant is slow, maybe they don't mind so much and hope the loiterers are future regulars. On busy nights, it may be just the opposite with non-regular loiterers keeping regulars from tables.

              1 Reply
              1. re: bonmann
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                nc213 RE: bonmann Apr 25, 2007 05:27 PM

                That's a good point--single diners tend to spend less time. I always liked waiting on single diners myself. Though not always, in my experience single diners are usually pleasant. They don't linger too long at the table, and they tend to be easy to wait on.

                at the steakhouse where I once worked, this guy would come in once every couple of months when he was in town on business. He'd order an app, a Kobe strip steak (then going for $125) a couple of sides and a half bottle of wine. He was nice and was well aquainted with the words "please" and "thank you." Possibly my favorite customer ever.

              2. b
                boltnut55 RE: jfood Apr 24, 2007 04:22 PM

                I have to believe that the owner expects that some of his customers will make up for the others who don't spend as much as he likes, but each customer should be treated the same way (or at least at a reasonable minimum). If the restaurant isn't busy, then having someone sit at a table makes your restaurant look busier and therefore more welcoming (like hmm, there are people eating here, maybe we should eat here too). There are many times when DH and I walk into a restaurant and are the lone customers in the beginning, but later on, there are more... and more (I'm talking about mom and pop places, not chains). Even though we are "only" ordering two entrees and water, perhaps our presence encouraged others to come in therby giving them business they wouldn't otherwise have. Who knows?

                When I dine alone, I bring, yes, a dreaded book. Eating alone is something that I purposely do. I want to enjoy my food and sit leisurely without saying things like, "wipe your mouth" "don't spill the water" "sit down". I'll generally tip about 20%, but I also don't stay for more than one hour, but during the time, I expect to be treated like anyone else.

                Last example: I'm a scrapbooker who scrapbooks at a store. I pay my fee but rarely buy anything because I have everything and need to use up more of what I have. The owner knows me, but I know she treats me differently than the way she treats my other friends who shop more than me. HOWEVER, I am the planner. I make sure we go to her store on a regular basis so that they can buy stuff. When I don't plan, they don't go. Somehow, I don't think I'm less of a customer.

                16 Replies
                1. re: boltnut55
                  n
                  nc213 RE: boltnut55 Apr 25, 2007 05:30 PM

                  why is the book dreaded? I love taking myself out to lunch with a good book. It's so pleasant

                  1. re: nc213
                    c
                    ctscorp RE: nc213 Apr 26, 2007 08:22 PM

                    Yeah, no problem with the book. I've served for 15+ years, and I love love LOVE dining alone, as I believe many servers/restaurateurs do. I mean, we have weird nights off, our schedules are different than our friends'... so whenever wait on a single, I welcome their book, their crossword... I do hope that they won't take any more time than any other table would, and I do hope that they'll consider their possibly lower check average when they're tipping. But as I so cherish dining alone, I have to offer my customers as sacred a solo-dining experience. And the owner benefits from the positive repercussions of a happy customer who loves to eat out! Perfect!

                    1. re: ctscorp
                      cayjohan RE: ctscorp Apr 26, 2007 09:11 PM

                      My freshman year of college, I knew a handful of people, and none was available to dine out. I desperately needed something other than Cheerios (again) and hoppped a bus to downtown Mpls's Nankin (RIP) to eat alone. I was a nervous 18-yr-old wanting Chinese food, and asked the maitre'd if there was a table where it would be okay to read.

                      I was seated as if I was the Queen herself.

                      AND, no eyebrows were raised when I ordered a platter of fried rice. I did tip my (at the time) 15%, but really - how much is that for the server on fried rice? Still, the perfect treatment continued when, every two weeks (payday) I would make the same trek alone...well, with my botany book. I was treated incredibly well as a solo diner, even though I was spending about as little as one could.

                      As my ability to pay increased, I kept going, despite the fact that the Nankin was not the most authentic or delicious Chinese food in town. They'd won me over with how they'd treated a solo student diner as if I was as important as anyone else.

                      As ctscorp said: Perfect.

                      1. re: cayjohan
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                        tom porc RE: cayjohan Apr 27, 2007 12:28 AM

                        Very nice experience. I wish all places treated their customers like that.

                        1. re: tom porc
                          c
                          ctscorp RE: tom porc Apr 27, 2007 07:27 AM

                          You can come to my restaurant any time! ;)

                          1. re: ctscorp
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                            smartie RE: ctscorp Apr 27, 2007 10:50 AM

                            a one top can end up spending more than a 4 top. You never know how good a customer is going to be for a restaurant and all should be treated well by servers and owners.

                            1. re: smartie
                              t
                              tom porc RE: smartie Apr 28, 2007 01:37 AM

                              Absolutely, and you dont know how many friends and co-workers the solo diner may have to tell of his/her excellent or poor experience.

                        2. re: cayjohan
                          s
                          soupkitten RE: cayjohan May 1, 2007 10:52 AM

                          cayjohon-- i used to work at the nankin! i was bt though, not server. i love that people so many people remember their early restaurant experiences & i'm glad you got great service where i once worked. they did have an awesome pro waitstaff crew there.

                          re: "the dreaded book"-- when dh and i worked together in a neighborhood bar there was a middle aged lady who'd come in by herself with a trade paperback, sit at a table by herself & read for about an hour. the whole staff called her "the brandy and cheese lady" because that was all she ever ordered-- in a place without real cheese, just processed bar cheese(!).

                          she was quiet and pleasant to whomever served her, and she tipped modestly but consistently. one day when dh was waiting on her he returned to clear her tiny cheese plate and discovered that she had left her paperback behind. he saved the book for her in the server's station for 2 weeks until the brandy and cheese lady returned. although she wasn't seated in his section, he retrieved the book and brought it over to her, much to her surprise that he even remembered her (good servers remember the majority of their customers, & ALWAYS the regulars)-- "oh!" she exclaimed "i finished my book the last time i was here, and i left it on the table for you in case you wanted to read it!"

                          she was just so sweet. even though we'll probably never know her name, we'll always remember the brandy and cheese lady and picture her happily sipping her brandy, reading a new paperback, and nibbling some (hopefully non-processed) cheese in a new bar that pleases her (our old employer has since closed the bar).

                          you are not a bad customer because you read at a table. i agree that solo patrons give the place a compliment by showing that they are comfortable and happy in the place.

                          i personally find it pleasant when i find out that the staff of a regularly patronized establishment have a little nickname for me/us-- so far the nicknames have been pretty nice(!)

                          1. re: soupkitten
                            cayjohan RE: soupkitten May 1, 2007 10:25 PM

                            soupkitten - great to find someone who remembers (and worked at!) the venerable Nankin. It was a class-act establishment precisely because it saw "table events" as anything from one diner to a dozen and more. And treated all customers as if they were welcomed. Those of us who loved that fact continued to patronize the place. (maybe I was "that botany book chick?" :-) )

                            That's what's in it for the resto.

                            1. re: cayjohan
                              s
                              soupkitten RE: cayjohan May 2, 2007 09:13 AM

                              you know, a LOT of the old servers (and kitchen staff) from the nankin went to ping's when the nankin closed-- it's owned by the husband of emily woo, who ran the nankin. some others went to the wanderer restaurant out in minnetonka (i think???), also owned by the family. if you get a hankering for the nankin's old-school chinese-american style of cuisine, or just for the service, you might see some familiar faces there. again i am not saying the food is great or anything, but there are some old faves on the menu.

                              the nankin was actually my very earliest restaurant memory, btw! i was a small child and a bunch of my mom's fam that we never got to see were in town. everyone went to the nankin because that was the place circa late 70's or 1980. i think i still remember it so clearly because it was a huge noisy table of us, everyone had these big pretty pink drinks with umbrellas they gave to me to play with, and when the food arrived everyone ate off of each other's plates, which we never did at home. it made a big impression on little soupkitten. i have often wondered if that's why i put in an application there when i came back to the cities after school!

                            2. re: soupkitten
                              b
                              bobalooza RE: soupkitten May 10, 2007 02:21 PM

                              So sorry to add such an off-topic post to a dead thread, but soupkitten, my wife misses her Wanderers! Do you know what was in them? If you know the recipe and it isn't a secret you were to carry to your grave, I would love to know. Thanks!

                              1. re: bobalooza
                                The Chowhound Team RE: bobalooza May 10, 2007 02:23 PM

                                Pardon the interruption. But please post any recipes on the Home Cooking board: http://www.chowhound.com/boards/31

                                1. re: bobalooza
                                  s
                                  soupkitten RE: bobalooza May 11, 2007 12:17 PM

                                  here you go & have fun.

                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/400688

                          2. re: nc213
                            b
                            boltnut55 RE: nc213 Apr 27, 2007 09:55 PM

                            I said "dreaded" only because I wonder if servers think that I'm going to be there "forever." I totally agree with you regarding the experience.

                            1. re: boltnut55
                              hannaone RE: boltnut55 Apr 27, 2007 11:28 PM

                              I never worried about the readers coming in to my rest. The regulars would always come in at the end of "the rush", and would be considerate enough of others to either change seating or leave if they had finished eating and things became busy again.
                              The people I had trouble with were the late night "homesteaders". Those who come in within 45 minutes to 1/2 hour before closing and then take a leisurely 1/2 hour to order and an hour or more to eat.

                              1. re: hannaone
                                d
                                dinwiddie RE: hannaone May 1, 2007 08:27 AM

                                Many years ago I used to take my son to Hebrew School once a week. Since I had a two hour+ wait for him, I would take a book and go to a very nice French restaurant, have an appetizer and a glass or two of wine. The owner was always willing to have me do so because he knew that 1) I often came back with my wife and or friends, and 2) I would recommend the restaurant to my friends if they were looking for a place to dine in that area. If the restaurant was busy, I would sit at a small table in the bar instead of taking up a table in the dining room. (He was also very nice about making sure I had enough light to read my book) If it wasn't busy he would sit and talk wine with me.

                                We still go there (thought he has moved the location of his restaurant to a much less convenient location) often, and we always order a good bottle of wine as well as a couple of appetizers, entrees and dessert, and leave a good tip. I beleive in making sure I reciprocate when I have been treated well

                        3. s
                          soupkitten RE: jfood May 1, 2007 11:09 AM

                          jfood i think mine may have been one of the posts that you refer to.

                          it's not fair to loiter in a place that has only a few tables, or in a place that depends on a wicked daily high-turnover rush (unless the rush is far off or already over), but most owners are happy to see people spending some time talking and lingering over a table for a time if the establishment has a table to spare. after all, the rest. makes a percentage profit off of every item sold to the table, so the place still makes its 55 cents on your cup of tea or its $4 on your app.-- as long as there is not another party waiting for your table the establishment is still making money (just not as much as if you were ordering 2 dinners and a bottle of wine). the folks who linger over a table also tend to be the more attentive customers, who will bring friends & family back to the place if they feel comfortable, like dinwiddie.

                          i think owners tend to be very hospitable by nature and really just enjoy seeing patrons enjoying their establishments. they love seeing good customers return and become regulars. of course, bad customers like hannaone describes are bad news for the closing staff & are a pain in the butt for the restaurant-- probably not welcomed again so much.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: soupkitten
                            hannaone RE: soupkitten May 1, 2007 01:27 PM

                            We actually had three classes of the "late nighters".

                            People who were unaware of the closing time and came in from a referral or that had "heard" of our rest from x-source. These customers were not a problem as they usually became regulars and made sure to come in before we ran out of fresh selections.
                            The "homesteaders" I described earlier.
                            And the funniest group - other Asian restaurant owners who closed about the same time that we did. They would always call ahead and say "We really want some of your food, is it okay for to come over?" and normally it would be the entire family - up to twenty people.

                            1. re: hannaone
                              ccbweb RE: hannaone May 1, 2007 02:10 PM

                              I have mixed thoughts on people dining at the end of the day. Having managed a restaurant I know how it goes, but I always figure that if you're focused on when you get out at the end of the night, then you need to close the kitchen early enough to be done when you want to be. And that includes planning for people who walk in 5 minutes before "closing." That is, if you really want to be out by midnight, then you shouldn't announce 11pm as closing time. If someone comes in at 10:55 and you turn them away, you may have just lost a customer permanently. I always took the stance that we are open for people to come in and sit down until the time on the door.

                              Now, it is something of a problem when someone comes in that late and wants to linger over drinks, order a few starters and see how they feel about ordering other stuff in a bit...etc etc etc.

                              1. re: ccbweb
                                b
                                boltnut55 RE: ccbweb May 1, 2007 09:59 PM

                                I think there was another thread a long time ago on CH about whether the posted time is the door locking time or the last moment when a customer could come into the door. I interpret it as the last moment when someone can come in.

                                1. re: ccbweb
                                  ChefsMenuTasting RE: ccbweb May 1, 2007 10:09 PM

                                  Take the opportunity to teach people how to dine! I serve until the time on the door says. If we close at 10pm and a customer walks in at 9:59pm we serve them BUT we do fill them in about a few things. "Would it be possible to take your order as our kitchen closes shortly" "The servers and front end will be here for a while so there is certainly no rush for you to enjoy your meal" If this doesn't suit the experience they came in for politely recommend another restaurant. People are so easy to talk to and most times have no idea of the circumstances. It's amazing how many times you can flip a table in an extremly busy reaturant by just talking to people.

                            2. momof3 RE: jfood May 2, 2007 06:37 AM

                              I have a regular customer who comes in late afternoon solo. She sits, has a glass of wine and usually a salad or a sandwich, sometimes followed by coffee and/or ice cream.
                              She is as sweet as can be, friendly and very polite. Her bill averages $20-25. Thing is, I am pretty sure she has Alzheimer's or dementia. After she pays, she asks me if she's paid yet. Of course I answer truthfully. She leaves me maybe a few coins. Never a "real" tip.
                              I don't mind though. This is not the norm for customers, and she is so adorable and kind that the tip doesn't matter to me. Obviously this is an extreme example, but goes to my point that politeness and kindness go a longer way with servers then most think.
                              We do not (always) see you with a giant percentage sign followed by a number (8-25) on your forehead.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: momof3
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                                nc213 RE: momof3 May 2, 2007 12:04 PM

                                I second that. I often used to say that I'd rather have a table be nice to me and leave 15% than be rude and leave 20%.

                                1. re: nc213
                                  jnstarla RE: nc213 May 2, 2007 05:23 PM

                                  So true. There are some tables I'd rather never have again, no matter how much they tip. Even a 50% tip is not worth some treatment, imho.

                                  1. re: jnstarla
                                    ChefsMenuTasting RE: jnstarla Oct 17, 2007 08:09 PM

                                    I had a guy walk out of his private room and tap on the wine bottle he was holding up over his head in front of 40 other fine dining guests! This would be...no... never acceptable. IF they didn't have 4-5 ounces in every glass as I had just been in to top them up maybe...maybe I could understand this. I waived the minimum of a private room for this guy, (usually $1000 minimum) so he could entertain his 5 guests. Then he complains about a service charge of 18%. WHAT! Even though Calgary is a big city, everyone in our restaurant knows his name. I will never let him dine with us again. When you go out of your way for someone and they make your staff quiver and cringe, it's so not worth it!
                                    Anyways, this blog has helped me to approach single diners with more of an open passion, some are insecure of being alone as it is. We entertained a single gentleman yesterday, he had such a great time that he invited 7 friends down to meet him. They drank and ate all afternoon!

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