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