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Is the Table You're Sitting at "Yours"?

I went to Chennai Garden today for lunch (a delicious South Indian buffet at 27th bet 3rd and Lex in Manhattan). Granted I went during the lunch rush (around 1 pm) and the place was busy (and is on the small side). Initially I was asked if I would sit at a small table with another diner- I politely asked if I could wait for my own table. Later on, when I had my own table and was finished, I was waiting for the check when another diner with their plate plopped in the opposite chair with the maitre d almost barking that I have to pay up front (I didn't know that).
My question:
1. Clearly the restaurant was busy. However, does that give the restaurant the right to rush their diners? (Even with paying up front, usually, even in busy establishments I have been given at least a few minutes of leeway between finishing and getting up- my plate had literally been whisked away the second before I was told to leave.)
2. If you are a single diner sitting at a small table for 2, does the restaurant have the right to sit someone else at the same table? While this was not forced upon me, as they had asked me to sit at someone else's table initially, clearly they do have a policy to sit strangers together. If you're the one already sitting and eating and the 2nd diner is willing to sit at your table, do you have the right to refuse? It's not that I object to sitting with strangers- actually when travelling I do it frequently as it's a great way to explore a new country and get a feel for the culture. However, many times when I'm dining alone in the city I want to be- alone. If that is the case, should I only frequent more expensive, less crowded places or is one entitled to a solo table? If so, how can you let the restaurant know that without coming off as rude? (i.e. if they try to sit someone else at your table)
I'm curious to what you'll say!

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  1. Wow! That would certainly stress me out! I would say that it's not okay for a restaurant to shoo you out... well, certainly not as quickly as they did in your case. It's one thing if you were loitering for 30 minutes after you were done eating. You need a few minutes to take in your food and collect yourself (in thought and in purse and such) before leaving!

    I've only seen this at cheap (very cheap) Chinese restaurants, so I would not expect it anywhere else. "Dop toi" would be expected in those restaurants, like they don't ask you if it's okay or not if you're already sitting there. They do ask the new customers if they mind sitting with someone, and they can decline, but once you're seated, it's fair game :-) Those are not nice clean restaurants made for loitering anyway, more like eat and get out of here before I see roaches.

    1 Reply
    1. re: boltnut55

      That's why I was surprised- in a very poor Chinese restaurant I can picture that scenario. But I was surprised as I was in a very nice, delicious and high-Zagat rated restaurant in midtown.
      Even with a buffet, I agree with you that all diners should be given at least a few minutes to digest. Also, why tell another customer that they can sit down at someone else's table before asking them or before they officially get up? Even when hungry, I would not want to impose on someone else's table if I knew the wait would not be too long.

    2. I can see how you're a bit bent out of shape about it...but a buffet is all about turnover. So, as soon as your last plate is gone I can see why they're interested in moving you out.

      As for having someone else sit at the table...as long as they don't insist on talking to me, I'm fine with it in an inexpensive lunch joint. In SF communal tables are all the rage right now, and a great option for a single diner. I think its fairly easy to communicate that you don't want to communicate if you just want to be left in peace to eat and not interact.

      I think alot of it has to do with the type of restaurant...as I said, a buffet is trying to serve the most people possible to make some money, so I think the guidelines are a bit different than for a sit down, order off the menu place.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ccbweb

        I agree with you that there is a difference between a buffet and a regular style of restaurant. However, I still feel that until a diner has officially gotten up the restaurant should not feel free to sit other diners at your table- at least without asking you first. Also, if they want to do this freely, make it evident- place a "Rules of the Restaurant" or something like that outside. Or have a large communal table specifically for single diners so they can have high turnover.

      2. If you wish to be the sole diner at a table, you would do best to pick a place that is not busy, is very american, and perhaps state upfront if you do not wish to share. It is common in Europe and Asia that communal tables are formed. Fact is, when they see our "american habit" of not sharing, they think we are pretty darn rude! Many places of these cultures, do carry over this practice in this country. And rightly so, IMHO.

        I have always found communal tables to be fun ways to have new and different dinner conversations. But can understand, some people are shy. Do adjust accordingly. If you go when it is busy and they do have communal tables, perhaps you can try it once? Or perhaps you will be happier at a different place or at a slower time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Quine

          I stated in my original post that when traveling abroad I actually enjoy eating at communal tables- it can be a fun way to meet new people and to embrace a new culture. However, there are times when you just do not feel like doing that; if you're having a stressful day and just need "me time" for example. I do not believe that single diners who want to eat by themselves have to avoid ethnic places at all during lunch time; I frequent ethnic places in the city and this is the only place that I've had the issue come up. I just know for the future to either arrive early or very late if I want to go back, or come with a friend.

        2. NF

          Jfood thinks the resto can put inplace any policy it wants and likewise the custo can put in any policy (s)he wants. And you have two questions for us to give opinions on:

          1 - Communal tables. jfood travelled to Germany regularly in the 90's and the local restos thrive on communal tables. One time jfood went to a favorite of his and the owner took jfood to a table. seated there was an elderly gentleman who looked him up and down (gave him the willy's) as jfood was about to sit down. The old German "approved" of jfood joining the table but jfood refused not wanting to sit with guy who made his skin crawl. Jfood then sat at a great table with a bunch of fun young Germans and enjoyed the meal and the company. jfood would have left if he had to sit next to the guy who probably did some nasty stuff earlier in his life, no thanks. Communal tables are the norm and you know it going into numerous restos. accept it or go elsewhere.

          Table ownership - pure and simple it's the restos. but rarely will the resto ask anyone to leave. considered major faux pas and almost always places the resto on the Do Not Return list. Your situation was a little different in that the owner treated you quite badly in jfood's opinion. No matter how good a resto is, the treatment is so far over the line it's a definite Do Not Return. If that were jfood, he would have thanked the manager, gather his things at his own pace, pay and leave, never to return. Life is way too short to deal with junk like this at a cheap resto.

          2 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            I agree with you- life is too short to worry about such a small problem in the scheme of things! That being said, their food is quite yummy:} I probably will return at some point, but definitely with a friend. It definitely will not be a solo lunch option though.

            1. re: NicoleFriedman

              Nic

              Another jfood tidbit. There is a resto in his town that should change its name to "Rush 'em Out." Considered annually as the best Chinese in FFD County CT. It's like watching the Keystone Cops serve. Literally, once mrs jfood and jfood ordered and served in under 15 minutes and they have no problem with placing entree dishes on the table while eatingthe H&S Soup. Soultion was to change the paradignm. Next time in the jfoods ordered One H&S Soup and one Steamed Dumps only (and kept the menus. As they told the waiter, "Not sure yet on the entrees". A nice leisurely soup/dump course. Then the dishes were whisked away. We THEN relaxed under the "STARE" of the waiter and then ordered the entrees 5-10 minutes after finishing soup/dumps. Entrees brought in under 5 minutes and they ate through this course.

              Understanding this was a more expensive place that the manager would never make a scene, but think about how to use their aggressiveness to your advantage, very Asian in thought.

              The idea of a friend is always a good one, sounds like a better time, and if you go solo again, take your best "friend" for a quiet meal. That's a book. Nothing like saying "I'm sorry, I'm reading" to someone sitting at a communal table. Gets you right back in the private zone.

          2. IMO
            Bottom line - the table belongs to the restaurant, and your future dining options belong to you. OTOH, I don't care what happens in other countries unless I'm there. In this country it is rude to set someone at your table -- unless the rules are laid out beforehand and in plain sight before you're seated -- simply asking if you mind being sat with others is insufficient because the corallary is not automatic.

            There are, of course, exceptions -- if the place is nothing but long tables and it is obvious different parties are seated together. This is not, however, something that applies to a place that has two tops. If they want to combine parties, just have bigger tables.

            1. Cultural differences? As another poster said, sharing tables is standard practice in all the mid to low price restaurants in Hong Kong and China. Maybe it's the same in India. Just be glad you didn't get to experience one time where I was sitting at a restaurant in HK and this guy sat down on my table smoking like a chimney. Talk about finishing and getting out fast.