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How long do you get to keep your table after you finish dinner?

My family and I stopped by the Metro Diner last night in Culver City (California).

It was about 7:00 (on a Sunday night). It was crowded, more crowded than it's ever been and we've been maybe half a dozen times.

Wife approached the counter and talked to the owner/manager. Said we were next and that several tables were "about to open up."

Okay, fine, we wait.

At one of the two tables, the party had finished eating as was waiting for the check. So, while they are waiting for the check, checking the check, paying the check and so forth -- another party comes down from the motel (the Metro is in a motel -- serves Serbian food) and talks to the owner/manager and I over hear the word "reservation."

Meanwhile, there is another table "about to open up." A man and a woman are sitting there and they've already paid the check. The leftovers are sort of sitting there and they are just talking.

And talking.

And talking.

The first "about to open table" opens up and we start to walk in -- we were next, right? Well, the owner/manager tells us to wait, then sits the party who, I guess, had a reservation.

He tells us, he's going to "kick that other couple out of their table" and for a second we watch him -- then he starts walking the "reservation" party to their table.

We just said "screw it" and left -- went for hot dogs, corned beef and onion rings around the corner.

My question is this:

How long is the right amount of time to occupy a table after your meal is done when people are waiting around trying to get seated? We stood around 10-15 minutes watching a couple who had finished eating and had already paid their bill just chatting.

Mind you, this is in a (I wish we had italics) diner. Not a fancy restaurant where one expect to linger over an after dinner drink. It's a diner. In a motel.

Granted, this particular diner has Serbian specials and attracts both chowhounds and foodies, but it's a diner. You can order a hamburger.

Without taking the time to query on the different permutations this might bring up, I'm curious to know what others think both generally and specifically about how long a table belongs to a party after they've eaten and paid while other people are trying to get seated.

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  1. I usually think if it's busy and you've paid up, you should go. I don't really see a point to sitting any longer, since there's... nothing to do there.

    But I don't think I would classify that table as really lingering. I've had people linger for 30+ minutes. But I think 10 or so minutes isn't all that bad.

    1. i think they're entitled to sit for a reasonable amount of time- to finish your drink, let your food settle etc. "camping" (the resto-lingo for these types) is rude when the place is busy and others are obviously waiting for the table and also- when the restaurant is closed. in your situation i think a good manager could approach the table and "invite them to sit at the bar and have another coffee/drink/water/etc. " that's a polite way to say "get up already"

      unfortunately, we have to share the world with rude people.

      1 Reply
      1. re: excuse me miss

        Inviting them to the bar seems like a good idea, but I've seen a host of complaints on this board about just that. Many patrons get incredibly offended (and write so here) that they have been asked to leave the table, even in seemingly innocuous ways.

      2. It's a though call when you waiting you want people to hustle and move. When you have the table you want to sit back and enjoy the meal. You avoid making contact and thinking about the people who are now, where you once were, waiting. That being said I think once you have the table it's yours, to enjoy. As frustrating as that may be for those of us waiting.

        Ultimately it's up to the restaurant to figure out how to get the people to move. But there are always people who will simply sit and linger.

        On a side note that sounds like a very interesting restaurant.


        1 Reply
        1. re: Withnail42

          I can't really talk about the restaurant on this board, but if you go to the L.A. board and do a search there are lots of threads on the Metro.

        2. I may come off as inconsiderate, but my position is that you are entitled to the table as long as you want after you've finished your meal.

          That said, the longer you stay, the higher your tip should be.

          But in no event should you feel obligated, pressured, or coerced to leave prematurely even after having finished your meal long ago.

          1. I had the opposite problem (scroll down the board a bit- "is the table you have yours?")- when I was kicked out literally the second I paid the bill. Personally I feel that both the customer and the restaurant should use common sense and compromise. If the restaurant is not busy, I believe that the customer should be allowed to stay at the table as long as they would like (unless it's been reserved in which case they should be told how long they can have it for). If however the restaurant is obviously busy, the customer should still be entitled to the table- give them at least time to digest and relax before asking them politely to move- but when told nicely to move they should be made aware of the long wait (I truly believe that customers would not see restaurants as rude the majority of the time if they were explained the situation). NOTE FOR "SPECIAL" CIRCUMSTANCES: If you're the customer and do not want to be asked to leave, order refills on your coffee and sip slowly. I know this may look rude to people waiting on a long line but every now and then you can be in a sitaution where you have to kill time- to catch a movie or show for example. Also, if you're with someone who is disabled (I have a relative who needs a wheelchair and crutches for the time-being), in a situation like the one I just described the restaurant obviously should afford more lee-way,
            Another situation is when you're dining alone; sometimes I feel more pressure to leave fast (as in you have no one to converse with so why are you lingering?) I feel the same "rules" of common sense should apply regardless of whether you're with company or not- give the solo diner at least a few minutes to digest after their last drink/or have paid. PLEASE do not plop another customer at the table before at least nicely asking the first customer to leave.

            1. The Pink Elephant answer is:

              "If I'm waiting I want them to leave, if I'm sitting I want to sit and enjoy."

              But the jfood general rule of thumb on a weekend night with friends is 2-2.5 hours for the table. If everyone does their job properly, both custo and resto, then this should be sufficient for a three course relaxing meal. And that's from the time the table is given, not the time on the reso if seated late.

              That being said everyone has stared at the table-hoggers who laugh and enjoy post check being paid. Gosh will they ever leave. But if the resto allows this, then the choice is wait or leave. Unfortunate, but that's life. Don;t let the little extra time waiting ruin the whole evening.

              Once in a while jfood is having great conversation with friends and loose track of time and have stayed beyond the reasonableness standard. And given the circumstances the last thing that jfood would notice is whether there is a wait. just too engaged in conversation.

              Yet things happen and the suggestion that the manager offer a seat at the bar for continued chatter and maybe a drink or dessert. But if that is suggested and agreed then the manager MUST make sure there are sets in the bar, not have the custo stand there with coats in one hand, drinks in theother and then bring a dessert.

              but then if the custo refuses, oh can this be a delicate situation. Manager in an absolute no-win situation. anger the sitters or anger the waiters.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jfood

                Exactly, jfood...its the driving on the highway analogy. Anyone driving slower than me is an idiot and anyone driving faster than me is a lunatic.

                If you've finished eating and have finished your drinks/coffee etc...I think you're entitled to a few minutes before you get moving. Some circumstances will change that...if the restaurant has other diners, your table has been cleared and there is no one waiting...well, I'd say feel free to sit for several minutes and chat or read or whatever. If the place is slammed and there's a line...be considerate the way you'd want other people to be if you were in line...get moving once you've paid up and finished your drink/coffee. Its not your home. Its a business that lives based on serving as many people as they can. There is give and take in it on both the restaurant side and the customer side.

                Giving the server a larger tip doesn't help the fact that you've occupied a table longer than necessary. Go to the bar, go outside and take a walk, talk in the car, go to another bar...whatever. Just because you bought some food doesn't make the table yours for the rest of the night.

              2. I don't think anyone has addressed what I thought would be a key factor and I even mentioned it in the initial post:

                Does it matter what "type" of restaurant it is?

                Some restaurants, due to their food, their ambiance, their menu, their price, even their pace simply suggest a leisurely dining experience, including the post check conversational lingering. I get that. I wouldn't arrive hungry without a reservation at a place like that and expect a table to open up just because I wanted to sit down.

                But other places are suggestive of a reasonably quick turnover. There is no bar to linger in at the Metro Diner. The food is good - IMO - but it's not a hang around place. It's an "eat and go" place.

                But my specific example excluded: Don't some restaurants by the nature of their particular detail suggest one enjoys their meal than abandon their spot so that someone else can do the same, while other places by their very nature suggest that one linger and extend the evening as long as one likes?

                To take the example to the extreme: hasn't anyone ever been in a cafeteria or at a lunch counter where patrons are explicitly encouraged not to hang our after their meal because others are waiting for their tables? I've seen them -- I've also seen people sitting and studying while others are trying to find a place to eat in these places.

                To me, part of the frustration was inherent in the place we chose. It's family run diner, not a hang out or a linger over the coffee and wine. And that's part of why we left instead of waiting. The food and drink was long gone from the table we were waiting for, it seemed time to let someone else enjoy the restaurant.

                There's a small Italian place in my neighborhood called Alejo's -- fairly well known in L.A. It's very small (so is Metro, btw, maybe 10 tables max) and they take no reservations and it gets very crowded. From 7 pm on, there is just a list and a line out the door. To me, one eats there as leisurely as one chooses, then gets up to go. Others want to enjoy the food at Alejo's. If I am in the mood for a long meal with extended conversation, I'd go some place else that night.

                I'm not particularly angry at my experience. I haven't vowed "never to return." I just didn't feel like waiting last night and the experience sparked the questions I've asked.

                But I do feel the "type" of restaurant matters -- though I don't know what the right answers are ...

                7 Replies
                1. re: PaulF

                  What's intriguing about this reply to self is that you seem to suggest that the custo decides it's that sorta place. nowhere do you mention that the grab and go type of resto asks the custo to leave. Thinking back jfood can not remember ever being asked to vacate a table at a diner or grab and go place, but he has vivid memories of being asked to depart after dropping three figures on a meal. Hmmm, sounds like another thread.

                  But after playing golf with a group of seniors jfood was invited to a "breakfast spot" in southern FL. Well thisplace has an endless coffee cup policy and there was a real battle between the endless coffee pot and the hollow legs. Jfood sat there and watched these old guys down a typical post-golf breakfast of eggs, whole wheat toast dry, hash browns and 2 hours of endless coffee. the waitress was a true gem and the place was filled with other "professional" coffee drinkers. Not one was asked to leave and each left a tip that can only be described as embarassing.

                  So it's not the type of resto in a broad brushed way but the combo of the resto, the custo and the time of the week.

                  1. re: PaulF

                    I'd say it's up to the restaurant what kind of turnover they want. Even a diner might value regular customers more than turning over a table another time. And 10-15 minutes is not long to wait at any dining establishment. Heck, there are times people are asked to pull up and park that long at fast food drive-thrus!

                    1. re: mojoeater

                      Interesting thread. I agree and disagree with a lot of the points. The "type" of restaurant really doesn't matter. For one person what may be a quick bite at a diner for another person could be a rare dinner out. I think the suggestion of the manager offering politely to relocate to the bar is a nice suggestion, but if there is no bar then what? As a server I frequently come across "Campers" and feel that compensation in the tip is a must, especially if you sit long enough as to where the table could have been turned. What about if the table lingers long after closing? I have often had this happen. Even to the extreme of 2-3 hours after closing. I think it is rude to do things like turn up the lights, or sweep up around a table, but if the guest stays this long they are being rude as well. I recently had a manager that would tell a table, if lingered over an hour after closing "We appreciate that you are having such a nice time, however, our insurance policy only covers patrons up to an hour after closing" Clever, but transparent.

                      1. re: bethd127

                        that reminds me of when i worked in a pub one time. right after the bar closed (2am) security would turn up the lights and announce to everyone to "finish up your drink and make your way to the exit". legally they had until 245 to finish their dring- but what are a bunch of tipsy suburban kids going to say to a burly bouncer??

                        1. re: excuse me miss

                          One place I worked, the bar manager would turn up the lights and yell:

                          "If you don't sleep here, work here, or sleep with someone who works here, get the F@*# out!

                    2. re: PaulF

                      i think it DOES matter what type of place. a diner or burger joint figures on turning tables once every hour, whereas more pricey fine dining will give a two-top 2 hours.

                      i'm in the business and always keenly aware of whether or not the place is packed and needs the table back. however, some of the most inconsiderate transgressors of such courtesy are other people in the industry. where their sense of entitlement comes from is beyond me. they feel no qualms camping at a table for hours, or long after closing. um, hello?

                    3. After reading all the responses, I have to say that the customers were not necessarily being rude. I went out to eat recently with a co-worker. We are in the business and have both been hosts waiting for lingering diners to leave. In short; we know the pain of wanting people to leave so that we can seat people waiting. We were at a simple pizza and red sauce italian joint. We waited for a table. We got our table and commenced our meal. At the end of our meal, after the check had been apid and we finished our drinks, we stayed at the table until we were ready to go. There were still people waiting. The fact is, when you are dining in whatever kind of establishment with people you like, you are not thinking of people waiting for a table. It's not rude. It's just having a good time. If you sit for an hour, that's one thing, but 15 minutes is perfectly acceptable. More likely than not, the seated customers are not really aware that their table is needed. Good conversations do that to people.

                      1. In general, I think after the bill has been paid, 15 minutes should be acceptable if you notice people waiting for the table. If we're told ahead of time that we can have a table if we can leave by a certain time, I will make it my job to get my party out by that time.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: boltnut55

                          I think you should vacate your table if other people are waiting. Not rush but please be reasonable. To sit there and chat and chat without coffee or anything in front of you takes money from the server (a bigger tip doesn't compensate the table being turned) and is rude to the waiting diners. In my favorite restaurant the server or owner will go over to people that do this and ask if they'd like anything else - gentle hint to move it on out. JMHO, Linda

                          1. re: Linda VH

                            I had to re-read my answer, and I think someone below wrote something that cleared it up for me... the poster said that paying is saying, "we're finished." I HATE the last part of the meal where I have to find the server (5 minutes), get the bill (10 minutes), get the server to take our money (10 minutes), and get our change back (10 minutes). This was especially frustrating when DD was much younger and making "I'm bored" noises. I'm stressed out at her disturbing other people and frustrated with how long it takes to get out. Now especially if it's in a busy restaurant where the server is hard to find because he/she is serving in two opposing sections (and usually this is the restaurant with people waiting because I have said many times, "If I can get the check, then they can have the table!"), I'll even ask for the bill in the middle of my meal because I want to control the time when I leave. So there are times when I've paid for the bill and I'm still eating, but darn it, I can leave anytime. In my case, paying the bill just means that I've paid the bill :-)

                            Lingering becomes an issue when it's girlfriends... we're trying to escape from our spouses and children and be able to talk about adult topics (not x-rated, just adult), and leaving usually ruins the mood (we don't drink, so we don't really want to go to the bar; we've already had dessert or are too full, so we can't go to another eatery, so many times we're standing in the freezing cold outside the restaurant for 30 minutes).

                        2. When my dining companions and I are done eating, and done with our drinks, we give up our table. If we wish to continue the conversation further, we adjourn to the bar for a few more drinks. I feel it is unfair to the server if people dawdle at the table, it prevents the server, and the restaurant from turning the table over for additional guests. It is also unfair to people waiting for a table.

                          1. This is when of those situations where OPR apply. OPR = Other people rules. These are rules we believe are reasonable to apply to other people but when applied to us are considered wrong or even offensive (example: do you let people in your lane in a traffic jam? Do you expect others to let you change lanes?).

                            As someone said up thread, if you are waiting you want them kicked out, if you are sitting you can’t believe that someplace would treat customers so shabbily regardless of how long you have been there. I believe that the restaurant can not win in these situations. As a customer, as in most situations in life, the only thing you can control is your own reaction to the event. You can be upset or you can be sympathetic to the restaurant’s situation.

                            A number of years ago some out-of-town guests and I (a total of 6) were at an afternoon event later than we planned and decided to eat out rather than go home and try to start cooking. It was a Saturday at 7pm and every place we passed seemed to be very busy. We choose one and were told without a reservation it would be about 45 minute wait. Based on the parking lots we had passed on the way in it seemed reasonable. We were unable to sit in the bar due to a minor in our party so we waited in the lobby. One hour later we had not been seated. We asked about the delay and the hostess apologized for the wait and told us that it would be very soon. Since we didn’t want the waiting process to start over at another restaurant we waited. At an hour and 15 minutes we asked again. This time, the hostess after apologizing again admitted that the restaurant had three tables of eight or more patrons that had been seated for more than three hours and showed no sign of leaving but that the manager was fed up and was planning on kicking them out. We were seated after an hour and a half wait. The first thing our server asked was how our night had been. We burst out laughing and explained that we had spent the entire night thus far in their lobby. We then had a discussion with our waitress about parties that “camped”. We chose not to be annoyed and enjoyed our dinner greatly.

                            Were the parties that stayed at their table for three hours wrong? Maybe but we chose not to let their behavior effect our mood.

                            1. I think it's rude to hold up the table after you've got the check and paid the bill (even ruder if there are people waiting at the front door to get in!)... if you aren't ready to go, then don't ask for the check! If you're not actively eating/drinking something, or waiting for something you ordered, you really don't need to be sitting in the restaurant - there's got to be more comfortable places to hold your tete a' tete...

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Kajikit

                                often times the server will drop the check as a "hint" that they need the table back. some people are oblivious to subtlety though.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  And just because the check is dropped in front of you, that doesn't mean that you have to take care of it right away. You can leave it lying on the table until YOU'RE ready to go, which is why I regard the paid check as the signal that 'I'm finished, we're going now'...

                              2. I wonder if to some degree people's awareness of others is somewhat culturally bound. I would like to think that many or most Americans are aware of the press of people waiting for a table.

                                Sadly, in Colombia, the middle and upper middles classes who can afford to patronize nice restaurants often seem oblivious to others--others they don't know, while extremely gracious and accomodating of anyone they do know.

                                On the positive side, Colombians, I think, are more patient waiting, with less of an "I'm so important and my time is so valuable" attitude than Americans.

                                In Asia, awareness of others is variable. I think my Japanese culture has me feeling bad even while eating if others are waiting.

                                1. I put in a very snarky reply when this was first posted, and it was rightfully removed by the benevolent chowhound gods. There are a couple of ways to look at this.

                                  First is what is polite. Sure, in a packed restaurant - be it the McBurgerHaven or ChezMagniphique - it seems reasonable that most customers would vacate their table in consideration not so much of the restaurant, but of fellow patrons patiently waiting their turn.

                                  On the other hand, posession is 9 points of the law. Those people have waited their turn, they have enjoyed their meal, and they do seem entitled to some time to finish whatever conversations they are having and do so without pressure.

                                  This does not seem strange to me in the setting of a diner, but it seems especially appropriate in a diner. Call it a diner, a coffee shop, a lunch counter, a casual restaurant, whatever - this is the American equivalent of an English Pub. It is where we go to entertain or be entertained when we are not up to having guests at home, but don't want to make a big deal of going out. In recent history I think the TV show Seinfield, showed this aspect of American life very clearly with that diner/coffee shop that was the setting for so many of the conversations in that show.

                                  So I have to say, your comment "this is in a diner", really leaves me entirely non-plussed.

                                  1. I am not sure I have an opinion as to what is a proper amount of time. However, for some reason I am reminded of a study I read about somewhere years ago back when people actually used payphones: don't know any of the details or how they supposedly determined this, but someone studying the matter concluded that when people realized that someone was waiting behind them to use the payphone, they spoke for longer than if there was no one waiting. I do sometimes get the impression that if folks are waiting for a table it seems to be more valuable to the current occupants....

                                    regardless of whether that is true, expensive up-scale places are more likely to have a bar or place to wait, so occupants are less likely to be aware that people are waiting.

                                    In your situation, I would have asked the manager if I could have a reservation for the next Saturday (or next night, or whatever) since reservations are apparently taken but you apparently didn't have one....if a reservation time was offered, I would have thanked him and taken it and returned then. If all of a sudden the manager tells me that the place doesn't take reservations (after seating someone 'with one' ) *then* I would have walked out.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                      Recently I was with a group of eight trying to find a place in Boston's North End without a reservation. The good news was that it was a Monday night. Since we had no idea which of the 100 or so Italian restaurants in the neighborhood was good, we chose by the look of the menu and the crowd inside. We figured a place that was packed on a Monday night with so many choices in the neighborhood was probably a good choice...and it was (wish I could remember the name of the restaurant so I could do a review!)

                                      Anyway, there was only one table in the place that could handle our group, and no bar. The manager assured us that the people occupying that table would be leaving soon, as they had already paid their bill and were finished eating. Wrong! We ended up waiting for at least half an hour, and if we had been more hungry we probably would have gone elsewhere. Fortunately, it was a pleasant evening and we didn't mind waiting outside and chatting....(no place to wait inside). I'm quite sure the ladies sitting at that table knew we were waiting for them...they had seen us come in, and could see us sitting right outside their window table peering in occasionally to see if they were done yet. And I'm quite sure that they deliberately stayed....despite the fact that they were not even sipping coffee at that point (and had already paid, at least according to the manager...). Admittedly, this wasn't a diner, but it wasn't a fancy establishment either. Just your basic family-owned Italian restaurant.

                                      I felt sorry for the manager, who just kept looking at us and shrugging. And I couldn't help but wonder if he suspected the group would linger, but told us it would be "just a minute" because he didn't want to lose a group of eight on a Monday night. I'm not sure what he could have done, other than ask the group to leave. I remember once being in a crowded, upscale restaurant, and being approached by the owner asking if we would mind having our after-dinner drinks in the bar (on the house). That worked just fine, but of course doesn't work if there is no bar....

                                    2. I'm not sure that the time of day, type of resto or line near the door occurs or matters to someone already sitting at their table eating, chatting, enjoying their dining experience. But I do wonder.. if the resto doesn't accept reservations is in fact a first come, first serve resto...then it would be entirely up to the management/staff to move tables along, yes?

                                      Size of resto makes a difference to dh & I...if its a small place we won't wait more than 10 mins to be seated...larger place with a decent waiting line/res list probably no more than 15. But once we have a table we plan to take the time we need to enjoy our meal and dining companions.

                                      Sometimes you're the one on the line, other occasions you had the luck of great timing!

                                      1. To those in this thread who have no problem with camping at a table long after all food and drink have been consumed, and the bill just sits there (or has long been paid); What do you say to restaurant management or write here on CH when you are kept waiting for your dinner reservation for 30 or 45 or 60 minutes or more? Are you incensed? To paraphrase Pogo just a bit, "We Have Met The Enemy and He Is You"