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How long do you linger at the table after you finish eating at a restaurant?

I'm sure we've all been there... out with friends you haven't seen awhile, conversation and good times far outlasts your meal - even after you've indulged in dessert, after dinner drinks, coffee, etc. So what do you think is an *acceptable* amount of time to linger at the table, especially when you know the restaurant is hoping to turn it over for another party?

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  1. If it's a quiet night, no one waiting, then hanging around is no big deal. Once you say "the restaurant is hoping to turn it over for another party" for me that changes the equation. If someone has a reservation for that table, and perhaps is even standing there waiting, you really ought to be on your way after the coffee is drunk. If you're not eating or drinking anything, 5 minutes. I kind of compare it to last night at the mini-golf course (we're on vacation). We kind of groaned when we found ourselves behind two men with two little tykes who on the first hole were letting them goofily wack around the ball taking forever. We were behind a young couple behind them. We thought we were doomed. But the guys quickly figured out the situation and moved the kids right along and everything was fine. If there's no one behind you, go ahead and try that trick hole again. If there is, move it.

    1. Once nobody is ordering anything else that adds to the check I think that staying should be limited to the time it takes for people to finish drinking whatever they are drinking. How long that takes can vary, but even for a cup of coffee, how long can it take you to finish it? 15, 20 minutes? If you want to continue the conversation and don't intend to do anything but nurse drinks, find a nearby coffee house or bar. JMO.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rockandroller1

        Completely agree. I think regardless of whether you can actually see people waiting or not, a 15 minute time frame after paying the bill should be more than sufficient. Otherwise, move to the bar if the establishment has one, or another local bar. The staff will either have other people to wait on, or will need to clean up and prep for end-of-night tasks, including setting up for the next day.

        1. re: rockandroller1

          I agree too. I don't like to linger after I've eaten/imbibed everything on the table. I have a few friends who do, but I'll only linger w/them if there's no one waiting for a table.

        2. For me it depends on the style of restaurant, if it's a casual, reasonably priced turn and burn place maybe 10 min, after all the waitperson needs the income and usually tips are modest. If the place is higher-end, then I may hang out up to 30 mins., the waitstaff's rewards are larger and the cost of the evening was also larger, I believe these est. understand this and it's an acceptable practice.

          1. If there are people waiting for tables and we have paid the check and finished our coffee, there is no time limit that is acceptable to linger. If you want to continue your conversation, do so somewhere else. It is just plain rude to those waiting for tables to hog the table at that point.

            1 Reply
            1. re: farmersdaughter

              Agree with farmersdaughter. If people are waiting for the table, there is really no excuse to linger after you've finished your drinks. I'd feel horribly guilty seeing people waiting in the lobby.

            2. Not too long, once I pay the tab, and finish my beer, I am gone.

              1. Follow-up question for those who think it's ok to linger "as long as someone isn't waiting for the table."

                1. How do you define "someone waiting for the table?" If the restaurant is on a long, extended wait and there are visibly a lot of people in the lobby, that's obvious. But what if instead of visibly waiting for a table, instead all the other servers continue to get regularly sat (and thus continue to make money) but the table you are at has quit making money for the server, and he/she may only have 2 other tables going. If it's very busy, the person might continue to turn those tables while you're sitting. Maybe because your table is occupied, other servers are asked to pick up extra tables in closed sections while your table continues to be occupied, to avoid lots of guests waiting. Or what if the waiting guests are sent to the bar area, out of view of where you are sitting? In other words, I don't think you as a patron can properly judge when a restaurant is really on a wait if it is at all busy. If it is some diner and it's 2:30pm and there are no other tables, ok, but if it's during a relatively busy time of day, how do you really know?

                2. If there are no other tables "visibly" waiting (according to whatever definition you choose from above), why is it ok to make the server continue to not be able to finish their duties with you and continue on with their work just because other guests aren't waiting? I don't understand guests who linger and linger, as though the very last thing the server has to do before leaving is close out their check and then zip, they go home. There are so many additional things a server has to do before they can leave, by waiting longer at the table you are extending that time to a later and later time. Don't people know that?

                I mean, let's say the server has 3 tables and it's towards the end of dinner shift. By the time you've finished your meals, the other 2 tables have gone. There is nobody else "visibly" waiting to be seated and in fact the restaurant starts emptying out. Your server has to stay relatively present at the front of the house so they can continue to service you should you need refills or anything else, so they can't go in the back and begin their sidework, or begin rolling silverware. They can't close out their checks and cash out because you still have an open check. So the whole time you're waiting, other than cleaning their remaining tables, it's just a delay to the server so you can enjoy yourself. Because of that delay, the server might not get to leave until midnight instead of 10:30 or 11. Why don't people consider this? Yes, it's just "part of the job" but I don't understand the discourteousness to servers.

                4 Replies
                1. re: rockandroller1

                  In defense of my earlier reply, my "if people are waiting, then 5 minutes" goes to "if people are not (visibly) waiting" then you can linger for maybe 15 minutes or so. I didn't mean to imply you can sit there all night. If people are waiting in the bar for your table, perhaps not visible, then I think there would probably be a vibe from the server that you might think about being on your way. Generally I don't like to sit around after I'm done anyway.

                  1. re: DGresh

                    thx dgresh. I think other replies will be interesting, I wasn't solely focusing on yours. There seem to be a considerable number of CHers who feel it is their "right" to sit there as long as they want, even an hour after they're finished, and resent strongly any "feeling" from the server that they are trying to move them along.

                  2. re: rockandroller1

                    Rockandroller, I venture to say it's one of the hazards of being a server, every night will not be perfect and people lingering is going to happen. If someone wants a job with no uncertainty in the day to day routine and wants to know exactly how much they're going to make every day, a standard 9-5 should be chosen.

                    1. re: Rick

                      Indeed. One of many reasons why I have worked in an office for most of the last 15 years and got out of the restaurant business. But I think there's nothing wrong with making the general public aware what consequences their actions have. Most people, if they knew that camping out at the table was likely going to ruin someone's night and make them have to leave at midnight instead of a more reasonable time, would vacate earlier. But most people don't have any idea what a server has to do once they are (finally) done.

                  3. Once the transaction has been completed (meal ordered, served, eaten, and paid for), I like to get the heck out. If my dining companions and I are having a continuing conversation, we take it somewhere else. Unless we are absolutely the last patrons of the night (i.e., no one will be claiming our table), I'm always conscious that others might be waiting, regardless of whether or not I can see them.

                    But it may also have something to do with my culture. You never linger postmeal in a Chinese restaurant.

                    1. When I eat out with my husband or family we pretty much eat, maybe have a dessert or coffee, and then split. But I recently went to lunch with a fellow Chowhound, and we overstayed our welcome. It took us awhile to order because we were busy talking. Then we went ahead and ordered a couple appetizers, all the while perusing the menu for our entrees. The owner/chef finally came out and asked us to order, very nicely, asking if we had questions, so we ordered our entrees. We ate at a leisurely pace, but there was only 2 other tables with patrons in this place, so we weren't concerned about exiting quickly. The other patrons left and it was just us. We kept chatting, and chatting, declining dessert. We were quite stuffed at that point. I was facing the back of the house, and I noticed that the waiter and chef kept looking at us, so I told my DC that I thought we needed to go. We had already paid and left a good tip. On the way out we asked for menus to take home, It wasn't until I got home and looked at the menu that I realized they take a break between lunch and dinner, and I think we may have cut into their "lunch" time. I still feel guilty, and next time we go, not only will we get there earlier, but we will order more, and tip more, and not "rent" a table! Next time we will go get a glass of wine somewhere else so we can get all our chatting taken care of!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: danhole

                        I've had similar happen. Once at The French Laundry, we were seated for lunch. The dining and service were wonderful. Our sommelier worked overtime to provide us with excellent wines, and discussed why he chose each one for each course. We enjoyed, and enjoyed. Though we were seated early, it had now gotten late. Nothing was ever said, but we saw the service staff sitting down to eat. Our servers never missed a beat, and the same can be said for the sommelier. Finally, we departed, and never felt rushed in the least.

                        Some years back, we had lunch reservations in downtown Honolulu. On the way down, there was an explosion in the sewers. Manhole covers were launched high into the air. Traffic came to a total standstill. We called, and the restaurant, Indigo, begged us to come anyway. We did, and were seated at the end of the lunch hour. Again, our servers were seated for their lunch, but one always was on hand for us. No one missed anything we wanted. Though we watched them dine, there was always one server, just for us. About the time that most of the staff was finishing, we also finished. As we left, the entire staff stood and thanked us for coming and dining with them. This was a major nice gesture and I shall always remember it.

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          You have got to be kidding me!!! you went to the French Laundry, paid all that money....and got to watch the service staff slurp down a meal!!! I have met Chef Tom and he is a pompus butt-head, but to allow that is just plain silly

                          1. re: nyfoodjoe

                            Well, in this case, we didn't finish our lunch and last wine course until 4:00PM, having started about 11:30AM. Besides, for the two of us, how many servers and sommeliers does it take?

                            Hunt

                      2. I don't start my stopwatch, but do try to gauge my guests. If the coffee, the desserts, the cheese-course and the Port has been served and finished, I summon the check and start telling everyone what a wonderful evening it has been.

                        Though we are often amongst the last to leave, I'm usually ready to call it a night, and let the staff get home to their families.

                        Events can linger a bit more, but I usually wrap the evening up, as soon as the last course (whether wine or food) has been completed. No need to linger.

                        If it's earlier, I'll do so more quickly, in hopes that the restaurant can turn the table, but that is less often the case. I even let the staff know that we are likely to close 'em down. So far, no complaints, but still, we do not linger. When we're done, we're done and vacate.

                        Hunt

                        1. 99 percent of the time, we leave within about one minute after the dinner is finished and the bill is paid. We are always in a rush - so we're just eager to the next place/event and it's no reflection on the restaurant.

                          1. Of course most people will vacate soon after eating, especially if the place is busy. But if I am there well before closing time, there are empty tables around, and the conversation at the table is good, I have no compunction about sitting for quite a while, on occasion as long as an hour - but I expect to tip some extra for this. I have no problem if the server comes over and turns my table over to someone else, and I will hand them their tip at that time. I understand rockandroller's feelings about working late, but I don't know of many jobs where you don't have to stay late on an occasional or frequent basis. Again, I am not condoning this if it is close to or after closing, and I would not want to be at the only occupied table long after everyone else has left the restaurant.

                            1. i don't tend to linger, mostly because i eat dinner on the later side and want to either get home to bed, after, or out to the evening's entertainment. but honestly, i see no problem with lingering up to 20 or 30 minutes if there are empty tables in the restaurant. an hour might be pushing it, but that's in part because i can't sit still for that long. the lingering is part of the meal experience you pay for in my book, and i am personally annoyed with servers who heckle you to get out. (of course this doesn't apply at closing time or during staff lunch breaks, etc...).

                              i do tend to leave bigger tips if i've lingered, because i know the server still has to keep an eye on the table. if i knew someone were waiting for my specific table, i wouldn't feel comfortable lingering at all.

                              1. I have never felt right (or comfortable) lingering past the time I'm consuming either the main meal, or after-dinner dessert and/or drinks. The place to linger and chat is a living room, or a lounge, not a full-service restaurant table.

                                And, yes, I have "moved the show" a few times - the bar's usually glad to have us.

                                1. I pretty much always leave within 5 minutes of finishing and paying. I'm probably hyper-aware because I work as a server. One table of campers can ruin your whole night. We're only given 3 tables because we're very focused on service. So, we own our section. If one of those tables wants to sit all night, there goes 1/3 of my income. It has also happened where I've been done with the rest of my tables, we're closed, my side work is done, and I'm stuck waiting for my last table to go home. It definitely sucks, but it all par for the course.
                                  Some people will say things like, "Just tell us when you need this table again!" -But really, there's no tactful way (or way that wont get me fired) to tell someone to get up, there are people waiting. So, I guess if you're really concerned, ask the server if they have other open tables in their section currently. If they say yes, you can relax for a little while longer.

                                  1. I have to confess to being a table camper if i'm out with girlfriends. We order apps, drinks, appetizers, coffee etc and linger over everything. We do try to be conscious of people waiting for tables though and make sure to evacuate the table promptly. But if we're out at a wine bar sipping wine and sharing a cheese/cured meats plate and there's no one waiting, then we take our sweet time (but also let our waiter know to make sure there's no issue).

                                    When i dine out with my husband, he has his wallet out as he's laying down his dessert spoon.

                                    1. I don't think it's acceptable to linger. I have family members who do, and their behavior makes me uncomfortable. I've suggested we move on to a coffee shop many times, only to have my suggestion dismissed. They make umpteen excuses--This place is casual, the server won't care, I tip well, blah, blah, blah. But, then, these family members are lacking in other social graces as well, which also make me uncomfortable out in public with them. I like to hope that someday they will see the error of their ways and grasp the sensibility of my suggestion.

                                      1. It depends. jfood is not going to rush a meal or the exit, nor will he stay too long.

                                        he eats or dines depending on the restaurant type and when he finishes his coffee he asks for the check. If he would like to linger with friends he scans the room to see if they might need the table. if he sees other empty tables that seat the same number as his, he will linger. if it appears that the restaurant needs the table, then he will act like a sheepdog and start herding the troops to leave.

                                        1. Hmmm.... this could help explain why dining out is so much more expensive in the UK than the US. Unless a restaurant states it has 2 sittings, the table is pretty much yours for the evening. Sometimes it is evident people are waiting for a table and so it is good manners to go, but in most places there is no rush to leave. Of course, here we only get the bill (check) when we ask for it, which also slows things down. There is always time for one more 'wafeur thin mint'.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Peg

                                            I experienced the opposite when I lived in London. It seemed like half the restaurants I reserved told me I had to be out by X time, while the others seemed to have really obvious seatings- e.g. half the restaurant arrived at 6, another half arrived at 7, etc. In the US, I have never been told I need to be out by a certain time and the seatings always seem to be more staggered.

                                            I also think the check time is actually shorter in the UK because when you ask for the check, the server usually comes with the portable charge machine and you don't have to wait 5-10 (or even more) minutes for the server to go back to the register and get a receipt.

                                          2. Yea I usually don't linger too long...but when I'm in this situation, it happens. If I notice the restaurant is crowded and people are waiting for a table, I suggest taking our conversation elsewhere. But if I'm looking around at tons of empty tables...I really don't feel that bad.

                                            1. A week or two ago I ate at Pulcinella, a pizza place in Calgary, Canada. We were informed upon arrival that the wait for a table was two hours, and the wait after placing your order was at least forty-five minutes. The waiting area was absolutely packed with people, and people were even spilling out onto the street (in the rain!). We had a reservation so only the second consideration applied to us. We were seated (early!) beside a table of women who already had their unfinished food in a to-go box and were chatting while one woman finished her glass of wine. We waited about ten minutes for drinks and then placed our orders. The women didn't move. We placed our order. After about fifteen minutes our appetizers came. The women didn't move. When I say the women didn't move, I mean they didn't move. Except their mouths, as they chatted. The woman who was still drinking her wine didn't even take a sip! After about another forty minutes our pizzas came (so yes, the wait was longer than forty-five minutes). The women didn't move. We finished our pizzas. The women didn't move. It took a while for our waitress to bring us our bill. When our bill arrived, the woman downed the last of her wine and paid their bill (they'd apparently had the bill at their table all that time). I wanted to wring their necks... I can't imagine how our waitress and the customers who were waiting must have felt. I would have said something if I'd been with people who were less worried about being "polite".

                                              So... my answer is that you should leave when you're finished! And you should finish in a reasonable amount of time. Seventy minutes is not a reasonable amount of time to finish a quarter of a glass of wine. And if you're going to sit there on your big fat butt for seventy minutes, you should tip for all the people who could have come and gone while you were sitting there. And you should make a donation to the food bank to bring your karma back to neutral.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Jetgirly

                                                That's terrible. It's amazing how some people can be so unconcerned about the world around them. I wonder if they are so into their conversation that they don't realize so many people are waiting on them to finish, or if they are just like, "Yeah, i know there's a line out the door, but this is my table and i just don't care how long other people have to wait." Ughhh...i got annoyed just reading your post.

                                              2. My wife is Chinese, and the custom with her family is as soon as we've paid the bill (and received the inevitable take home containers), we leave. It doesn't matter how many pots of tea are left, or cups of coffee we could ask to be refilled; if we're done, we go.

                                                And that has carried over to Western restaurants. If I'm feeling especially full, I might ask for a second cup of coffee to help settle my stomach, but to sit there gabbing for 20-30 minutes? Never.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: KevinB

                                                  Hey, KevinB, your post made me chuckle (see my earlier post above). When we first started dating and eating with my family, my (non-Chinese) husband couldn't get over how everyone just vacated the premise immediately after the bill has been paid (and sometimes even before the bill has been paid to get the car, etc.).