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May 15, 2009 06:33 PM

How to deal with people who tie up a table after they've paid the check


My husband and I and another couple had an 8:30 reservation at JoJo's last night. We arrived on time and were told that our table had paid their bill and we would be seated in a few minutes. After a half hour of being ignored, we asked the hostess when we would be seated and she said the party still had not vacated the table, there was nothing she could do, and there were no other tables available. So we left and went to Ocean Grill, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner and excellent service.

Don't restaurants have a policy to deal with this situation, which must occur often? Should they have offered us a drink or appetizers to make the wait more pleasant? Should they have said something to the people who occupied the table? Whenever we dine out we always vacate the table after paying the check, especially if the other tables are occupied.

Please let me know your experiences and how we and they could have better handled this situation. Thank you.

  1. I've seen the maitre d' go up to a table and ask the couple if they wouldn't mind moving to the bar if they were finished dining. I could hear him explain that other guests were waiting to be seated and that they needed every table as it was V-day weekend. He was very polite but clearly got the message across that the couple were taking up a table unneccessarily and they needed to move. The couple looked surprised but did move to the bar. My boyfriend at the time and I were then seated at that table - we asked the waitress how long the couple had sat there after paying the bill and she said over 30 minutes.

    12 Replies
    1. re: SeoulQueen

      I've been in a similar situation where the waiter VERY nicely asked my table if we would like to go upstairs to the bar for a drink - they already had seats set aside for us and would bring our drinks to us. I think they comped the drinks but can't recall. It was done so graciously that everybody was happy; our table, the customers waiting and the waiter! This was during restaurant week when it's really busy and tables need to be turned quickly. I don't agree that there's nothing you can do if a table lingers. It's better to encourage the stragglers to leave (within reasonable time lines) than offend the people waiting. Resto's are in the business of making money afterall...

      1. re: SeoulQueen

        on occasion, i've had to do this. some people are gracious, seemingly unaware they have been camping. however, i also have had people blow up at me in a rage and have had people refuse to leave. one couple who had paid over an hour before i asked to move them to the bar, with comped drinks, responded, "oh, really? well ya know what? i think we'll stay all night then." and they did. they sat at that table for over 6 hours. the rest of the room turned 3 times.

        it's a crapshoot.

        if you know people are waiting and the restaurant is expecting to turn your table, i don't understand how people can be so selfish.

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          hotoynoodle, I'm just stunned....STUNNED!...that this couple camped out for a total of 6 hours! I'm really curious - did your staff continue to wait on them if they wanted another drink? Or did they just sit there and not order anything?

          And couldn't you have have requested that they leave the premises when they chose to camp?

          1. re: LindaWhit

            Well, according to kchurchill5:

            "They don't have legal rights to ask me to move ...." Which I find hard to believe but I'm sure she wouldn't have taken such a strong position if it weren't true. I've never worked in the industry but that seems ridiculous, doesn't it?

            1. re: c oliver

              Yes, well, I'm completely discounting that particular comment. I'd like to see the law on the appropriate state's books before I believe it.

              I've not worked in the industry either, but I know I have better manners than the party that hotoynoodle's restaurant had to deal with. I'm aware of other people waiting for tables, I'm aware the the implied contract between restaurant and patron is pay for food and drink, but I also know I don't "own" the table - unless said reservation is explicitly stated as *mine* for the night or ownership of said restaurant has made it clear that it is mine for the evening. A good example of the latter would be Ferran Adria's El Bulli or Thomas Keller's French Laundry where you're having a tasting of many courses that will be eaten over a period of 4-5+ hours. A reservation starts at 6pm at TFL, you're going to be there all night, most likely.

              So unless explicitly stated - yes, it does seem ridiculous. But as has been stated - there are always going to be those "it's all about me and screw everyone else" people in the world. I just find it incredible that they are that obtuse to believe that the world does *not* revolve around them!

              1. re: c oliver

                If one is told to leave by property owner/management and refuses to comply, one is guilty of the crime of trespass.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  Well, y'all do know I was being a little sarcastic, don't you??? :)

              2. re: LindaWhit

                the server continued to pour them ice water as needed, but they ordered nothing else, and the table was bare but for the water glasses.

                we all feared a major scene if i asked them to just go, so sucked it up. trust me, plenty of other diners were aware and shot lots of hairy eyeballs. they spent probably half what a normal deuce would drop, too. they were atrocious.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  You'd think they'd have something better to do with their time than playing the game of spite - hope you'd refuse their reservation if they wanted to play again.

                  1. re: alwayscooking

                    yes, big black "X" on their name.

                    no matter how long i am in this industry, somebody will again amaze me.

                    in fairness, with regular guests, it's easy enough to note things like "slow turn time" in your open table and plan accordingly. if somebody is just a clueless a**, then you don't want them back. i get abused enough.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      Good to hear about the big black X next to their name. You certainly don't want customers like that. And I think you would have certainly be within your right to have demanded that they leave. I think I would have dealt with the major scene - the rest of the restaurants' guests probably would have given you a standing ovation upon their departure!

          2. friend of mine used to 'Crop Dust' the table..moved them out..real quick.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Beach Chick

              please tell me your friend is not a server, that is disgusting.

            2. It's tricky. Most seated parties tend to really resent being asked to vacate. The general consensus among the dining public seems to be that they have paid for their table and can use it for as long as they like,(even if they are no longer paying for it; ie buying more food/drink). A complimentary drink/appetizer would have been a very good idea in this case, as asking the table to leave may not have been. Asking the table to move to the bar IS an option, but it still requires amazing tact on the part of the manager, as well as nerves of steel.

              In most restaurants, this does not occur often. Things are so variable, and change so frequently, that a table generally comes up. I am guessing that JoJo's may be on the smaller side. The less tables there are, the less variability there is.

              19 Replies
              1. re: hilltowner

                Basically I would be highly offended if someone asked me to move. Sorry I paid to have a nice dinner out and if I like my table I should have it. Now working in a restaurant I understand the turnover ratio and would ask or suggest who I was with to move. But many people don't understand. I would be offended and never instruced by staff to suggest. There are ways to suggest something. Maybe the waiter could say, Our bar offers great deserts and a great atmosphere if you would be interested I could see if they have room, but I would never ask them to move. I was out a couple of months ago with a group of 10. Everyone hung around for over a hour after dinner. I would of moved and suggested, but no one wanted to. So, I stayed. We tied up 2 large tables but we also paid and tipped well.

                Touchy subject. I agree moving to the bar area I would do, but some don't want to and they paid so for me and working in restaurants it would be very wrong to ask them to move.

                Probably one of the reasons why basically I hate eating out. I eat out very rarely at formal or "quality" restaurants. I don't enjoy it at all. Stuffy pretencious, arrogant by staff and waiters or waitresses and honestly I'm bored. I'd rather go to a oyster shack on the beach and have a seafood pot. Dig in with newspaper, good seafood and just have fun, a couple of good margarittas and a hell of a sunset. City fine dining just doesn't appeal in any way to me. Most restaurants I pick are quaint, fun, not quiet, noisy in fact, interesting atmosphere, unique food, no white table clothes for me. I like to feel relaxed when I go out to eat. But that is just me.

                But for the sitting at the table issue ... They have every right to stay there all night if they want and if it was my restaurant, I wouldn't say a thing.

                1. re: kchurchill5

                  How do you feel/react if/when you are kept waiting for your reservation for 45 minutes or more? What would you be saying to the restaurant management after waiting an hour beyond your reservation time? Have you ever considered your POV from the other side of the coin and thought about what "camping" at a table means for those who are coming in to dine "behind" you?

                  1. re: Servorg

                    Honestly, I would wait patiently. I've been a co owner, hostess, waitress, chef and I understand what you are saying. I would ask my friends to move out of courtesy, but if they or whomever I was with didn't want too. Then so be it. sorry. They paid for that table and they should realize to move, but if they don't, they have every right to be there and that restaurant would be extremely wrong to ask them to leave in my opinion. I have worked at low end and high end and I don't care, offering a subtle suggestion to move to the bar is fine and very subtle but anything else and then restaurant can say kiss my ass and I would be back. Sorry. They don't have legal rights to ask me to move although ... a customer should be aware and I would think they would have common sense to move on their own. But if not. Just drink more at the bar and suck it up to dining educational stupidity.

                    1. re: kchurchill5

                      "Honestly, I would wait patiently"

                      You would be the exception that proves the rule in that case (and if reading threads on CH for 8 years has taught be anything about how people react to long waits for reserved tables).

                      Add: And if I was ever eating out with someone who insisted on keeping a table, knowing that others were waiting and after 15 minutes or so of sitting and talking without ordering anything further, that would be the very last time I ate out with them.

                      1. re: Servorg

                        Well I've been on all ends, the table people, the waiter, the chef and hostess and waiter/waitress and a co owner. I am still patient and very proud to be one of those who can understand.

                        Thant doesn't mean I agree with it. Personally as I said ... I would move, but it isn't always up to just one person.

                        One of the problems with todays world is we al want want and want and have no patience. I've learned that a little bit of patience, understanding will take you a lot father than always getting what you want. I just don't stress or get upset over stuff like that.

                        And by the way I told my friends what we should do, but they still insisted on staying. My friendship means a hell of a lot more to me than some silly pet peeve. I enjoyed dinner and we will go out again, and we will probably sit at the table again. Oh well. It is what they enjoy. I'm not loosing 20 years of friendship over my in ability to have some patience.

                        1. re: kchurchill5

                          I didn't say I wouldn't remain friends with them. I just wouldn't let them put me in that situation again. And I would tell them honestly why I was not going out to dine with them.

                          1. re: Servorg

                            In the future I would avoid their company in any public setting, and would downgrade the friendship to acquaintance. There are little things that reveal a great deal about people - a person so lacking in consideration for others is bound to disappoint, humiliate, or hurt you sooner or later.

                            The very concept of making reservations implies that a table will be occupied for a relatively fixed period of time. If a restaurant operates with advance reservations, management has every right to expect diners to vacate once they are finished. Tactful nudging of dawdlers is acceptable. Generous tipping helps the server make up for lost income but does nothing for the restaurant's daily profit. Better that the campers take offense and never return to tie up more table-time than to lose business because frustrated would-be customers tire of waiting and leave, then bad-mouth the place to their friends, or when they finally are seated, are in such a bad mood that the meal goes badly for them and the staff.

                            Even in a no-reservations situation, if people are waiting to get in, polite people will take the hint and leave. Even fast food restaurants will ask customers loitering over a coffee or soda to leave, whether or not there are open tables. If you want an endless evening, stay home.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              "There are little things that reveal a great deal about people - a person so lacking in consideration for others is bound to disappoint, humiliate, or hurt you sooner or later."

                              it would appear that some posters aren't affected by either the lack of grace or general sense of entitlement that seem to be exhibited by a huge number in their circle.

                              1. re: greygarious

                                "There are little things that reveal a great deal about people - a person so lacking in consideration for others is bound to disappoint, humiliate, or hurt you sooner or later."
                                Exactly. The fact that there are those diners that have no thought about anyone else who is looking to dine after them tells volumes. Talk about entitlement!

                                And I disagree with the previously stated concept that if a table is reserved, it's "reserved for the night". Only if the restaurant's policy is to do so and it's explicitly stated that said reservation means the table belongs to the person(s) dining all night. Quite frankly, it's those campers that you don't want back - so if one table is offended at being asked to move to the bar (with comped drinks and/or desserts!), so be it. I'm sure anyone dining there after them is very appreciative.

                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                  it's a tough call to make. diners who feel they have been slighted or mistreated are far more likely to moan to their friends that service at place x is horrible. they'll tell 10 friends and those who had a lovely time might tell 2. you never know which will be which.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    True - in this age of Yelp, CH, etc., anyone can trash a place. But if your reputation is such that you've been open for years with lots of good reviews, and one person does a one-off nasty review, hopefully the dining public knows enough to realize they had a stupid vendetta against you for an imagined slight.

                                    But again - you never know.

                            2. re: kchurchill5

                              And I guess in my circle of friends, people would say that patience is not the same as co-dependence, and that enabling fundamentally rude behavior co-dependence, and that good friends don't enable each other.

                              1. re: kchurchill5

                                Y'know K, you may not get a bunch of supporters here on CH for this, but jfood will give you a pat on the back and say, you put your friendship first and these are people whose company you enjoy.

                                And jfoood has taken more than enough hits from other posters because he sides with the restaurants too often. But in this case, you asked your friends and they all agreed to stay. And you placed your friendship ahead of the inconvenience of others and that, jfood is sure, was a tough place to sit for the extended stay.

                                Yes, jfood has been frustrated at times waiting for a table when others have overextended and it is not fun, but he could always leave and go elsewhere, and he has. But if jfood is with a group of people, and everyone wants to continue, it is the restaurant's decisionto putthe line in the sand and do something. So they are placed in a situation of alienating seaters or waiters. It's their call to make and let the chips fall where they may.

                                Enabling rude behavior? It is not enabling bank robbery, it's staying at a table and enjoying the company of people who have been part of your family for 20 years. Go, enjoy and leave the guilt to others.

                                Were jfood you, he would do likewise, the group voted to stay and he would as well. And would he not go out with them again? He absolutely would go out with them again.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  i'm thinking the comment about not dining out again with near-life-long friends was hyperbole. (golly, i hope.) and no restaurant manager in his/her right mind expects a 10-top to turn in 2 hours.

                                  when i've been out with biggish groups of friends who aren't in the business, and explain "we really should be vacating because..." they have always deferred to my experience. it simply didn't occur to them. WE move to the bar, or elsewhere, to continue our enjoyment and not impede that of others. maybe i just don't hang with recalcitrant types?

                                  then again, if we are the last turn for the night, we also don't dawdle for hours after the place is done serving.

                              2. re: Servorg

                                my experience has been that most patience ceases to exist once a reservation is 30 minutes overdue. sometimes 45 minutes, but then that's it. people have babysitters, another social obligation post-dinner, early morning obligations the next day, etc.

                                even with comped drinks, apps in the bar, the party forced to wait is now in a very bad head space and it's very tough to win them back over -- especially if they have never dined with you before. it's an uphill battle for their server, and the guests will nitpick every little thing out of annoyance. you also encounter guests who don't drink, or don't want to wait in the bar because it's too dark./noisy/crowded, what-have-you.

                                it astonishes me that people who claim to have been in the business would have such a sense of entitlement over their dining room real estate and wouldn't take the time to explain simple logistics to their friends who want to camp.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  Or the simple basic courtesy of informing the restaurant of a need for a 3-hour seating when making the reservation when that need is reasonably known in advance.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    you must remember that some people believe they have never been wrong, nothing they do is wrong, and the world in fact does revolve around them and their immediate needs. this sounds like an attack, but it is not meant as such, it is a simple statement of fact.

                                    traditional custom is to allow someone to sit at a table till closing. i agree that anyone with a lick of sense would realize that they are creating problems for others, but some people simply don't care. it's not their problem so let others deal with it. those people deserve our pity more than our scorn.

                            3. re: kchurchill5

                              "They have every right to stay there all night if they want"

                              Oh really? And what gave them that right? Sorry but a dinner does not buy you the right to occupy that table all night if you want to. The owner has the right to decide how long you stay there and you have the right to come back to that establishment or never return

                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                Exactly. In US dining culture, no one purchases a "right" to occupy a table indefinitely. When a guest fundamentally breaches the rules of hospitality (which lingering like that would be), they've lost the "right" expect the indulgences of hospitality in turn.

                                Bye. Bye.

                          2. In every restaurant I've worked at, you are NOT ALLOWED to ever say anything to a table to make them get up and leave or move to the bar. That being said, most waiters do the best they can to encourage it, by removing pretty much everything on the table that can be removed, and by offering less and less drink refills, but if they are "campers" as they are known in the business, there's really nothing you can do.

                            If it's a very busy restaurant and there is literally no other table to offer you, they could have suggested that you eat in the bar but there's nothing you can do to make them move, most places I've worked. You did the right thing - wait awhile, but if it doesn't work out, leave and go somewhere else. There's nothing else you can do as the customer.

                            I think there was a long discussion on CH awhile ago about this and a lot of people firmly believe they should be able to take as long as they want, they paid to eat there and they'll stay as long as they feel like. It's amazing to me.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              If possible, stand close to the table, and comment to each other about items on the menu.

                            2. This happened to us once. We are not really big eaters and had ordered entrees only and a bottle of wine. After we had finished eating, to our delight there was a glass each of our wine left. The restaurant was small and a neighborhood type place, though very nice. Should we have ordered starters, entree and dessert, we would have occupied the table much longer than we did. My husband payed the bill and we set about enjoying our wine. The headwaiter approached telling us that there was a couple waiting for our table. It was a jaw-dropping experience. We were gracious, but consequently never returned. It was my birthday, late Oct. and his suggestion was that we finish our wine on the outdoor patio!!?? This place has since gone belly-up. You figure. BTW, the wine was far more expensive that the starter and dessert would have been