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"Saving" a Table by Throwing a Coat on a Chair at a Counter Service Restaurant


The long-winded title should pretty much get the question across. There are a few lunch spots here in Boston at which some people throw a coat over a chair to "reserve" a table, while they wait in line to order their food. I have also seen others take said coats and deposit them on the floor or elsewhere in order to "unsave" the table. I have further observed (on rare occasions) fisticuffs almost resorted to to settle the question of title to the seating.

I feel it's wrong, and it should be a first come, first seated system. I plan to "Ask the Imam" at some point, but was curious what others thought of the propriety of this reservation method.

    1. Just to be a devil's advocate (I don't eat at such places enough to have a real opinion one way or the other) how is it different than using a spouse/child/friend to hold the table while you order for the "table-holder"? In either case a table is being held for a time during which no food consumption is occurring. And if using a coat is wrong, are you ready to tell people not to use their human companions as "holders"?

      1. The resto has chosen not to control the seating. They have intentionally set a potentially unfair and potentially chaotic "every man for himself" seating policy. The coat over seat diners and the ones that remove the coats to snag the table for themselves, are simply following that policy. The resto has a right to do that, just as you have a right to eat somewhere else.
        It may be unfair but that's the way it is, kinda like life.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ilikefood

          Of course not dealing with the place is always a choice, but I'm looking to see what the opinions of chowhounders are given that the place is worth eating at, and that this is the (lack of) policy of the restaurant. Is it OK to stick your jacket (or loved one) at a table, or is that unfair "saving?"

          1. re: nsenada

            Whether fair or unfair, I'm not sure. It's certainly impolite IMO and not something I'd do.

        2. Its definitely not nice.

          That said, restaurant has given diners the responsiblity to fend for themselves. Survival of the fittest, do what you have to, anything goes.

          1. I don't think people should take seats, whether they put their coats on them or other people sit there, until they get their food. It ties up tables unnecessarily. Anyone who has studied queue theory would know how much it can impact the number of tables available. If a place does it correctly (Disney is one that can do it well where you cannot sit until you have your food), people w/ food sit and clear out quickly so everyone gets a seat when they have their food. But, I seem to be one of the few who follow this so I end up w/ food going cold while I wander around and dozens of tables sit, with no one eating at them. It's frustrating.

            1. It's hard to always take the high road when other don't do the same. You walk in a place with counter service and see a couple of open tables. Not being ready to sit down yet, you get in line to order your food. While you're waiting, a bunch of people walk in, claim their tables with their coats and get in line behind you. After you pick up your food, you see that there are no longer any available tables, no one eating seems close to finishing and so you have nowhere to sit. As you scan the dining room anxiously for a table to free up, you see the people who were behind you sitting down at their "reserved" table. You're really annoyed, but guess what many people in your situation are going to do the next time around. Unfortunately, self-centered behavior in social situations eventually begets more of the same until the majority no longer see it as rude. Sad, but true.

              1. I think it's extremely annoying, selfish and rude to use humans as "holders," and I wish all restaurants with this type of seating arrangement would post "no holding tables" policies clearly.

                My favorite, always-packed barbecue place is really strict about this -- and guess what? It works out for the best, as chowser suggests. They definitely maximize the number of people who get to sit, because if you think about it for even a second, you realize that diners eat for an average time, keeping the comin' and goin' rates roughly equivalent.

                I'm not sure I'd ever have the giblets to dump someone's coat on the floor, but I've been mightily tempted.

                1. I have been to restaurants which post request asking patrons not to save seats this way (or using a spouse or children to do so). But that's just a request. i don't know if there is a solution.

                  1. As one poster stated, it's "every man for himself" and so I think you should do whatever you feel like to save a table. When is it proper and when isn't it? If I go into the movies with mr. RNR and we sit down right away to "save" our seats and then one person gets up to go get popcorn and bathroom, then comes back and the other person goes, is that not "saving?" Is that allowed? Is it the perception of how small a space is or how many tables are available that makes it "ok to save" vs. not ok? Personally, I don't want to be walking through the dark theater climbing over people because I didn't get there early enough to get (or save) a good seat any more than I want to be the person standing around with a tray of food getting cold because I didn't save a seat in advance. We've been "saving seats" since middle school cafeteria days as far as I can recall. If you want a good seat and it's open, you take it, or do something to save it. There are a good bit of lunch places around my job like this and I can't spend 10 minutes of my time standing and waiting for people to finish so I can sit down.

                    Perhaps if people didn't CAMP at tables when they're done, people wouldn't have to save tables. I've seen countless people sitting and talking who are clearly done while I and others wander around and look hopeful that someone will vacate, but they just ignore you. So yeah, I'm gonna save a seat if there's an open one.

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: rockandroller1

                      Interesting - never thought of the movie theater analogy, and I think everyone does that. The only difference I see there in the situations is that at a movie, everyone gets a seat, albeit a potentially crappy one. In a restaurant, you don't have enough seats for everyone in line, and with food "in hand."

                      1. re: nsenada

                        But if there aren't enough seats for everyone that's in there eating, it doesn't matter what order they sat down in. If there are 10 tables and 15 parties (party being a single or more people, anyone who takes up 1 table), 5 parties are going to stand. If you don't want to be one standing, grab a table when you come in. Someone is going to have to wait.

                        1. re: rockandroller1

                          The issue is that by saving a chair, you are effectively "using" the table for (Time it takes to eat)+(Time it takes to wait in line), rather than simply (Time it takes to eat). With limited tables, this means that there is worse "throughput" (the queuing theory reference above). No argument that it is far less efficient for everyone if people are saving tables. However, there is also the "you're a sucker" issue if the general pattern is to save, and you don't do it.

                          1. re: DGresh

                            Well, I certainly haven't "studied queue theory" (really? who does this?) but I don't think it matters what the reasoning is behind it. As with the grade school cafeteria and the movies, you can't say "saving is ok sometimes but not other times." I mean, maybe if it's YOUR restaurant you could, but you're not going to change an ingrained seat-saving behavior by altruistically not saving yourself a seat, you're just going to end up standing. There's also the slippery slope of the "good" seats that was talked about in the theater. Sure, you can see the movie from any seat, but some seats are perceived to be better than others, and those are saved. I go to a restaurant for lunch sometimes that has a limited number of booths and the rest of the seating is at long tables on high, uncomfortable (to me), backless stools. Everyone stalks the booths so they can grab one, and nobody's going to go get in line and get their food and THEN try to stand around and wait for a booth for 10 minutes, but if you have a friend with you, 1 person can go get both people's food and the other can save the booth. Same thing. There's still plenty of seating for everyone, but everyone can't get the booth.

                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              Both the grade school cafeteria and movie theater comparisons are false analogies, for the simple reason that in both cases, everyone who is there has to accomplish the same task (eating or watching the movie) in exactly the same time period - i.e., they all get precisely 12:00 to 12:30 for lunch, or the movie runs from precisely 7:00 to 9:00, or whatever. All of them MUST be seated at the same time, and the only way to handle that is for the school or theater not to release more students or sell more tickets than the venue can accommodate.

                              In a restaurant, on the other hand, granted there are more and less crowded periods, but someone may be showing up for lunch at 11:30 or 2:00, and thus the principle of "keep it flowing, eat when it's your turn to eat" is appropriate, and saving a table when you're not actually sitting there eating is unmitigated selfishness. Not surprising that it's common in our "I got mine, screw you" society, but unmitigated selfishness nonetheless.

                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                Quite a few people study queuing theory and that's the basis of decisions like how many tellers to open up, how long a person should wait, even how many fast passes Disney should pass out, how many customer services people to have on the phones, etc. It's actually a lucrative field and used by most companies. There's a huge cost to having someone wait on the phone w/ no one there so companies determine how long someone is wiling to wait and staff accordingly.

                                Taking a table and waiting to use the table to get the food increases the number of tables needed by an establishment. I've seen lines long enough that someone could eat and leave before the coat leavers come back. I was recently skiing at a resort where people saved tables in the morning by putting their coolers on the table and they disappeared for hours. Every man for himself. Reminds me of my SIL who when we were visiting a museum grabbed all the tracing paper for her kids so they could do as many as they want, even if it meant others had none. As BobB says, unmitigated selfishness.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  I just think this is a worthless discussion. It's not manageable, like how many callers to staff on your call line. You can't make people change their behavior, and this is what people are going to do. It's like complaining about slow drivers and how accidents cause traffic jams. You can complain about it all you want, but you're not going to make people drive correctly or be more courteous or stop tailgating so there won't be any fender benders.

                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                    I agree that it is worthless in that, as you said, people who are selfish will not change their ways and will be always rude. However, as manageability goes, analysts take into account the percent of people who are rude and will grab tables to let them sit empty so should bump up the number of tables accordingly, just as they take into account the number of people who will camp out after eating. If the wait time is too long, they lose business, as with calls. It's all about averages. Disney, and other places, have come up w/ a solution of not letting people sit until they have their food which keeps things moving. It's too bad people don't have enough common courtesy not to have to have rules like that.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      I think a lot of other things are too bad too, I'm just saying, you're spitting against the wind on this one, I'd let it go.

                                      If the food is good and there aren't very many seats, a lot of people will just get takeout rather than jockey for a table (or wait for one). Not all businesses are going to "analyze" the table to customer ratio and be able to magically add more space for more tables. They'll put out what tables there are room for and that's it. I don't think they want to get into the business of who sits where, when, or they'd have table service to begin with, and a hostess to seat people.

                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                        Well, really, a situation like this is only for food courts, where I rarely frequent, except in amusement park/ski type situations. Yes, I can't fight those raised without manners and consideration for others. I don't address it in person, only here because it's been raised. I never thought people would so adamantly support rudeness. For what it's worth, I get annoyed when people tailgate me and then hit my fender, too. But, believe it or not, smart businesses do take into consideration wait time/eating time and number of customers when deciding how many tables to put in. Some don't, just as some don't bother to budget their finances. But, successful ones do.

                                    2. re: rockandroller1

                                      >>"I just think this is a worthless discussion."<<

                                      So why are you one of the most vocal participants?

                                      >>"It's not manageable ... You can't make people change their behavior"<<

                                      Above, dmd_kc gives an example that shows that the situation **is** manageable and that you **can** make people change their behavior.

                                      If a place is packed, you wait until you have your food before you sit down. The chairs and tables for people who are eating. Not for people who are waiting. And certainly not for random articles of clothing. If you want to put your coat at a table, fine. I'll be happy to move it to the floor for you.

                          2. re: rockandroller1

                            <Perhaps if people didn't CAMP at tables when they're done, people wouldn't have to save tables.>

                            If you save a seat for yourself, you are camping at the table before you start eating. How is that any better than camping at the table once you're finished eating?

                            1. re: small h

                              When you're there to eat and either haven't ordered yet or haven't finished yet, you have a legitimate right to be in the restaurant and taking up space. When you're done, you should leave. That's just my opinion. If you go to a sit-down restaurant with table service and order, you're not "camping," but you are saving your table til the person with your food comes back. But when you're done, you should leave, in every restaurant situation.

                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                Almost right.

                                When you're there to eat and haven't ordered yet, you have a legitimate right to be in the restaurant and taking up space in the line.

                                When you have your food but haven't finished yet, you have a legitimate right to be in the restaurant and taking up space at a table.

                                When you're done, you should leave.

                          3. If the coat fits, wear it.

                              1. re: BobB

                                Thanks - my search skills were inadequate to locate this. It's always good to see how our departed chowhound ancestors handled such situations, in simpler times.

                                1. re: nsenada

                                  Who you calling dePAHted? ;-)

                                  1. re: BobB

                                    That was a wicked pissah movie

                              2. Sounds a lot like trying to park in Southie in the aftermath of a snowstorm.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Cachetes

                                  Is this like the chair thing? Where someone digs out and puts a chair in their space?


                                  1. re: Sooeygun

                                    We always keep it classy in Boston.

                                    1. re: nsenada

                                      It was my understanding when I lived in Boston that you were always free to take a parking spot somebody else had shoveled out, so long as you didn't mind them letting the air out of your tires...

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        Yes, usually with a buck knife

                                    2. re: Sooeygun

                                      As the standup comics used to say...true story (and this one is). Busy mall parking lot. Old lady stands in space to "hold it " for her son. Another parker wants the space and pulls in. The old lady won't budge. End of story...the driver hit the old lady. Unfortunately, my wife was a witness and had to testify in court. As we say, only in Miami...but the practice may become more widespread.

                                      1. re: Sooeygun

                                        That's funny. You could always leave a coat in the spot and see what happens.;-)

                                        I've seen far too many people leave children in parking spots to save them--once the kids were there for over 15 minutes and I'm wondering if the parents just wanted to get rid of them for a while.

                                    3. The other day at a very popular place with competitive seating, someone was saving a whole table for people who hadn't even showed up yet...... no order, no nothing.

                                      I happen to think there is great usefulness in this discussion. The fact is that it is a waste of a resource to save table space in advance of using it. It does mean more people will stand around with their food waiting awkwardly. In most cases, it seems to me there is enough turnover in these types of places that nobody really has to wait, as long as people Do the Right Thing and don't save in advance. I can't tell you how many times I've gone in to a place with my kids and they say maybe we should save a seat.... but I tell them something will open up and it always does.

                                      1. A gentleman who practices this habit relinquishes the expectation of future use of the garment in a pristine condition, similar to shedding a Harris Tweed to cover a puddle for a lady's steps, or to courteously cover a victim of a recent driveby shooting. The lonesome coat is fair game as a recepticle for chewing gum, smokeless tobacco articles and expectorate, and accidentally spilled drinks.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          One can always detect the newbie table-savers because they drape their tan camelhair coat over the chair. A perfect target for a cup of coffee, or, in Asian places, the full contents of the table's Kikkoman soy sauce bottle.

                                          Other options in our arsenal:
                                          Look for squeeze bottles such as ketchup or mustard.
                                          At breakfast sites, look for uses for the 1 ounce containers of jellies and jams and pancake syrup.
                                          Do not underestimate the effect of a shakerfull of black pepper.

                                        2. Jfood reads this with a smile on his face. In NJ and CT at most of the places he eats, the coat or the person on the chair is basic SOP. Noone gets upset, noone thinks anything of it and the people in the restaurant do not get involved. In >50 years of eating in many of these types of places he has never witnessed anything other than acceptance.

                                          "Is anyone sitting here?"..."No I'm saving the four seats." People just move on.

                                          Is it contrary to optimizing queuing theory? Absolutely. But the vitriol and comments about dropping food on someone's belongs is reprehensible. If that is the SOP for people on how to deal with a little adversity and inconvenience, then jfood is glad he grew up in NJ and lives in CT.


                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: jfood

                                            "But the vitriol and comments about dropping food on someone's belongs is reprehensible."

                                            I too think that is totally unacceptable behaviour. Shame on people who do that. It makes you no better, and perhaps worse than what you consider the original offense. Have you forgotten that two wrongs don't make a right?

                                            I have done it both ways, depending on the situation. Before I got ill, I didn't save a table, just got my food and then found a place to sit. After I had to deal with the handicap of not having enough oxygen to stand in line, order food and then carry it to the table, I would sit and my spouse or other companion would get the food. Haven't been to any such eatery since the transplant, but hopefully will not need to have to sit the next time I visit one. If my elderly Mom is with me, I will find her a table where she can sit whilst I get the food. It is only common courtesy to let the olders and those with physical neecessity sit instead of standing in line.

                                              1. re: jfood

                                                Thank goodness someone has common sense. I am not sure why it is worth getting riled up about and ruining people's clothing as punishment.

                                                1. re: queencru

                                                  Oh, for heaven's sake, at least in MY defense it was totally tongue in cheek. Would I actually do that? Of course not. Would I fantasize about it? Why not? OP asked if it's alright to do it, not how to deal with it. My response simply answered how I feel about it. SOP doesn't ever make a behavior right. Think of all the traffic laws that most/many people break. SOP but still wrong. Obviously there are exceptions and we all know what those are, i.e., the person with a disability (whether we know about it or not), etc. But having too short a lunch break to wait for a table to come available? Is that person more important than all the others who are on a lunch break, dashing to a doctor's office, whatever? If time is that big a factor, pick another place, bring your lunch to work, get your meal to go. Just because a lot of people do something doesn't make it right. And to repeat: no, I won't really spit on their jacket :)

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    Sounds like an idyllic world. Do bluebirds and happy bunnies bus the tables?

                                                    There's no harm in saving a table while you wait to order or receive your food so long as you don't deprive other diners of a place to sit while they eat. And obviously those who have physical challenges that make it a challenge to stand around get a pass.

                                                    But it's simply unacceptable for one person to occupy table space while waiting when someone else actually needs a place to eat. And it's understandable that the person searching for a seat with rapidly cooling food might get all Walter Mitty about the situation.

                                                  2. I really don't think it's a problem, and for the following reason: say I show up at such a place in a group of four. We wish to eat together, and if we are unable to do so, we would probably go someplace else. If we buy the food first, we've committed to eating there, and then, if we are unable to obtain a table, our experience is ruined - either we have to eat separately, or let the food go cold while we wait for one. Why not simply reserve a table for four when we come in, either through our belongings or loved ones? It's an easy solution to the problem.

                                                    (Then again, I don't usually eat at such establishments, preferring sit down dinners, so it's rarely if ever even been an issue I've had to consider.)

                                                    1. I'd just assume that previous diner forgot their coat and sit there anyway.

                                                      14 Replies
                                                        1. re: viperlush

                                                          Totally terrific suggestion.

                                                          1. re: viperlush

                                                            Wonderful idea. You won't mind eating next to me then, I presume?

                                                            I'm the type of person that would offer up an empty extra seat if it's full and someone is looking, whether or not I "saved" a table or not. Perhaps if more people were like that, and more people didn't "camp" when they were done, there'd be enough seats for everyone everywhere. But probably not, and those things probably aren't going to happen, so I'll just continue doing what i've been doing.

                                                            1. re: rockandroller1

                                                              So here's a hypothetical for you.

                                                              Let's say a mom with a baby in her arms and a toddler by the hand walks by. Would you give up your table entirely and tell your friends, "sorry, guys."

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                Yes, if we were still waiting for food, but I'm sure my friends would be pissed.

                                                                Anyone who qualifies for advance boarding on a plane for example, would get my table if I were waiting and weren't eating yet, or at least get asked if they want to join me if I'm already eating. I do try to hurry through my meal or at least make sure I don't linger when finished if there is high demand for tables where I'm eating.

                                                                If I were already eating, no, I wouldn't stop eating in the middle of my meal to get up and give someone my table.

                                                              2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                Sure, why not? Communal tables make more sense anyway. If we can sit next to each other in theatres, on public trans, or at the beach why not in restaurants as well? It's not like you'll give me cooties or anything.

                                                                But don't expect me to get up from the table because you left a coat.

                                                                1. re: viperlush

                                                                  I expect you not to sit there to begin with if there's a coat. Conversely to those who think I'm rude for putting it there, I think you're rude for sitting there when it's saved (you wouldn't do that in the movies, would you? IMO it's no different). So I'd sit right down where I planned. I hope you like company. :)

                                                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                    So you expect me to stand there, food in hand staring at an empty table because maybe it is being saved? I can either assume that the item is left behind or is saving a seat. I would rather believe that fellow diners are forgetful rather than selfish. Anyway, these are usually counter service restaurants anyway with quick turn over. Odds are I'll be done with my meal (or close to it) before you even sit down.

                                                                    Really I don't understand why people who save think that they are more deserving of a table than those who don't. You don't cut in line to get your food so why cut in line to get a table?

                                                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                      I make the assumption that in a movie, everyone is there for the same time period so I don't think it's the same thing at all. Again, I'll ask why is one person's time more valuable than another's. Or why is the heat of one person's food more valuable than another's. If I stand in line and you and your friends come in after me and save a table, are you more important than I so I should wander around the room waiting for a table to open up? And, while I really wouldn't expectorate on your jacket, I'm willing to bet that if you caused a scene I could trump you all day long :)
                                                                      PS: If your friends got upset at you for giving up the table, maybe look for friends with a little more milk of human kindness running through their veins. I try to cut a wide path around toxic people as I age.

                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                        S"o you expect me to stand there, food in hand staring at an empty table because maybe it is being saved?" Not my fault you didn't save a table. Maybe you will next time so you won't be standing there, wishing you had someone with you who would have saved you a place to sit. Or get takeout if you're by yourself and don't have a way to save a table and don't want to risk standing/waiting.

                                                                        "I make the assumption that in a movie, everyone is there for the same time period so I don't think it's the same thing at all."

                                                                        This makes NO sense. During lunch rush, everyone is there for the same thing at the same time period. The difference is that the theater knows how many seats are there and won't sell more tickets than there are seats. A restaurant doesn't only sell food to the # of seats that are available. Those that do are those with hosts/hostesses and servers and the host's job is to make people wait until a table is available. If a restaurant wants to do that, then nobody will be walking around with food in their hand. If they don't, you fend for yourself. It doesn't have any thing to do with me being more or less "important," just more knowledgeable. I've been in dozens of places like this before and someone always says, "it looks crowded. I'll go save us a table." It's just common sense to me. I promise you it's not some "importance" thing like oh, you peons have to wait because I the Queen am here. I just knew better than you, so I saved a seat.

                                                                        It's clear we'll not agree on this, and you'll never change my mind and make me see myself as rude or Queenly, any more than you'll start to think this is the smart way, instead of the "stupidly waiting for a table" way, so let's just agree to disagree.

                                                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                          This is NOT like a movie theater, where everybody has to be seated at the same time. It takes time to wait in line. It takes time to receive food. While you're waiting, somebody else can be eating at a table, which they can then vacate by the time you get your food. Is it really so difficult for you to grasp that simple concept?

                                                                          When you take up a table while you're waiting for your food, you're not "more knowledgeable" than other diners. You're just more self-centered.

                                                                          1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                            Just out of curiousity rockandroller1, what do you do when you finally get your food and find someone sitting at "your" table, with your coat hanging off the back of their chair? Are you outraged?

                                                                        2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                          A movie theater is not a comparable situation, as I pointed out above: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6995...

                                                                  2. It seems like everything there is to be said on this subject has already been said, and now the conversation is just going in circles, and growing increasingly unfriendly. We're going to lock it now.