Thursday, June 15, 2006

What about parking meters?

Service sensibilities will likely collide with business imperatives again this summer as scenic restaurants contend once more with lingerers—customers who don’t understand they rent a table rather than buy it.

For restaurateurs, it’s a no-win situation. Parties settle into their seats to soak up the view or dig into the conversation long after they’ve stopped actually eating and drinking. Hospitality is almost a reflex for operators, so they’re loath to mar an otherwise memorable guest experience by hustling lingerers out the door. Yet as long as un-buying butts are nestled in the cushions, the cash register isn’t clanging. Proprietor, server and waiting guests all lose, big time.

So what are operators to do? Are they within their rights if they ask a slowpoke party to mosey along after everyone’s finished their meal?

We posed that question to the industry via this week’s Nation’s Restaurant NewsWeekly Newsletter, which was broadcast on Monday. It was also posted on our website,, about one screen down.

There wasn’t a consensus, but a sizeable majority agreed the table squatters could be asked to grab a mint and move on—under certain conditions. If other customers are waiting, and if the bill wasn’t an exceptionally large one, or if you’d be closing otherwise, then, sure, give ‘em a nudge—as long as you do it with a tact that would make Chip and Dale break into golf claps.

As one respondent put it, “This is a tough question because the answer is, It depends.”

And, even with all that deliberation and care, you may still lose a guest.

“If I were having a pleasant time after a meal, enjoying lengthy conversation, and I was asked to leave, you can be sure I wouldn’t return to that place,” commented another anonymous responder.

“A restaurant has the right to ask anyone to leave,” Anonymous concluded. “Whether it’s good business practice is another question.”

The safest option, two respondents suggested, was drawing the party away from their over-used table, but still keeping them in house and happy. “This is the reason lounges were invented,” said Jill Vose of the Quincy Marriott. “I invite them to join us in the lounge.”

“I don’t think you can ask customers to leave,” wrote Gus Gregory, who gave his business affiliation as GGA. “[But] you can invite them to have coffee, dessert and conversation in the dessert room, garden patio, etc.”

And then there’s the counterpoint, perhaps best expressed by yet another anonymous responder. Here’s his/her advise, presented here in full: “No.”

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