Ask The Salty Waitress: How Can I Get Rid Of Lingering Customers Who Hang Out For Hours?

Dear Salty Waitress: I have noticed two alarming trends in the restaurant in which I work. The first is people having meetings for an extended period of time (like three hours) while ordering very little food or drinks. The second is similar but far worse in my opinion: Tables will be sitting for an ungodly amount of time (last time was nine hours, through three shift changes) while consuming about one drink an hour, no food. In fact, the 9-hour table had the nerve to get mad at hour seven that their drinks were taking too long. Sorry, I was taking food orders from the other tables that I actually have to opportunity to make money off of.

If you are sitting at the bar, then hanging out for a while might be okay. But to hoard one of a server's three or four tables on a busy Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night while the restaurant has an hour (at least) wait is just rude to everyone: the restaurant, other guests, and the server. That table has generated very little profit for anyone involved. Yes, if they tip $20 on a $100 check, that's good. But when that is divided over nine hours, not so much.

I know I've definitely lost money on those "squatters" as I watch servers turn other tables two, three, sometimes four times. Am I crazy for wanting people to take into consideration that they are messing with my money by hanging out forever, or ask that they "overtip" accordingly? Also, wouldn't these people be better off sitting at the bar?

Sincerely,Your Time Is Up

Dear Your Time Is Up,

No, you're not crazy, sweetie, at least not because you expect people to actually order food at a busy restaurant at dinner time. Yes, if a group just wants drinks and the restaurant's busy, they'd be better off hanging out at the bar. (Unless there's no space at the bar, or someone can't sit in a backless bar stool, etc.)

But I think what you're really trying to ask is "How do I get these freeloaders to am-scray?" Since it sounds like this is a problem that's popped up a lot, I think you should talk to your manager about it. The restaurant itself might need to come up with some guidelines about what to do—maybe put some type of time limit on the wifi during lunchtime? Or give you the go-ahead to leave the check after three hours of iced-tea ordering? Train the staff at the host station to suggest bar seating? Or force the group to close out its tab after each shift change, which might bug them enough to get moving? Maybe create a dessert-and-coffee lounge area where you can shoo these squatters once they reach hour seven? (In a restaurant where I once worked, that was the tactic. If a table had been lazing for hours after dinner, we'd offer them free coffee at the bar to encourage them to move along.)

Guests should try to be aware of how long they're lingering when a restaurant is busy. Don't rush through a meal, of course, but be aware that most nicer restaurants expect you to actually order a meal during dinner hours. The restaurant's bottom line—and maybe the server's ability to make rent that month—depend on the equation. If you're just grabbing drinks, that's what the bar's for. If you want to take your time eating, that's fine, but try to order enough food and beverages to justify the extended time frame. Or better yet, visit the restaurant on a day or time when it's less busy.

And for goodness sakes, nine hours is too long to spend anywhere besides your own home, an overseas flight, or a day spa. How many sheets to the wind were these folks by the time they left? If I drank for nine hours without eating much, you'd have to wipe me off the floor with a squeegee. If the guests were visibly over their limits, you might be legally obligated not to continue serving them, which is also a convenient way to get tables to scoot.

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