Several of my recent columns have considered the customer experience or, more specifically, my experience in your restaurants. And from the bottom of my heart I can tell you that I believe there may be no tougher balancing act than what you do for a living. I would hate to be in your shoes when faced with some of your more difficult scenarios.
A case in point: I was sitting at a bar eating dinner with two friends in a very crowded restaurant. There were no available seats at the bar or in the restaurant, but there were plenty of folks waiting for a table or spot at the bar to become available. I'm always surprised at how many people choose not to order a drink while they wait, but instead stare impatiently at those who do have seats (but I digress).
Next to us at the bar was a couple who had finished their meal and were merely chit-chatting as their container of leftovers sat on the bar in front of them. No, they were not having after-dinner drinks. They were mindlessly consuming valuable real estate without any thought of those who were waiting.
This whole thing was driving me nuts because the hostess and the dozen or so people waiting were merely feet away. And they were agitated. I'm sure the couple knew it, but pretended not to notice. Several of them kept walking over to the hostess and whispered in her ear as they stared at the couple. It was obvious what they were saying, but the hostess held her ground. She would not approach the couple, which led me to believe the restaurant has a policy of letting customers linger, regardless of how long they do so. Or, the hostess was too timid.
I came this close to saying something to the couple, because my contempt for them grew steadily over the 25 minutes they remained after the check was paid. But my friends insisted that I mind my own business (for a change). If a fight broke out, though, about a dozen people would have had my back.
I'm sure this difficult scenario happens all too often. And I can only imagine how difficult a position this puts you in. But at what point do you step in and say something to customers who refuse to get up? Clearly, you do not want to risk losing them. And I imagine that the people who are the biggest offenders are repeat customers who have gotten so comfortable in your restaurant they have forgotten it's not their place. You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.
So, my questions to you are this: How do you handle customers who stay long beyond what is considered a normal amount of time? Do you have a clearly stated policy to deal with this type of situation? And do you have a designated hit man who has the dubious task of talking to customers who won't leave? And, of course, any funny or outlandish stories are welcome. I'll share the best of your thoughts on our Letters page.