Nobody likes to be told they’ve overstayed their welcome — especially when paying money to eat out. But what happens when people linger at a table long after a check is paid while others are waiting to be seated? This has become a hot-button issue on the frenetic Manhattan restaurant scene.
Here on Long Island, restaurateurs face similar challenges. “The dining experience should have a little give and take between customer and establishment,” said restaurateur Tom Schaudel, whose empire includes CoolFish in Syosset, A Mano in Mattituck and A Lure in Southold. “I certainly don’t want to tell anyone to leave,” said Schaudel, “but when it’s Saturday night and the place is jamming with people waiting, to sit there and have a conversation 45 minutes after you’ve eaten is kind of unfair.” What Schaudel usually does is offer to buy everyone at the table a drink at the bar. Most take the drink — or the hint.
“We don’t look to push people out,” said Toni Contino, co-owner of Mitch & Toni’s in Albertson, who has also had to offer people the “move on” bar beverage. The rule of thumb, Contino said, is that when people come for a 6 o’clock reservation, a party of two is expected to stay about 90 minutes, a party of four, 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours. People who reserve 8 p.m. or afterward have the luxury of lingering a bit longer, since there’s usually no demand for a table after 9 p.m.
It's a touchy issue. While diners want to call the shots when it comes to how long they sit at a restaurant table, restaurateurs have to turn over enough tables to enable them to survive.
What do you think? Should there be unofficial (or official) time limits on how long a party should be able to linger? Tell us your stories about waiting to be seated.