The online version of Bon Appetit, a magazine not universally known for insightful reporting, carries a blog called The Nitpicker by Jason Kessler. Mr. Kessler functions as an Andy Rooney of the culinary world, sounding off on popular restaurant practices he finds silly and annoying.
His recent post is titled “I’m Sick of Feeling Rushed at Restaurants.” He takes aim at establishments that expect customers to leave when they are finished and relinquish the table to another party. According to Mr. Kessler, diners should be allowed to stay at a table as long as they like.
Not every restaurant tires to accelerate your departure, of course—only the ones that are busy, or popular, or reasonably priced, or who need to make money to survive. Some restaurants inform the customer of time restraints up front, letting them know when the reservation is made that the table is booked later in the evening. While this seems like the most refreshingly honest policy, Kessler believes you should avoid these places at all costs.
When I started working in restaurants a million years ago, certain pairs of diners were identified by my colleagues as “lovers”—couples who were likely to sit at a table all night, gazing into each other’s eyes while their potential replacements languished at the door. It’s an odd description, to be sure. If they were truly lovers, they wouldn’t be dining in a restaurant at all. They’d be home in bed, naked, licking caviar off each other’s bodies. At the very least, they’d have someplace better to go when they finished dinner.
In order to survive, most restaurants need to make a certain amount of revenue per seat, and that revenue is generally realized by booking a certain number of seats twice each evening. There’s an obvious solution to Mr. Kessler’s dilemma, which is to double the prices and allow him to sit there all night. Many high-end establishments book each table only once, charging customers anywhere from $200 to $500 per person for the privilege. I have a feeling that Kessler wouldn’t find this to be a fair solution, either.
What do you do if you’ve finished dinner and someone else is waiting for your table? Go to the bar and have an after-dinner drink. Go to the movies. Go home and read a book, or talk to your children. Don’t sit there obstinately, confusing rental with ownership.