Krystal Theis of Redmond planned to celebrate three birthdays with 10 of her friends at Senor Moose on Saturday night. Theis made a 7 p.m. reservation, but the group's seating was stalled by another party's passive refusal to leave the only table big enough to accommodate them. Theis and her friends waited and waited and waited.
At 7:45 p.m., Theis approached the oblivious guests and politely asked them to leave, finding a kind way to say that they might wish to relocate their lollygagging to the bar. They were scampering for the door before she finished speaking.
I've eaten in restaurants nearly every night for the better part of a decade. Since I've never before seen a sober guest confront campers, I asked Theis what inspired the round-up.
"We could tell they were done, so I gave it a try," Theis said. "I kind of felt bad for doing it, but if I was chit-chatting, I wouldn't be offended."
After making her move, Theis discovered she had the staff's support. While servers are typically coached not to boot guests who've overstayed their welcome, guests who linger over coffee erode a server's nightly earning potential. When I was a waitress, I developed a basic equation for determining whether guests had impinged on a restaurant's hospitality: I figured every dollar spent bought a minute at the table. While I might adjust my math slightly to reflect current financial realities--$12 an hour sounds like more now than it did then--I think the guideline's still valid. Diners who've shelled out $30 for a pair of entrees haven't really purchased two hours of table time.
While I don't know whether Theis' server subscribes to my theory, he was apparently happy to see the dawdling six-top go.