How to Deal with Restaurant Customers Who Won’t Leave

 In Bar & Restaurant Operations, Customer Service

Every restaurant wants its seats filled with satisfied customers. But what do you do when customers are just a little too satisfied? Customers who linger far too long can be a real problem for any restaurant. Of course you want to keep your customers happy and avoid offending them, but customers who just won’t leave can cause several big problems. First and most importantly, they can lengthen wait times for other customers. If customers with reservations at 7 show up on time and have to wait an hour because a group of chatting diners won’t leave, you risk offending the waiting party and getting  a bad reputation. Lingering guests can also hurt your staff. Fewer parties mean fewer tips for your servers, which can hurt morale, while customers who stay long past closing can ruin your entire restaurant’s schedule.

Be polite and friendly

So how do you handle customers who overstay their welcome? The key is to be as friendly and polite as possible. Even though the customers are inconveniencing your restaurant and other customers, don’t assume that this is intentional. It’s highly possible that the diners don’t even realize just how long they’ve been at the table, especially if they’re deep in conversation. Loyal customers (like your regulars) may just be so comfortable at your restaurant that they forget they’re not at home.

Drop “hints”

If it’s clear that you need to clear out the table, whether because another party is waiting or because its time for your restaurant to close, try dropping some subtle hints. Make sure the check is collected and the table is cleared. Have the server check in on the table and say something friendly but final, such as, “Did you need anything else, or are you all done? Thanks for coming in, and have a great night!” For most people, “hints” like these will be enough encouragement to leave.

Ask the party to relocate

If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to ask the party to leave. This can be awkward, so if you can, offer the customers something. For example, if you have a bar, tell the customers that you have another party waiting and you’d appreciate if they moved their conversation to the bar. You can even offer them drinks. This way, you’re not actually kicking them out, and you’re even letting them get something out of the deal. But if you don’t have a bar or this isn’t an option for any reason, you’ll have to try something else. Be as polite as possible and simply say, “I don’t mean to rush you out, but we do have another party waiting for this table.” Most customers won’t take offense if you’re polite and friendly.

Put a plan in place

It’s best to have an official policy for this situation so your staff is never unsure about what they should do. How long past closing should you let customers stay? At what point should you ask a table to leave? What exactly should servers say? Giving your staff a set of rules and a script will lessen the awkwardness of asking a group to leave.

And don’t forget about the customers who end up waiting for their table. You don’t want to inconvenience them or make them feel like there’s no point in making a reservation.

Remember that on special occasions, such as holidays, you should plan for guests taking longer than usual. The last thing you want to do is cut someone’s Mother’s Day brunch or office Christmas party short. But in everyday situations, don’t avoid letting lingering customers know when they need to move on. It might be slightly awkward, but if you stay professional and courteous, you can still keep your customers happy.

Showing 9 comments
  • dumbocrat

    i just bought a meal, i rented that table for as long as i want it. if it isnt past closing time, and you force me out, i’ll never be back.

    • David

      If thats your attitude most restaurants won’t want you back!

    • Brainiac3397

      You rented the table for the duration of your meal. Once you’re done eating, it’s over. You don’t need a table to socialize or rest.

    • Dick

      Someone’s a special snowflake who feels entitled

    • Joe

      I’m sure you’re every servers dream. I bet you rent that table with a 10% tip as well.

  • Ayerst

    I was a patron in a restaurant who was rushed out because of a reservation. I would’ve understood if the place was busting at the seams but it was almost completely empty. Apparently the one table they chose to seat me and my companion at happened to be reserved. Halfway through our meal we were asked if we wanted to box it up, we ignored that and kept eating. This progressed into our server yelling at us to please leave after serving up the bill. No, we were not there six hours, maybe over an hour and a half, and we fully intended on drinks and dessert which were never even offered up. We would’ve happily moved to another table, considering there were literally twenty empty ones to choose from, instead we were rudely kicked out. Once you experience something like that, you *never* return to that establishment.

  • Mark

    I can speak from the business side being the owner of a very busy small breakfast cafe. While we never want to be rude or jeopardize losing a customer, people should understand its a delicate situation. On the one side we want you tng?o enjoy your meal and experience in our cafe. Trust me, it is our biggest concern. On the other hand as a small cafe, we depend on turnover. Not just us as a business but also the wait staff who depend on tips. For breakfast an hour is easily enough time to enjoy a meal and yet we regularly have people who sit 2, 3 and yes 4 or more hours after finishing their meal.

    We try all the polite things to try and give a hint, but these folks usually ignore any attempts we make at being subtle.
    I found this site and others looking for a possible solution to this problem so I ask:

    What does a business do? How long is long enough or too long?

    And finally, there is a point where we really ARE better off that these customers don’t come in when you consider we could have turned that table 2 or more times extra. This is something we have to consider.

  • Ray

    If you ask customers to leave …they will and they won’t come back. Do it often enough and you won’t have a problem as you won’t have customers.

  • steve

    I used to just have every crude guy on the staff pass by the table and fart. Yes crude, not saying that it worked. But it definitely made us feel better about the situation 😉

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