How to Deal with Restaurant Customers Who Won’t Leave
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.
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.