It was a delightful Saturday morning on the sprawling front porch at Gaia Bistro, 1551 South Pearl Street. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and I was very much enjoying a savory crepe, stuffed full of succulent duck confit, creamy, decadent mornay and fluffy scrambled eggs. A friend was moving to Louisiana the next day, and this was our goodbye breakfast.
And then tragedy struck.
"Um, excuse me, ladies," said a forceful host, moments after we'd paid our check. "Could I convince you to move along? We've got a party we'd like to seat. Please and thank you."
My jaw dropped. The tables next to us were empty; I'm sure the host had been watching us since our server had dropped the check, waiting until we rose so she could push the row together, but I saw no party of six lingering in the entrance.
And just like that, it was over. All my good feelings, fueled by French-press coffee, evaporated.
A former rank-and-file member of the table-waiting industry, I know how stressful it can be as a host dealing with cranky parties, taking phone calls and trying to figure out where you're going to put fifteen people when the reservation was for ten.
And I know that sometimes you sit there, stewing, while a couple of giggling women have the nerve to take up your table longer than you'd like, thus preventing you from seating your next party.
But unless you're locking up the doors for the night and letting guests linger means they'll be sitting in the dark alone, it's bad form to tell any diner it's time for them to move on.
I know the restaurant industry is based on turning tables. But there's a right way to get people out and a wrong way. The right way involves dropping not-so-subtle hints that you'd like the table back. Things like, "Can I bring you ladies anything else? Another drink? Another cup of coffee? Thank you SO much for joining us. We really hope to have you back soon. Have a wonderful rest of your day." That's a nice way of saying, "Our interaction is done now, and if you wouldn't mind scooting on out the door, we'd be ever so glad."
In the meantime, you placate your waiting group with a free pastry basket or drink or 50-cent cup of coffee, or even a promise to call them the minute their table opens up so as to save them the inconvenience of waiting in the threshold. At a place like Gaia, which doesn't take reservations, the group wasn't expecting to sit at any particular time, anyway, and it's amazing how free stuff makes the inconvenience of waiting an extra ten minutes seem like a lucky break instead of an annoying prospect. And even if they're not jumping up and down with joy that the wait is longer than they expected, save for a few ghastly individuals who make a practice of throwing adult temper tantrums in public, they're probably not going to hold it against you. We've all had to wait a little longer than we'd like. Most of us are pretty reasonable about it.
What you don't do ever -- and I mean ever -- is bluntly tell your parties to leave. Or they will, marching right on out your door, never to return again.
It's 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, for God's sake. I'm caffeine-deprived and probably hung over. At least let me finish my damn coffee.
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